Men in “Strong Women” Poses: The Hawkeye Initiative, Feminism and Transphobia

It’s a commonly known fact that the only people who read comics are 14 year old boys or 30 year old men who live in their parents’ basements and don’t have a life. Wait…that is totally not true, because everyone loves comics! 14 year old girls love them too, AND 30 year old women who live in stylish loft apartments – it’s high time the long accepted image of the nerd as a fat guy with ill fitting glasses and a pop culture t-shirt was dumped in a bin, and the bin projected into space. Guys love comics, girls love comics, genderqueer people love comics, and feminists also love comics. The nerd/geek community has as many female identifying people as male identifying ones, which is why it is always so disappointing, frustrating and enraging to see the way women are depicted in comic book art. The pneumatic boobs, waists that would ensure no organs remained in the body, and the dislocated spines all neatly tied together in an outfit that no sane person would wear while battling crime create a version of femalehood that is not just unrealistic but terribly misogynist, and as a result, damaging to women as well. This is something that bothered Cait Crutchfield like it bothers countless other women in the subculture.

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A volunteer EMT/firefighter and a homeschooling mother of three from Texas, she surprisingly hadn’t been a comics geek for very long. In an interview with Geek Eccentric, she says “ I grew up reading positively ridiculous amounts of Tolkien and Lewis and Zelazny. Star Wars and all of the ‘80s sword and sorcery movies were a thousand times cooler than Saturday morning cartoons.” She describes having “goosebumps” when she first encountered DC’s Kingdom Come and devoured all four issues in one sitting, but it wasn’t until the film adaptation of The Avengers last year that she took a real interest in comics. In the meantime, artists and comic book geeks Blue and Gingerhaze had come up with the brilliant idea of redrawing the cover of a Hawkeye and Black Widow comic where they switched Clint Barton and Natasha Romanova’s poses. Inspired by that, Crutchfield had one of those middle-of-the-night brainwaves and started a Tumblr where she reblogged not only that image but everything related to it which Gingerhaze had drawn. Having done that, she went off to bed…and when she woke up a few hours later, she had 500 followers. In the next 12 hours, there were 4217. The Hawkeye Initiative had gone viral.

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The idea behind The Hawkeye Initiative is simple enough. Identify “strong women poses” (boobs and bum both miraculously visible from the same angle, fractured spine), replace the original female character with Hawkeye. The results are interesting, to say the least. What is important to note here is that so conditioned are we to seeing women in comics drawn in an exaggerated, hyper-sexualised style, the impossible nature of it only hits us when we see a male character being depicted in the same manner – same pose, same clothing, same everything. This has drawn its share of criticism from intersectional feminist corners of the Internet. Dark from That Feminist Dyke has noted that the reason behind The Hawkeye Initiative’s immense popularity when other blogs such as Escher Girls have been doing the same thing for a year now, is that we only respond to feminist issues when men are involved. Since The Hawkeye Initiative is about dressing and posing a male character as female characters are dressed and posed in comics, the focus falls firmly on men. Objectification of women is a serious issue, and plays a huge role in perpetuating rape culture, but it is only when a man is objectified that the world sits up and takes notice.

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The Hawkeye Initiative has also been labelled transphobic, since the idea behind it is to show how ridiculous it looks when men are dressed in women’s clothes and posed “seductively”. This is a valid criticism, as trans* people regularly and routinely face an unbelievable amount of prejudice, hatred and violence on a daily basis all over the world today. When you see a picture of Barton (or any of the other male characters The Hawkeye Initiative has covered so far) and you think it’s ludicrous and feel like laughing, ask yourself why you’re laughing. It’s because we, as a society, have been conditioned to believe in the staticness of gender and sexuality. Trans* people are seen as an anomaly, an aberration, a group of people on the far end of the bell curve who exist only to be the targets of our prejudice, hatred and violence. The Hawkeye Initiative has good intentions – to expose how women are objectified in comics, but in doing so, they ended up being transphobic, probably because of an incomplete understanding of intersectionality. Don’t get me wrong, I scrolled through reams of the tumblr when it first went viral, and I get what they are trying to do, but my reaction wasn’t laughter. As someone who was once a dedicated fan of slash, it looked like a lot of the slash art I used to devour as an undergrad. It didn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary to me. So next time you see a post or a reblog from The Hawkeye Initiative and think it’s hilarious, stop and ask yourself why you find it so funny. If it’s because it’s a picture of a man dressed as a woman, then I recommend some serious soul searching.