So You Want to Be a Strong Empowered Female Character? The Hawkeye Initiative Can Help

Sometimes Tumblr likes to think of itself as the Internet’s bastion of social justice. Just last week Tumblr exploded with scathing critiques of an old post from “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn, which initiated both a petition to have him removed from his job and an apology from Gunn. And now the Tumblr social justice machine is at it again with their most hilarious attempt yet: the Hawkeye Initiative.

A few days ago, Tumblr user hoursago posted a picture of Black Widow and Hawkeye in reverse positions from the cover of this comic. Not to miss out on the fun, Tumblr user Gingerhaze followed up with: “How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.” And thus the Hawkeye Initiative was born.

The Hawkeye Initiative is exactly what it sounds like, except with more visual gags. Users submit pictures of Hawkeye in similar poses to ladies in comics, often with similarly suggestive clothing, and some add captions or in-character thoughts that emphasize the ridiculousness of the pose:

As satire, the Hawkeye Initiative is amazingly effective. And just between you and me, seeing Hawkeye in those poses is hilarious. But why is it hilarious to see Hawkeye attempt those poses, but ladies have been placed in those poses so often that they’ve become unremarkable?

This is the main problem with the trope of the “strong empowered female character”—she’s still a sex object. It’s not that these ladies aren’t strong characters in their own rights. It’s that, if they’re so strong and so amazing and so supposedly realistic, then why do they still have to look like they came straight out of pornographic fantasies? With the female body so often on display and twisted into anatomically impossible positions, what should be ridiculous has instead turned into something commonplace. Contemptible sexual poses have become the norm for comics. Through the use of Hawkeye, a stereotypically strong, masculine character, the Hawkeye Initiative is able to challenge that ingrained prejudice.

There’s even a call for action—the Hawkeye Test, as explained here: “If your female character can be replaced by Hawkeye in the same pose without looking silly or stupid, then it’s acceptable and probably non sexist. If you can’t, then just forget about it.”

Can you imagine if comic book artists actually started applying this test to their works? That would probably be the greatest thing to happen to Tumblr since gifsets became a thing.

And aside from all of that, the Hawkeye Initiative is just sheer good fun. Check it out here right now!

15 thoughts on “So You Want to Be a Strong Empowered Female Character? The Hawkeye Initiative Can Help

  1. It certainly says something interesting…though perhaps not what everyone thinks.

    Yes, women in comics often come across as hyper-sexual or sex objects. I’m not entirely sold on the idea that this is as prevalent as people say it is, but it happens. I think it depends on the publisher.

    There is the flip side to this. Yes, women in comics are hypersexual, but as you pointed out, it isn’t viewed as all that ridiculous anymore. They OWN their sexuality. Utterly and completely. Think about it in universe, they wear those costumes, take those poses (though I do think it is important to remember that while they are “static” images to us, they are freeze frames of ongoing motions, so while they can look awkward to us, we have to remember that have those positions are taken mid-motion, like the image of the black haired and blonde hair woman above. Looks awkward, but considering the blond looks like she was running and came up short, leg extended in the next step, but weight thrown back over the back leg to try and halt movement rapidly in the face of an incoming attack, the weight being shoved back by the forward leg to drive her behind the blockage…the pose isn’t as unrealistic as one might think, nor is the black haired woman, who is clearly rising up from a crouch) No one in universe really gives a crap. They act like nothing is wrong, and as a rule, the men around them act like it’s normal. Even the villains don’t pay undo attention to their clothing (or lack there of).

    Meaning that these women have achieve (in universe, at least) a level of sexual equality we all dream of. They can do any job they want, they can wear anything they want, and they will be respected by the vast majority of the populace!

    So what some people consider exploitative is, in fact, the fruition of sexual equality. They get to own their sexuality both in and out of their universes. See again, the fact that we don’t really consider these poses ridiculous for them, but normal and acceptable.

