Life,  Writing

The Bechdel Test

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I’m not sure how well known it is, but there’s this thing called the Bechdel test. It’s more or less a pass/fail test of gender bias. You can find plenty of detail with a quick keyword search (I like the Wikipedia article, actually), but it runs basically like this:

Does the movie/story/play have:

  1. At least two women in it?
  2. Who talk to each other?
  3. About something besides a man?

If you can answer all three of these with a yes, then the work in question passes the test.

Interesting, no?

I have no intention of arguing the merits of the test (or any of the tests derived from it) or how or when to apply it or whether you should analyze the results. Plenty of other people have done that and more will continue to do so. I am going to point out that it’s really unfortunate that we need it. We’re well over a decade into the 21st century and it stuns me that most of the world hasn’t realized that women are people yet. That includes far too many people in the “civilized world”, “first world”, “west”, “developed nations” or whatever you want to call us.

And, honestly, it pisses me off.

You might wonder why I, a middle aged bald man, should care. It’s an easy answer: I have daughters. And a wife, and a mother, and a sister, and I don’t know how many women as friends. How can I possibly justify not seeing them as people? How can I not call other people out on it?

For my daughters, I want the same thing as I want for my son, the ability to choose whatever path seems best to them. I’m one guy and I can only put so many choices in front of them and tell them that they can do whatever they set their mind to, but if they don’t see themselves represented in media, how will they be aware of all the paths open to them? Why should they believe me?

Honesty time: I have written stories that don’t pass the Bechdel Test. But, if you swap genders in the test, I have stories that would fail that one, too. Either way, they always fail on point #1.

I’ve written stories that only have men as speaking characters and I’ve written stories that only have women as speaking characters. Not every story needs to have diverse viewpoints in it, and the shorter the story the more you can make that argument, but there’s absolutely no reason that every story I write should always be from the same point of view with the same cultural reference points. (No, I don’t believe in theft of voice, but I do believe in doing some research when the situation warrants it.) The objective is to make every character worthwhile as a character, whatever their gender, orientation, background, or shoe size. I’d like to think the body of my work stands up pretty well as a whole. (Not that much of it has been published yet.)

Where Hollywood (and, for that matter, the publishing industry) frequently fails is in making sure that every character is worthwhile as a character. It’s an easy way out to make use of cutouts and stereotypes, but it’s lazy and ultimately fails the audience. Fail the audience enough times and they’ll go away leaving you wondering why.

Now, what may seem like a pointless ramble so far really does have a point. I’m not suggesting that everyone rush out and use some variant of the Bechdel test to find reasons why modern cinema/tv/literature sucks, and I’m not suggesting you hold it up to my work or anyone else’s to find where there is or isn’t gender bias, or any other bias. But I do think it’s a good idea to think about where we all allocate our entertainment dollars and what we’re endorsing when we do so.

Because something can be awesome and real and intelligent all at the same time. And, honestly, that’s what we should expect rather than the remixed, rehashed, recycled, same old, same old stereotypes we mostly get.

I’m tired of it. Aren’t you?

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