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The Bechdel Test and my books

Novelist kateelliott first introduced me to the Bechdel Test in this post about epic fantasy. The Bechdel Test was originally created for movies, but can be applied easily to books too. As its official page states, the test rates a movie (or a book, we could say) on the following three criteria:

1) It has to have at least two women in it,
2) who talk to each other,
3) about something besides a man.

This test has stuck in my mind ever since reading Elliott's post, because, as she says, it's kind of astonishing how many books and movies don't pass all three criteria. I do believe in basic equality, and those three simple rules seem more than fair.

So naturally it made me look at my own novels. And I'm chagrined to say that some of them barely squeak by, or might even fail. Quick rundown:

The Ghost Downstairs: Passes with full marks. Lots of female characters--in fact, more females than males. They do discuss men (it's a romance, after all), but they also discuss ghosts and jobs and stuff.

Summer Term: Hmm. I do have a number of active female characters, but most of them don't interact with each other, or only meet briefly. The two best friends, Paige and Ky, do chat a lot, but it's almost always about men. Again, in my defense, it's a romance, and of the most frothy sort. Still, they take sidetracks into movies and academics for a line or two here and there, so maybe this book gets a pass.

What Scotland Taught Me: Passes just fine. Of the four main characters, three are young women, who do plenty of interacting. Again, squealing (or squabbling) over boys constitutes a lot of their subject matter, but there are soberer discussions involving family members and career plans and ghost legends.

Of Ghosts and Geeks: (Novella; likely soon to be published--yay!) Highly silly, given that one of the main female characters is an obnoxious ghost, but it does pass. She and the living female protagonist occasionally talk of non-romance issues, but not much, since the whole point is that the ghost is obsessed with romance.

Boy in Eyeliner: (Not yet published. In revision.) Eek. This might fail! But my defense this time is somewhat better. It's from a first-person male point of view, and his main love ends up being with another man. Hopefully that regains some of my gender-equality street cred. Also, I've scattered the characters across the globe--Portland, Seattle, and London--so the three or four important female characters simply aren't in the same location at the same time, on the whole. Still, maybe I should reconsider that.

So. How do your favorites--or your own creations--measure up?

Comments

mariole
Mar. 31st, 2011 04:16 am (UTC)
Wow, I should do this with my own stories. I know my latest one passes-- 2 female astronauts talking aliens and biz. My previous story didn't have any dialog at all-- it was an ethereal creature POV. I'll have to look at my novel. Half are females, so I assume at least some of them talk to each other, but it's been a while.

As for fanfic, it's mostly male characters. I doubt many (any?) of my LOTR fics pass. But my Sherlock WIP passes; we got ladies talking to other ladies about possible female stalkers. So that one wins by complete accident. My MASH fics are also 50/50, as I've got Margaret and her nurses trying to solve a murder in one of them.

It's a good test. I think of how often I talk to my female friends about science, politics, health, vacations, etc. It just doesn't end up a lot in fiction. A lot of fiction is (as you demonstrate above) romantic in nature, so we WANT to talk with (or about) the boys. Supremely guilty. Great post!
mollyringle
Mar. 31st, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
My instinct is that For the Time Being does pass, given that time/space travel is the main conversation topic throughout, though I don't remember the exact details of all the scenes now. :)

For fanfic, I think we can mostly blame the original authors. LOTR's lack of female leadership roles is squarely Tolkien's fault. To remedy it in fanfic, we'd either have to shove the females into joint protagonist positions (Arwen and Eowyn take over the quest? Cue fans rolling eyes...), or introduce original female characters (cue fans rolling eyes again).

But as kiralademaus says below, it's probably okay to fail the test as long as the reverse fails too--say, when it's nearly always about romance, and the men talking to each other are always discussing a woman. :)