Monday, 11 November 2013

taking the Bechdel test

Have you heard about the Bechdel test?

Brought to our attention by Alison Bechdel, the awesome American cartoonist (check out her website here), is a blunt instrument tool to look at the sexism of ommission in films.  But you can use it for any sort of story.

The Bechdel test is a pass or fail test.  You need to ask yourself these questions about the film:

  1. Are there two (named) women in it?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?
If you get through to the end of those questions with a YES, then the film has passed the Bechdel test.  If you don't, then it has failed.

The test, as I said, is a blunt instrument.  A film will pass if two named women have one conversation about shopping for puppies (giggle), and will fail if two unnamed superheroines kick butt across America, constantly discussing feminist theory.  But blunt instruments are useful.  Hammers are blunt instruments.

So what fails the test?  Lots of films, like
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • All Star Wars films
  • All but one of the Harry Potter films
And what passes?  Still, lots of films, but a lot less.  Here's some:

  • The Hunger Games
  • Tangled
  • Brave

The Bechdel test is also worth thinking about when watching TV, reading books, and playing computer games.  There are a lot of things that fail the test, but computer games are pretty terrible. 

Some say that it is unrealistic to judge people like Tolkien through the prism of what is considered alright now.  He was a man of his time.  He did not have women in his stories (or very few anyway), because there were very few women in public life.  To be fair, Fantasy is pretty woeful in its representation of women generally.  However, we can change things.  When Battlestar Galactica was remade for television Starbuck became a woman, and that worked marvellously.  Couldn't one or more of Frodo's companions have become a woman?  

Just because some good stories were told in patriarchal mode does not mean we have to keep them like that.

What do you think of the Bechdel test?  And how would you fancy changing a failing story into a passing one?  Me, I'm making the gang of Hobbits into a gang of lasses - it'll bring a whole different quality to their being constantly patronised.

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