A Comic-ly Happy Ending
How one badass woman took on the comic industry’s sexism and won.
Given this whole war on women thing, it’s rare that I write about something that makes me or you, dear reader, feel good. But sometimes, just sometimes, “you find people” as Corky St. Clair says — people who have inspiring stories with happy endings.
In a guest post at The Hawkeye Initiative, an anonymous employee at Hawken developer Meteor Entertainment talks about how much she loves her job. There’s only one thing she can’t stand: a poster.
Our CEO loves this picture. It is to all appearances his favorite piece of comic art for the game. He had it blown up poster-sized, framed, and displayed on the out-facing wall of his office. There, it looms over the front room like a ship’s figurehead. It is the first thing workers and visitors see when they enter the building and the last thing they see when they leave. This little lady’s undermeats have been the open- and close- parens to my work world for the last six months.
The anonymous woman goes on to explain why she hates the poster so much:
How, you ask, can I stay mad at a sweet young belle who has so obviously taken a break from her important welding to offer me a piping hot cup of coffee and/or a vigorous hand job? (And probably, given her apparent safety consciousness, simultaneously?) If you don’t already know the answer, you might want to check out things like #1ReasonWhy, and the Bechdel Test, and also this, and this, and this and this, and all these other things. (And while we’re talking you should check out this other bullshit right here.)
The Hawkeye Initiative tumblr, where this this tale is posted, challenges the sexism and male privilege that dominate comics by replacing female characters with Hawkeye, the male character from the Avengers. This highlights how ridiculously impossible and impossibly ridiculous the woman’s portayal almost always is. There is even a Hawkeye test: “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.”
Kelly Thompson, who blogs at 1979 Semi-Finalist, lays out four components of comic sexism:
1) Body type: both male and female characters have idealized and unrealistic bodies, but the male body is based on an athletic ideal, while the female body is porn-based.
2) Clothing: both wear tight apparel but while the men are usually covered from head to toe, the women are scantily clad.
3) Beauty: while both genders are usually depicted as traditionally attractive, male characters are allowed to look monstrous. Compare the unattractive Hulk to the sexy She-Hulk.
4) Posing: men are allowed to strike athletic poses which show off their power and strength. Women however, are so deformed and sexualized, there’s even a term for it— brokeback. The brokeback pose must be held for the character to show off both her breasts and her bottom. It is an anatomically impossible position.
The Friendly Feminist even has a drinking game, so you can at least have fun while noting the sexism that pervades comics.
Cleavage window: take a shot
Midriff exposed: take a shot
Sides exposed: take a shot
No cover on legs whatsoever: take two shots
Long hair: take a shot
Absurdly large boobs: take a shot
Absurdly large butt: take a shot
Body type that doesn’t match chest and butt size: take two shots
So, back to the story at hand. This anonymous employee convinced her colleague, Sam Kirk, to help her pull a prank. They snuck into the office, took down the problematic poster and replaced it with another poster, which Sam had created. The new poster depicted “Bro-sie the Riveter” and instead of objectifying a woman it, lo and behold, objectified a man.
The partners in crime became went from thrilled to nervous when they heard their boss scream “What the hell is this?!” Twenty painful minutes later, the CEO approached the unnamed employee and said:
“That was a brilliant prank. You called me on exactly the bullshit I need to be called on. I put up pictures of half-naked girls around the office all the time and I never think about it. I’m taking you and Sam to lunch. And after that, we’re going to hang both prints, side by side.”
What did the employee learn from the experience, you ask.
This wonderful experience has taught me two things that I hope to carry with me for the rest of my career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and in gaming. It taught me this:
Lots of men (like Sam) are already sympathetic to the stupid, constant crap women put up with in gaming/STEM, and they are ready and willing to call that crap onto the carpet.
And, most importantly, many of the guys who are behind that stupid, constant crap are totally decent, open-minded human beings who just don’t realize they’re doing it. You know how sometimes you don’t realize how much you and your girlfriend are talking about shoes or menstruation until some dude walks into the room? Well sometimes guys don’t realize how much they’re talking about titties.
We just haven’t been around enough for them to notice.
Using creativity, art, humor and smarts, this woman and her accomplice were able to transform what was once a wall, if you will — and I hope you will, of unconscious sexism, double standards and male privilege, into a display which highlights, challenges and, to some extent, undoes all of these obstacles to gender equality in the workplace.