    The fact that the poses then become ridiculous when applied to men says something very interesting about our society. Apparently it is laughable when a man is in a sensual pose. Or even a pose we take as sensual. If it weren’t for the clothing damage, the Capt/Hawkeye image could be taken as Capt interrupted while running and Hawekeye rising up from kneeling (just caught at a rather interesting moment). We take it as humor, as mockery, as a way to show that women shouldn’t be able to be that sexual (at least without complaint or mockery, which says something very sad about the way those in “social justice” fields view women).

    • Hi, thanks for reading! Yes, while freeze frames of action shots are harder to take seriously due to the amount of movement involved, the point that the Hawkeye Initiative is making is that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to actually pose like that. I’d refer you to these pictures of a fan attempting the same poses as the comics.

      That these poses go unnoticed by villains and allies alike doesn’t mean these women own their sexuality—rather, it means that the men who draw these comics have internalized this version of a woman’s sexuality and then normalized it for the rest of us. Are women allowed to wear whatever they want? Sure, and that’s a step forward for women’s rights. Given the choice, would women choose to wear outfits this revealing and this cumbersome? I don’t believe so, although of course you’re welcome to speculate on that for as long as you’d like. Does this count as sexual equality because women in comics “can do any job they want… [and] will be respected by the vast majority of the populace”? Well, if prostitution were legal everywhere, would that be a case for sexual equality? I’ll let you answer that, but I know of no little girl (and neither do you) who’d say, “I want to be a prostitute when I grow up”.

      I agree with you that it’s funny when men are placed in sensual poses, but I disagree with you on the reason. You seem to think that there is humor inherent in sensual poses, which is a negative reaction for women’s rights advocates. But as I’ve said, we see women in sensual poses all the time, and certainly no one is laughing at Starfire when she shows up dressed in next to nothing. The humor comes in when men are placed in sensual poses because it’s funny for men to look like females. Because somewhere along the line, it’s become inherently negative for “ real men” to act like girls. Because somewhere along the line, it’s become inherently negative to look like a girl.

      • I would like to point out that in a lot of ways, the female body is often more flexible than a male body. Those pictures you linked to do kind of look like he is mocking the poses rather than actually trying them, but I don’t suppose this is here nor there. While those poses might be a little different than those we would normally take, again, we must remember that they are in mid-motion, and a free-frame of mid-motion often looks pretty awkward.

        You’re crossing over the in universe vs exo-universe again. It isn’t that the fact the artists have so normalized these poses to us which makes the heroes and villains not pay any attention to them. As for the idea that a women wouldn’t wear an outfit so relieving or cumbersome willingly for such long periods, well…let’s see. Women wear them for days at cons, and if you look at the way many women dress for both parties and social wear, many a modern woman’s outfit is just as revealing, if not more so, and not a few of them are quite cumbersome.. So I do not consider it odd that a woman in a comic universe might wear a revealing outfit made of magical or technologically enhanced resistance towards different attacks, when many a modern woman wears things that are often far more cumbersome, often with no enhanced defensive values.

        Many people would consider the legalization of prostitution to be a mark of sexual equality. While I haven’t worked out all the details for myself, I do think that it would not be a step back wards in the issue, and possibly would be a step forwards. And no, while little girls today do not say “I wanna grow up to be a prostitute”, Back in the ancient days when being a prostitute was a sacred job and had lots of perks, many a little girl likely did, and with the the show secret diary of a call girl…well, I’m sure there were many young women who at least considered the possibility without ire.

        Also, I didn’t say I thought it was funny when men were placed in sensual poses. I said that other saw it as a reason to mock and judge, that they found in it a humor to debase both men and women by claiming that the poses were ridiculous.

        • Lucius, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this site is run my mostly woman. Only three guys, myself included, write for this site. This article, along with the Hawkeye Initiative, was created by woman, and we believe these women when they say that these poses are degrading and possibly damaging to the human frame.

          And I would like to think that female superheroes would not put themselves in insane, potentially paralyzing positions just because they can. I mean, if you were a superhero dealing with a bunch of enemies trying to kill you, would you just fight them in a G-string? Even if you have bullet-blocking powers, are you going into battle just relying on that power? What if your powers fail? Even Samson didn’t know his strength could go away until his hair was cut.”

