Is The New Cover Of Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ Sexist?

There’s been some debate as to whether the new cover of The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s groundbreaking novel about a woman who suffers from clinical depression due to the pressures of gender norms and misogyny, is sexist. The cover which features a retro gal powdering her nose in a compact mirror is an odd choice for the 50th Anniversary edition of the book.

I am not sure if the cover is inherently sexist, so much as it is completely gendered. Jezebel commented saying, “For a book all about a woman’s clinical depression that’s exacerbated by the suffocating gender stereotypes of which she’s expected to adhere and the limited life choices she has as a woman, it’s pretty … stupid to feature a low-rent retro wannabe pinup applying makeup.”

While Naomi Wolf of The Guardian says, “I see nothing wrong with this – except perhaps that some young women seeking a lightweight beach read might get unexpectedly very depressed.”

The trouble is I can’t remember the last time I saw a cover of a book that I thought was cool or even relevant to the story inside. Covers are marketing ploys, which is of course problematic because they often diminish or undermine the contents of the literature inside. Putting an image of a woman primping herself on the cover of The Bell Jar is an ironically bad gesture because it suggests that the book is going to read like a cheap and cheerful, romantic comedy about a Manhattan fashionista.

Is there anything sexist about the image on the cover? No. There is something sexist about the way we market books to women though. It’s the same way we market toys to little girls. It’s not just books “for women” it’s also books that happen to be written by women. They’re always pink, red, purple or that flirty teal blue, the font is always curly and cursive, the images always feature blond girls, lipstick, cocktails and shopping bags – it’s a bit condescending.

Do I think this cover is sexist because it’s on The Bell Jar? No, I think it’s misleading. Do I think marketing is generally sexist? Yes, quite often.

What do you think about the cover? I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you judge a book by its cover?

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