It has been called many things, but the Bechdel test is based on a comic written by Allison Bechdel. It can be applied to movies, comics, video games, books – really any media. In order to pass the test, the medium must contain the following three things:
- More than one named female character
- Talking to one another
- … about anything other than a man
This test seems impossibly simple. It sounds like any number of films and books should pass it. It is really disheartening when you realize that many, many do not.
The problem with this test – which is increasingly considered a litmus test for female presence in a piece – is that it is not enough. It is the bare minimum of representation, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface. Those two women could still hate one another, perpetuating the idea that women are in constant competition for male attention. Those two women could be passing small talk, it could be a fluke that they speak at all.
Things you rarely see in films, books, comics:
- Women or girls cooperating with one another
- Women or girls who aren’t directly competing with one another
- Positive relationships between sisters
- Positive mother/daughter relationships
- Women or girls who aren’t concerned about their outward appearance
I would like to see the Bechdel test fade away. I’d like to see art that represents women at least as much as this test asks to become the norm. Then we could talk about something more important than whether there were even any women shown at all.
I have a lot of thoughts about this that probably need to be broken into separate posts. I am a feminist, but I’m not convinced I’m a very good one. It bears exploration, since I’m in the process of creating media as well.
Just like the question of whether it’s possible to create a catchy romance novel with healthy characters, I think the above challenge poses questions as well. Could there be media that shows women cooperating or in positive relationships that is still popular in mainstream culture?
I think so. The Harry Potter series managed to do many of the above, and it did quite well (Ginny and her mother had a good relationship; Hermione cooperated with Luna, Ginny, and other DA members, they were friends not competitors.) What if they aren’t children? What if they aren’t all secondary characters? Is it possible to do this in a genre that tends toward the masculine without being dismissed as “chick lit”?
I guess we’ll find out.