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Last month at Convolution 2014 I attended an interesting panel on The Bechdel Test. The discussion covered the roles and perceptions of women in movies, TV, and books. It wasn't the first time I've heard of Bechdel, but it was the first really good debate I've attended on the subject. It struck me as a great fit for the My Kind of Heroine blog series.
TV Tropes defines The Bechdel Test as:
The Bechdel Test, Bechdel-Wallace Test, or the Mo Movie Measure, is a litmus test for female presence in fictional media. The test is named for Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For,...
To summarize, your story must meet the following criteria in order to pass Bechdel:
- Include two named women
- who have a minimum of one conversation
- about something other than a man or men
Let's look at a few examples from popular culture.
Kill Bill. At a glance, Kill Bill passes Bechdel with flying colors. There are multiple powerful named female characters, and numerous scenes involving women interacting with other women. With a team of highly trained woman assassins, female empowerment appears to be front and center. Yet, at it's core, each of these women is ultimately under the thumb of the manipulative and unscrupulous Bill.(For the record, I enjoyed Kill Bill.)
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The Smurfs TV series. I haven't seen the movie, so I'm going entirely based on childhood memories of the TV series. Smurfette is the only girl in a world of boys. She's vain, flirty, and dingy. A blue Barbie doll who never speaks to another woman, because there no other women in the entire world. Fail.
Star Wars Trilogy. Episodes 4-6. Bet you wouldn't have guessed Star Wars would fail, would you? In an entire Lucas universe, there are only three named female characters with speaking roles: Princess Leia, Aunt Beru, and Mon Mothma. Yet, none of them ever have share a conversation with each other.*
Naturally, I couldn't write about Bechdel and fail to apply the test to my own books. I'd love to say that my own books passed with flying colors. Except, one didn't. A Cat's Tale, my first published paranormal romance novels, fails in a big way. I do have scenes where named female characters (my heroine and the vampiress villain) speak to each other, but it is always about a man (the hero).
Thankfully, since then, each of my books contains scenes with women talking to women about things other than men. Bearing in mind that Bechdel has limited utility, I also make a concentrated effort to honor the spirit of female empowerment in my fiction.
How about you? How do your stories measure up under Bechdel?
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Attribution: *Film School Rejects.com