Are you aware of how genders are represented in illustration? The Hawkeye Initiative shows us just how ridiculous some female poses actually seem when a popular male character assumes the same pose. (Note: This content was originally published on Yahoo! Contributor Network.)

It all started with a comparative illustration. On Dec. 1, 2012, Artist Jennifer Jeong posted her reinterpretation of the cover of Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #17 (“Hawkeye & Black Widow,” original cover penciled by Barry Kitson). Jeong’s version of the cover features an altered title (“Black Widow & Hawkeye”) – and a telling flip of the two Avengers.

The original cover features female superhero assassin Black Widow in an action pose, her body upside-down and contorted mid-air so that she somehow presents both her buttocks and chest fully to the viewer. In the original representation, male superhero Hawkeye falls casually through the air with his bow. Jeong reversed the characters’ positions and poses, demonstrating the unrealistic angle at which Black Widow’s body is turned in the original cover.

This launched a movement known as The Hawkeye Initiative on the social blogging site Tumblr (where the artist is known as ‘Blue’) and beyond. Jeong described how and why the initiative began.

IMG_1655Tara M. Clapper: In your words, what is The Hawkeye Initiative?

Jennifer Jeong: Basically, take a comic panel of a Strong Female Character and replace with Hawkeye doing the same thing. If it looks impossible, uncomfortable, or ridiculous, the original probably is, too.

It’s not a new idea in the least but a point that apparently still needs to be illustrated.

TMC: How did it begin?

JJ: With very little thought behind it. A friend of mine was just looking at silly comic panels of Hawkeye and posted one particular cover that caught my attention because I thought it would be more appropriate for their characters to switch places.

Noelle Stevenson (aka Gingerhaze) caught on with a few of her own parody drawings. I started casually calling the series “The Hawkeye Initiative” along the lines of the Avengers Initiative and it totally snowballed from there.

TMC: Is this about accuracy in art or how males and females are represented differently in art?

JJ: To some extent it’s both, because inaccuracies in anatomy mostly stem from years of normalizing horrible exaggerations of the female figure. Superheroine costumes are a whole gender issue by themselves and the Initiative tackles them as well.

Some have said they were so used to the ridiculous art that they didn’t realize how bad it was until they saw a male character presented the same way. It essentially never happens. Male comic readers like to cite the two instances of lasciviously posed Nightwing and Gambit comics over and over as though the handful of panels balance out the constant barrage of boobs, butts, and broken spines that female readers deal with their entire lives, even as children. (Look at that “Hawkeye & Black Widow” cover again – it’s for “all ages” and “Marvel kids”).

TMC: Why Hawkeye, of all characters?

JJ: I just really like Hawkeye. He’s my favorite character so I make fun of him the most, and it probably helped that Noelle does the same.

The Avengers movie also started an in-joke about Hawkeye being able to pull off the chest-and-butt pose and I guess it was a matter of time.

TMC: What has the fan response been like? Have you received any criticism?

JJ: Mostly it’s been really positive! I’ve had a lot of people thanking me for (accidentally) kicking off something big in the nerd community.

I have seen a few comments using false equivalence and complete lack of logic to whine about the resurgence of pointing out sexism in comic art, which makes me laugh because they’re all very typical of men who refuse to believe women should criticize the status quo. If things are truly equal, then why does a movement like this bother those fans to the point of indignance? Some suggest that instead of complaining, we should go draw our own comics: a total joke considering how difficult they themselves have made it for women to break into the comics industry.

TMC: What was your goal when creating the original piece?

JJ: There actually wasn’t any particular goal at first, I just thought I’d have a laugh between my friend Maggie and me (and anyone else who knows Black Widow is deadly professional while Hawkeye is kind of a smartass showoff with lots of jokes about his butt). I did end up fully realizing how much I do care about female representation in comics, though.

TMC: Anything else you’d like to add:

JJ: Speaking of Clint Barton, everyone should read the new Hawkeye comic series by Matt Fraction and David Aja. Trust me on this one.

You can view more of the artist’s work her blog or at her store.

Photo: Jennifer Jeong, 2012.

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