If you're going to be in Las Vegas anytime soon, you might want to check out the exhibit at the Paris Las Vegas of Harlequin romance novel covers. "The Heart of a Woman: Harlequin Cover Art 1949-2009" is, as the L.A. Times article calls is, "a small, intellectually provocative display in a town incessantly struggling with its portrayal of the fairer sex." I think the key word in that statement is the last word.
The L.A Times article says that the curator of the display never read any of the romances but studied the 60 years of Harlequin covers and determined which ones would be in the exhibit by the quality of the art. One of the other conclusions she came to was that many times the covers displayed female fantasies of a professional nature, rather than a sexual one.
The article says:
"For example, the covers of doctor-nurse romances of the '50s and '60s showed workplace lovers chatting as equals, which might be linked (as another placard tells us) to the frustration of women who 'felt sequestered in the domestic realm of postwar suburbia.' In exotic-locale tales of about the same period, women were the doctors, though only in foreign and often tropical destinations.
....A decade later, women apparently dreamed of romance amid danger. In 1959's "The Yellow Snake" -- one of Semmelhack's favorite covers -- a gun-wielding, professorial man and a blond woman in pearls gasp at (as the placard helpfully explains) an 'overtly phallic snake.' "
I don't know. Something about deconstructing these covers rubs me the wrong way. (Excuse the pun.) Even the curator admits that when these covers were created, it's not like anyone at Harlequin was really thinking about the woman's place in society at that point in time. "I don't think anybody sat back and thought it out," the curator said.
So why do it now? These covers were created to sell books, not start a revolution.
As a side note, way way back in the early 90s, for a short time I dated a guy who ended up being a Harlequin cover model. He fit the role perfectly: chiseled face, killer body....actually, as I look back on it now, I think his looks were rather bland. Just like the Harlequin models. But, in real life, this guy was no hero. Which is why we dated only for a very short time.
Anyway, check out the article.