Modern Fair, same old prejudices?

Given the modern, commercial and egalitarian ethos of the international book trade, the Frankfurt Book Fair showed up many charming cultural differences which are enlightening in their own way. So why on earth are major, reputable publishers like Penguin/Random House still resorting to good old-fashioned chauvinism to sell copy? Is that a silly question? At the P/RH stand, a large photo of Barack Obama portrays him standing sideways on, inscrutable and elder-statesmen like, as if he is so revered that to show him full-face would be bad luck… Presumably also hinting at the myriad compromises with which he battled during his eight years in the White House.

By contrast, on an immediately adjacent billboard promoting the second instalment of her memoir, ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama is portrayed as a very becoming woman: perfect hands, beautiful smile, lustrous hair, and – heavens, how about a bit of unreconstructed sexism, boys? – with her top seriously off her nearest shoulder to reveal gleaming skin. To the modern world, Michelle is shown flaunting her nakedness, as if she still has to plead, “Please like me, please listen to me, I’m a gentle, loving woman…”

Which might look innocuous enough as a book cover, but is truly startling on a high-definition billboard image that stands taller than me.

Whoever thought that Mrs Obama had better portray herself thus in order to induce readers to buy her upcoming book, either seriously misunderstands serious women, or assumes that men still need to be enticed to read books by women. Neither of these assumptions is welcome, frankly.

Is mine a minor quibble? Or is Michelle morphing from a serious role model for women and a possible White House candidate to obliging, consenting adult with nothing to complain about? I should have thought that Michelle’s candid recollections would be worth reading because of the endeavour they reveal, the candid, hard choices and the frequently contradictory expectations with which women have to juggle every day.

But then, perhaps I’m merely old-fashioned.

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