By Meaghan Menzel
Staff Columnist

By Julia Smith
Staff Columnist

One of the things I love the most about comics are the characters. I have read some pretty awful storylines because of certain characters and I don’t regret it. But being so widely read in comics lets me see a very unpleasant trend in the comic book world. That is the representation of women in comics, particularly in their costuming and the exaggerated way they are drawn.

Are any of you familiar with the idea of the ‘male gaze’? It’s a term to describe the phenomenon of objectifying women in media. When a camera lingers on a woman’s figure on TV, that is male gaze. When a shot of people talking alternates from behind one speaker to the other and the camera just so happens to catch the woman’s butt in the frame, that is male gaze. And in comics, male gaze comes into play in the back breaking poses and gravity defying costumes that women must endure.

The costuming of female characters is a debate in and of itself. Because on one hand, some women say certain outfits are over sexualized. Then on the other hand, women are willing to defend the same outfit at all costs. The biggest example of this debate is the Wonder Woman costume controversy. But I label that debate as a personal choice for the most part. Though I will admit sometimes the outfits that get designed are ridiculous, like a majority of the Star Sapphire costumes in the Green Lantern comics. Stringy bits of fabric connected by magic do not a costume make. But what really irritates me is the role male gaze plays on the design of costumes. Clearly these people don’t know how a tube top works because if they did, they wouldn’t be putting huge metal W’s on it. I’m just saying.

The biggest way I see male gaze playing into costuming with female heroes though is how few women actually have capes. A few do, like Storm, the Scarlet Witch, Supergirl, and Raven to name a few. But the vast majority does not. Because they get in the way of the view of a woman’s body. Usually only female heroes who can fly get capes, because then the cape can be ‘blown’ out of the way of the body. But that isn’t the case for male heroes. Batman has a cape and he can’t fly. Similarly, all of Batman’s wards have capes but that is only because Batman instructs them to use their capes as a diversion to confuse the criminals they are fighting.

But the thing I take the most issue with regarding female representation in comics is how women are drawn. There is this bizarre desire to pose women in ways that expose both their breasts and butts in the same panel. Stand up and give it a try in the mirror, try to look at your chest and butt at the same time. Now imagine trying to do it while punching or kicking at a few dozen enemies in mid-air. Not fun. There is some weird desire to figuratively break the spines of women in order to make them look sexy no matter what the situation. The back has to be arched and the breasts have to be pushed out and that foot had better be pointed. If you don’t point that foot to create a long, lean leg line then you are not kicking that criminal in the face properly.

Good thing I’m not alone in that feeling because a group of artists on the internet banded together to form the Hawkeye initiative. First formed on Tumblr by a group of webcomic artists, it calls out the ridiculous positions comic book artists force their female characters into by taking poses and redrawing them with the MARVEL Avenger’s character Hawkeye. It’s a wonderful example of male gaze because in the simple bodysuit that is the Hawkeye costume, artists can clearly indicate what the original images were really emphasizing. Some artists go the extra mile and dress Hawkeye up in the skimpy outfits from the original image as well.

The biggest benefit I see from the Hawkeye Initiative is that it shows comic book artists that the public is aware of what it’s doing. And we find it ridiculous, objectifying and tasteless. The Initiative has gotten so popular that men now go to comic book conventions dressed as Hawkeye and perform spine breaking poses for anyone who asks for a camera. The Hawkeye Initiative has its own website: thehawkeyeinitiative.com where you can explore more of what it’s all about.

The Elm

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