Friday, February 17, 2012

The Bechdel Test


1. Are there at least two (named) women?

2. Do they talk to each other?

3. Do they talk about something besides men/a man?

I don’t buy into the simplistic idea that some hold about the Bechdel test; basically that any movie that doesn’t pass is evil misogyny incarnate. There are some great movies that massively fail the Bechdel test, movies that even manage to promote a positive, strong image for women. However, the Bechdel test is fun for me. My favorite new show failed this week (the most recent episode of Once Upon a Time) but it did so in such a way that it had me thinking about how fair the test is. Most of the dialogue was between one man and one woman (Regina/Mr. Gold, Emma/Mr. Gold, Rumpelstiltskin/Belle, over and over and over) there was a lot of Mr. Gold in this episode, which is great because I luurve him.

It very nearly fails the reverse as well. The men at the beginning are talking about war, though their attention shifts to Belle in the course of that scene. Mr. Gold and Mr. French are TECHNICALLY talking about business, though it kind of seems later like they were actually talking about Mr. French’s daughter in allegory.

I feel like there’s probably a good reason why people don’t apply the Bechdel test to novels. At first, I figured it was because they probably all pass most of the time. Television shows and films are more constricted by time. They need to get to the point of the plot (hopefully) which means that if the story doesn’t have anything to do with politics, the Higgs-Boson particle or Thai food, then the women probably aren’t going to discuss those things.

In a novel, however, a certain amount of character development has to happen and it’s kind of hard to develop female characters who don’t speak on a variety of subjects or clearly have other concerns in their life that aren’t related to men. It’s not realistic. Even the silliest girls I’ve ever met could talk about something besides men from time to time and managed to do so in a way that told me a lot about who they were. I’m thinking of one instance in particular when a boy-crazy friend of mine suddenly went into an impassioned rant about her love of music and aesthetically bizarre home d├ęcor.Suddenly, I felt I knew a lot more about her.

What DOES bother me is when we’ve got a story with a strong female lead, a compelling plot that doesn’t have anything to do with romance, and during the one sequence when our strong female lead is with another woman they either talk about men (usually in an objectifying way) or they discuss shallow topics that seem removed from the action at hand; ‘oh darling you look wonderful in that dress, who does your hair?’

It doesn’t ruin the movie for me or anything, it just makes me roll my eyes and wonder when our chick is going to continue kicking butt.

I went ahead and checked with all my post-mission novels—they all pass the Bechdel test, but I think I’ll have to say that Rosenrot technically fails the reverse. The male characters are rarely together, one of them can’t speak at all and the others usually don’t discuss anything but witches. The only instant that I could argue counts is when Myth and General are shouting at each other and Rosenrot overhears a couple of phrases. They aren’t talking about any women at all in that moment, but they’re barely communicating. It’s just a couple of heated phrases and then they notice that Rosenrot is there. I’m not sure I feel comfortable saying that counts. I’m pretty sure that Rosenrot fails the reverse Bechdel, but hey, I’m doing serious retooling right now and you never know what will change.

All this got me thinking and made me wonder if my life passes the Bechdel test… So, here are some other women who I spoke with this week and here’s what we talked about.

Lauren – biology, my car, her car, writing/casting a Labyrinth reboot, men. FAIL

Manda – work, a Mohawk hat I made. PASS

Kate – Her MTC class and this week’s episode of Once Upon a Time. FAIL

Jensen – a way cool painting I found, ordering cookies from BYU food to go, our plans to go to St. George this weekend. PASS

Joan – surgery, food, doctors/my grandfather. FAIL

Melinda – upcoming preparations for History class/work. PASS

Lenore – the nobility of serving others/cleaning as a way to grow spiritually, The Help, Teaching, my friend/boss, my dad, Jesus Christ. FAIL

Sarah – my grandmother, my uncle and my nephew. FAIL

Whitney – walking in on her male acquaintance as he was leaving the bath. FAIL

Brenna – the likelihood of designing a kid’s science fair experiment that would cause boogers to rain from the sky (it makes sense in context). PASS

Internet (who I feel is female) – I posted about the Bechdel test, and briefly mentioned several men, including that I love Mr. Gold, although I’d like to clarify that I meant it in a writerly ‘character-admiration’ way rather than a pervy fan-girl way. FAIL

Here’s the conclusion I have reached. If you are not a completely self-centered person and if you talk to somebody else, ANYBODY else long enough, you are going to eventually mention other people and unless you live in an alternative reality in which there are no Y chromosomes, some of those other people you talk about will be men.

I only had one conversation with a woman this week in which we discussed men or a man in a remotely romantic way and that was when Lauren and I were speculating about who to cast in our imaginary play-land Labyrinth reboot and even then I think my comments about a man in the entirely of this forty-five minute conversation were “Yeah, he’s hot. I really like his voice.”

The End.

But, the point of the Bechdel test isn’t to determine whether or not your female characters are preoccupied by men romantically, it’s supposed to be more about how much their lives appear to be oriented around men and their choices and actions. Do these women live their own lives and have other concerns besides the concerns of the male characters with whom they interact? Are we people or are we framework?

Maybe the topics of conversation that I follow with other females say more about me and these other women then they do about society and feminism. In fact, I’m sure they do since my life isn’t a form of media being added to the pop culture slurry. Thank heavens.

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