Bar-raising: Bechdel and Mako Mori

I’ve written about the Bechdel test before. There are a few things I think is necessary to remember about it:

  • It was originally written as a comic.   Sure, it was a serious comic, and comics often have a better way to comment on the world around them than other forms of art.
  • It is an incredibly low bar. (perhaps because it was tongue in cheek?)
  • It’s not enough.

There are films, books and stories that fail the Bechdel test – like Gravity – that simply don’t fit into the structure. None of the Star Wars  films fit the bill, but Leia and Padme both were leaders. Leia withstood torture, and still didn’t give the real location of the rebel base.  Hermione Granger is so essential to Harry Potter books that most of Chamber of Secrets the boys are bemoaning that they need her help – and ultimately get the answer from her petrified grip.

There’s an interesting commentary in this article about Sweden including the Bechdel test as part of their film grading system.  I like what the author has to say about the awareness of inclusion.

Honestly, in terms of deconstructionism, sometimes it matters as much what is not a part of the cast of characters. The negative space where women are absent can be a comment upon the whole.  (In a study of opposites, Y the Last Man is largely populated by a female only society. It says a lot about how people and gender, without having to say much at all.)

The article also brought up the concept of the Mako Mori test as an alternative to the incomplete Bechdel measurement.

The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.

This is one that fits Gravity‘s mold. It fits any number of films and books where there aren’t named-character conversations.

So, yeah, I think it’s a better test.   The Mako Mori test, could at least be used to swap out any under-represented character sort (sexual orientation, race, ability, etc) and it still says something about our world that we need to ask for and measure inclusion of all of these types of characters. 

But I really dislike these tests, the more I think about them.   They don’t say anything about the quality of the conversations or interactions or arcs of these people. They may or may not be representation at all. They might be gross misrepresentation, in fact.  I think these tests might encourage people to shoe-horn characters into stories where they don’t belong.

What do you think?

One thought on “Bar-raising: Bechdel and Mako Mori

  1. We actually had a discussion about the Bechdel test and the article about Sweden this past weekend in a webcomics community group I belong to. I found it interesting that neither one of my webcomics passed the test and only one of them passed the Mako Mori test. Although, the one that did not pass is still in it’s infancy and an anthology book as well. I do agree though that test such as the ones you mentioned can be more harmful than helpful. Maybe they work as a nice guide when world building but to alter an existing idea just to meet the criteria can be harmful to the original intent of the story.

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