          • I’m a little rusty on my bible, but I think samson did know about the haircut. That’s how his enemies found out when he told delila.

            and yes, I have noticed that this blog is run mostly by women. And I’m not that surprised the hawkeye initiative was started by women. I can understand feeling…degraded (but I have actually seen real women pull some of those poses in rl during midmotion).

            All I’m saying is that clearly the way the worlds work in comic books is different from our world (not surprising, they are other worlds). Perhaps those situations aren’t as dangerous as they are in our world. After all, death is rather cheap, and you can heal from almost anything. As for damaging to the human body…most of them aren’t human, or have regenative powers. And yes, holding those poses would hurt, but as I keep saying, they’re motion captures, not frozen poses. As for fighting crime in a g-string, well, different cultures have different fashion. What we think as acceptable is a mortal sin in another land. What you see as immodest and degrading is apparently as normal for them as wearing women wearing shorts is here, where it would be considered immodest and impractical (as well as humiliating and degrading) in saudi arabia.

            The fact that most of these materials actual have defensive properties, as well as most of them having super human durability or reflexes as part of their natural biology, well, to a lot of the bullets don’t even hurt as much as air-soft pellets do to us. In some cases, they hurt about as much as foam darts. So while yes, one does have to worry about one’s powers failing every now and then, in the grand scheme of things this generally isn’t much of a problem (depending on who you are talking about).

            As for it being “Degrading” Muslim women consider what American women to wear degrading. American women consider what Muslim women to wear degrading. a woman from a south American tribe would be shocked by what a Chinese woman wears, and vice versa. To just one culture by the standards of another is a rather…poor choice. Do we just what is degrading by those who view a person…or by how that person views themselves. If the former, then I can imagine a rather lot of….unfortunate situations that would roll back the nature of equality in this land…

            • “Most of them aren’t human”? I’m not going to ask you if we’re talking DC, Marvel, or independent comics, because that would take too long. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that most women in comics are actually human, because they are. Are they from another culture? Well, Starfire, I’ll give you that–if she wants to go around the tropical jungles of Tamaran in the outfits in which she’s usually seen and if she finds them practical rather than inconvenient and ill-equipped for life in the tropics–then sure, that’s completely her prerogative. But the rest of them are from Western culture. Almost all of the female characters in comics are American and interact with other characters in American settings, due to DC and Marvel being American comics companies. So for all intents and purposes, the culture found in comics is American, and as such, is written and judged by American norms. Therefore, when American readers judge these comics, they’re judging their own culture. I remain in the dark as to your whereabouts, so I won’t guess as to which culture you’re from, but rest assured that American readers are not judging “another culture” by American standards–they’re judging their own culture by their own standards.

              I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with your continued assertions that the ladies’ clothing has defensive properties and the ladies’ poses are taken mid-action. If, as you say, the clothes actually have defensive properties, shouldn’t the ladies be wearing more rather than less of them? And comics aren’t negatives of film strips, you know. They’re drawn the way they are for a reason, which means that the artist picked these particular poses in which to place his characters. Why did the always-invariably-male artist choose to emphasize the butts and breasts of all the girls if he didn’t consider them worth looking at in some way?

              To return to your point in your previous comment, I applaud you for watching Secret Diary of a Call Girl, as it’s a good program and Billie Piper is excellent in it–but the fact remains that it’s a show which has been criticized for glamorizing prostitution and ignoring the more serious issues with which prostitutes have to deal. You seem to think that if only prostitutes were given more benefits, little girls would want to become prostitutes, while I think that even if prostitutes had more benefits than the president, we should be focused on giving little girls other, better options so that they’ll never have to resort to prostitution. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that.

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  4. I think some of the pictures are hilarious but come on, this is a visual media art form that depicts highly stylized superheroes and super-heroines fighting make believe forces of evil. A little exaggeration isn’t only nice, it’s damn near mandatory when you take into account the competitive nature of the business. Of course it’s unrealistic, everything about the media you’re criticizing is unrealistic. It’s a fantasy, you can’t intrude on a fantasy in the name of social justice. It’s about selling comics. If that’s what the fans want to buy, then that’s what they’ll buy

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