Sexism on its way out in nerd culture

It is no secret that "nerd culture" has its problems.

Online video game players can be harsh, spouting racial and sexual epithets or ostracizing those who are not members of society's dominant class: the straight white male.

Comic book artists are also widely known for depicting female heroes in skimpy outfits and outlandish poses, while male heroes are drawn in poses highlighting physical strength.

Unfortunately, sexism is not a problem restricted to fiction but is prevalent even in real-world nerd culture institutions.

Comic book giant DC Comics is reported to have only had women make up 1 percent of its creative team as recently as 2011.

During a press conference for last summer's blockbuster film, "The Avengers," which is based on the Marvel comic book series, Robert Downey Jr. was asked complex questions about the characterization of renowned genius and philanthropist Tony Stark. Actress Scarlett Johansson, known for portraying Natasha Romanoff in the same film, was asked questions about her diet and costuming as the Black Widow – specifically, whether or not her character's costume was loose enough to allow for undergarments. Why the double-standard? Why are women in media subjected to gross displays of unrealistic anatomy, skimpy costumes and questions on their diet and bodies?

A subgroup of fans have openly criticized this sexualization of female superheroes. This effort is known as the Hawkeye Initiative.

The initiative involves drawing the male hero Hawkeye – now a well-known character from "The Avengers" – in poses more stereotypical of comic book heroines. The movement is meant to evoke both laughter as well as discomfort in fan circles.

Whether fan artists draw Hawkeye gazing seductively at readers, exposing large patches of skin or in unrealistic proportions and poses, the movement aims to illustrate some systemic problems of sexism within the comic book industry.

The Hawkeye Initiative is not the first of its kind. The Internet-focused online publication, The Daily Dot, has a collection of posts in a similar vein to the Hawkeye Initiative, including people of both sexes badly imitating unrealistic comic book poses.

Fan movements like the Hawkeye Initiative aim to bring awareness to this issue, to make people think critically and, above all, incite change.

Perhaps through their efforts, nerd culture can adapt to a more friendly, realistic and inclusive representation of women.

This shift is not far off. Marvel Comics, known for its comics and hit films including, "Thor," "The Avengers" and "Iron Man" hired a record high number of women in September 2011.

343 Industries, creators of the most-recent entry in a popular gaming franchise – Halo 4 – vowed to give lifetime bans on anyone using sexist language. Widely known gaming news outlet Kotaku runs features on occasion dealing with sexism and other social issues.

Even science-fiction news site io9 – a subsidiary of Gawker – ran several features about the problems of sexism in nerd culture.

Unrealistic portrayals of women in media is a problem.

A change in the sexism of nerd culture is on its way. Let's help it along.


Reach the columnist at or follow him at @BrandoBoySP


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