Thursday, October 4, 2012

Curmudgeon's Corner (CB): The Bechdel Test

The Lord of the Rings (Lord of the Rings #1-3)

Alison Bechdel, in the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, made up a test for female presence in movies and TV in this strip. The test has the following criteria:

1. It includes at least two women,
2. who have at least one conversation,
3. about something other than a man or men.

...Think about it, a little. It's shocking how many movies fail this test -- a quick web search brought up, among others, the entire Star Wars original trilogy, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, for starters; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (this surprised me). All of those movies involve at least two men who have conversations about something other than women.

(Note: This is not supposed to be necessarily a test for feminism; I'm sure we can all think of movies or books that don't pass but aren't at all female-offensive (I list at least one below); it's merely something to think about. I saw a comment that compared it to "feminist BMI," which is kind of a good analogy; like Body Mass Index, it can be misused, but in context is sort of a useful tool to see things one might not otherwise.)

Let's apply this to books, shall we? A lot of old-school fantasy and SF has this problem. Lord of the Rings, which is my favorite book ever ....I don't think there are ever two women in the same room in that one! (I feel compelled to point out, in Tolkien's defense, because I am a complete Tolkien fangirl, that he was consciously modeling a lot of the cultures in LOTR on actual medieval/pre-medieval culture/literature that had the same problem -- see, for example, Beowulf.) A Wizard of Earthsea. (Not to single out LeGuin, here, who more than made up for it with her later books.) Foundation

These days it's not nearly as bad, not least because there are a lot more female heroines -- especially in YA. I don't think I've read a book that overall fails the test in some time (except for some Star Trek novel rereads I was doing a couple months ago). And yet it's a little scary how close some books come to fail, even with a heroine.

This insightful post talks a little about why this might be the case from what he calls a "mechanics" writing perspective, and I think needs to be read by all writers. Why not make that inconsequential role a woman?

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  1. I'd definitelly choose reading minds, how cool is that?! :D

  2. The Bechdel test is definitely something I think about when reading/consuming media and is part of the reason I love YA. There are some great female friendships in addition to fun settings and plots. I'm not big on a lot of old fantasy specifically because they usually have so few female characters compared to the guys (still love the LOTR movies though!)

  3. Thank you for a most interesting post. Thinking about the 'Bechdel test' i can see what you mean, when i concider works of fiction. There are some great works of literature with female chacters in them, but they are not as noticable (cetainly when it comes to conversation) compared to men. For example within fantasy from George RR Martin to Kate Elliot and even JK Rowling, their work is all surrounding that male that stands out, has freindships and is more aparent than the females. Even in Emily Gee's the sentinel mage the female main character is very alone and her only 'friend' or bond is with a male prince.

  4. I'm surprised the Hobbit is even being made into a movie, based on stuff like the Bechdel Test. Was there even a woman in the book? I'm wondering if they're going to make one or more of the dwarves female, just to get around the incredible lack of women. (Though, as another Tolkien fangirl, I've no problem with the book.)

  5. I am just starting to read The Hobbit. :) Another Tolkien fan here, despite the lack of female characters in his books! :D