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Are men doing it too?


ErevanNew projects are providing alternatives to “sexy” images of women.

Are men doing it? That question is posed by Caitlin Moran in her book ‘How to Be a Woman’ and The Hawkeye Initiative (THI) as a quick test for sexism.

When asked about the images used in media and publication, the answer is usually no.

The “sex sells” marketing adage still appears to be true, with the unsaid aspect of the adage being that it is usually only when a woman is doing the posing.

The No More Page 3 campaign showed this last year when it presented the Sun newspaper with a card comparing images of men and women used in UK tabloid newspapers.

The main differences between the images were the amount of clothing worn and the poses used – the men were clothed and posed as professionals, whereas the women were in various states of undress and posed provocatively.

When a photo of the card was posted on Facebook, it was removed because of explicit content. Yet all the images had been gathered from publicly available newspapers.

As a riposte to the many instances of everyday sexism facing women, several new projects are highlighting, and providing alternatives to, the continued use of objectifying imagery.

Photographer Rion Sabean used a recent series of photographs “to have the viewer question their responses” and “ask two things: why is it considered sexy for a woman to pose in such ways, and why isn’t it sexy for a man to do the same?”

“Men-Ups” is Sabean’s reimagining of traditional pin-up poses with men accompanied by props associated with maleness.

Similarly, in science fiction, fantasy and superhero comic book series, an indication of power and strength is often the ownership and use of a weapon.

For female characters in the genres, their skills and power are more-often-than-not accompanied by minimal clothing on fantastical bodies.

While bikinis are probably not most people’s choice of combat-ready clothing, in this case it is the decoration on the woman’s body striking a pose often described as disproportionate, deformed and contorted.

The Hawkeye Initiative’s (THI) Test challenges, “If your female character can be replaced by Hawkeye [a bow-wielding male superhero] 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.”

The purpose of The Hawkeye Initiative is “to draw attention to how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and unrealistically posed/dressed women are drawn in comics.”

Fantasy author Jim Hines has taken The Hawkeye Test one step further by recreating objectifying book covers with himself in the title role.

The photos, taken by his wife, and accompanying blog posts became so popular that he extended the series to become a fundraiser for Aicardi syndrome, a genetic disorder that mostly affects girls.

“The way women are portrayed is just so ridiculous, so often, you just stop seeing it,” Hines said in a BBC article.

“I think posing has made people see it again – you see how ridiculous it is when a 38-year-old fantasy writer is doing it.”

Hines also points out that the responsibility for the current situation lies within every layer of our society, including all aspects of the publishing industry.

The solution, he says, will be found by continuing to talk about the problem and looking for and using good examples whenever possible.

Providing some of that solution is exactly what Tracy Hurley and Daniel Solis are trying to do with the Prismatic Art Collection.

Hurley, a freelance writer and blogger, and Solis, a game designer, say that “in geek culture, there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias.”

The purpose of the Prismatic Art Collection is to “hire a diverse group of artists to create fantasy art depicting heroes of all backgrounds” for the role-playing game industry and beyond.

Hurley said in an interview with Wired magazine that in comics, “the way women were drawn actively turned me off… so I spent a lot of my time reading and trying to do the mental gymnastics of changing the mostly male characters into someone more like me.”

As a way to make more inclusive art more broadly available, the Prismatic Art Collection releases the work it commissions with a Creative Commons license, meaning that each piece is freely available for download.

This may go some way to counter-balancing the industry bias that Irene Gallo, creative director of Tor Books, believes is due to male artists greatly outnumbering their female counterparts; a particularly frustrating situation given that she says genders at art school courses are fairly equally balanced.

Contributing to the momentum, and awareness of need, for change are female-focused organisations like Team Girl Comic in Glasgow. “We are all girls, but we’re not just for girls,” the group says on its website.

Recognition of the diversity of audiences is supported by research like that from the Codex Group that found that less overtly explicit covers have a wider general appeal.

While projects like those above show the continued need for such work, persistent conversation and collaboration are making a future of more balanced and realistic representations of women in media and publishing more likely.

Image: “Erevan” © 2012 Crystal Frasier

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