Passing the Bechdel Test

I was surfing around YouTube one day when I came across this video called “Is Pixar Sexist?”

Yeah, I know it sounds clickbaity, but I watched it and it wasn’t a SJW attack on Pixar—not at all. It was positive, thorough, and entertaining. What intrigued me most about the video was the mention of the Bechdel test.

While the Bechdel test is often applied to films, I am sure that it can also apply to written work. All you really have to do is switch out ‘film’ and put in ‘book’ or ‘short story’ or ‘poem.’

The YouTube videos that decided this topic for today is this one by the SuperCarlinBrothers, who I often watch for their pleasant geekery.

The other half of the discussion is continued on Ashley Mardell’s channel. It’s a fun discussion, one that I feel covers the idea of female representation in Pixar films rather than sexism (those titles were clearly clickbait, though).

For the record, I don’t think Pixar is sexist, but they could use more diverse representation in their stories.

Origin Story Time

The Bechdel test originated from this 1980s comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. It was about a group of lesbian women living day-to-day life. A strip in the series called “The Rule” unveiled what would eventually form the Bechdel test:

dykes_to_watch_out_for_28bechdel_test_origin29

Its popularity and use grew over time.

Articles about it appear every once in a while, like this one, which half-asks whether the Bechdel test could use an upgrade.

Limitations

Like any test, there is still a margin-of-error.

Normally, I don’t like to rely on Wikipedia, but I’m slowly getting ready for a lazy Spring Break, and I don’t necessarily feel like paraphrasing and finding the best quote, so I’ll just link the Wikipedia article here, and you can have a look at the ‘Limitations and Criticism’ section. I’ve found some nice sources and links to real articles from the page.

Keep in mind that there are films that can be completely sexist or downright terrible… and still technically pass the Bechdel test. There’s also a matter of whether films (or other mediums for storytelling) are obligated to represent women rather than focus on the creator’s agenda, which is always up for debate… which I don’t want to get into.

Agh… avoid YouTube comment sections of videos dealing with these kinds of topics. A terrible place….

Rather than have posted videos of millenials talking about Pixar (YouTube links above), I figured this post would look a little more… mature with a TED Talks video instead (which I also enjoyed). The speaker discusses what he has found to be the way films teach ‘manhood.’

Bechdel Test Children

I found this nice NPR story about the Bechdel test (or ‘rule’ as they refer to it) as well as other types of rules that have been created similar to it. I only listened to the radio show segment All Things Considered.

Also, the Wikipedia page for the Bechdel test included a few other tests that came from it, such as Russo test and the Sexy Lamp test. There’s also a link to the Smurfette Principle as well, which I’d always known about but didn’t know its name.

But… this is for films.

Yeah… which is why I said at the very beginning

While the Bechdel test is often applied to films, I am sure that it can also apply to written work. All you really have to do is switch out ‘film’ and put in ‘book’ or ‘short story’ or ‘poem.’

When I started thinking about the Bechdel test, the first thing that came to mind was my ongoing story Charlie the Vampire. Does it pass the Bechdel test? Technically, yes and no.

Remember:

1. It has 2+ female characters in it, who have names

2. The 2+ female characters actually talk to each other

3. They talk about anything other than a man

C the V revolves around a female protagonist named Emalie, though she co-stars with a male. Let’s see…. Emalie does talk with a minor female character, and it’s not about a male (about survival)… and that minor female character does have a name (Penny).

Every other conversation Emalie has with another female is technically about a male in some form or another, but not in a romantic sense… so… I hope that counts for something.

My writing about the Bechdel test isn’t to suggest that every storyteller must follow it in order to be liked by female audiences. No, no.

I’m now thinking of the Bechdel test as a nice little measuring stick for my female characters. I always felt that I was writing strong women (or trying to, anyway), but there are some things I know I want to fix.

And I’m not trying to fit some sort of ‘feminist agenda’ which can easily be misconstrued due to all the definitions of feminism that currently exist—some good, some… not.

I just hope to use this little test to create female characters of depth, who have a strong presence in the story and are equal to any male counterparts in that story. I hope to use this line of thinking to better my writing.

Thank you for your time.

 

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Author: Saffron Grey

"Saffron Grey" is a preferred pen name, something to be referred to online. Saffron wants to be cool. School is a full-time job, writing is a dream career, blogging---a hobby, and acting---a dream. To do all three at the same time is a challenge gladly accepted. Saffron lives in California with her mother, sister, and their dog, Pepe.

3 thoughts on “Passing the Bechdel Test”

  1. Fascinating read.

    I’m curious to know how strictly a story or film must follow the rules to pass the test. Can two women ever have a conversation about a man? Or is it OK as long as most of their interactions aren’t about men?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From what I understand, I believe the 2 women CAN talk about a man, but it can’t ONLY be about a man. I’m not an authority on the test, but I think it would be passing as long as MOST of their interactions aren’t about men?

      I saw another variant of the test where it called for POC and/or LGBTQ+ women.

      Thanks for your response!

      Like

      1. That makes the most sense, otherwise it would be a difficult test to pass.
        I’ll be sure to pay attention during the next movie I watch.

        Hmm, I wonder how many “chick flicks” and romantic comedies passthat test.

        Like

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