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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