Feminist Friday: How Valuable is the Bechdel Test?

Feminist Fridays are back! This week’s installment is a fine post from Sabina of Victim to Charm that asks some very good questions about the Bechdel test. Check it out if you have a second; I’ll see you over at Victim to Charm this afternoon.

Victim to Charm

Think about the last movie you saw. Were there two or more female characters? Did they talk to each other about something besides men?

The Bechdel test, created by Alison Bechdel, examines female roles in movies by asking three questions:

  • Are there two or more women in the film?
  • Do they talk to each other?
  • Is their conversation about something other than a man?

alison bechdel, dykes to watch out for From Alison Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” (1985).

The test seems simple—women talk to each other about things besides men all the time in real life—yet a surprisingly high number of movies fail to represent this basic activity.

5540832_origThe test is so basic because it’s a standard that should be easy to pass. The fact that so many movies fail to achieve one, two, or all three of the test’s clauses highlights the rampant misogyny of the film industry. If a movie can’t…

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Zero to Hero 9: Ever Deeper


Today’s Zero to Hero challenge makes a certain amount of sense to me. Following blogs and topics five at time allows you to really build your reader in increments and make decisions about what sort of content to look for next.  I like the fact that the challenge is emphasizing the non-writing aspects of blogging. My experiences starting new blogs over the past couple of months have reminded me of some things that I already knew, but perhaps had forgotten:

No matter how good your writing is, you’ve gotta pay at least a little attention to how it’s presented, and to networking with other bloggers, if you ever want anybody to read it.

Here are five blogs I follow, but haven’t linked to yet:

Things Matter

Geek Ergo Sum

What’s Your Tag?

My [Redacted] Journey


Here are the tags I followed today:

Geek – because it occurred to me that I should have started following it on day 1, and I was correct.

Steampunk – because I enjoy it, and it’s an excellent genre to look at if you like interesting images.

Opinion – because we’ve made a decision in the last week or so to do some opinion and commentary at Sourcerer when the notion takes us, and I wanted to see what other people were putting in that tag. (We are NOT turning Sourcerer into a political blog, we are just allowing space to do an editorial on political, cultural, or social issues now and then.)

Leftist – for the same reason I followed opinion. The funny thing is, I did not find any leftists there, just a few people labeling their ideological opponents leftists. The topic is almost non-existent, and I think six or seven leftist bloggers could easily get together, take over that tag, and do some fun things with it.

Capitalism – I was trying to figure out where some leftists might be found, and it occurred to me that this is probably one of their favorite tags. I was correct, but I also found a few interesting philosophical and economics-oriented pieces that were written from non-leftist perspectives.

I have also started tagging things with Part Time Monster and Sourcerer when I don’t have enough relevant tags, so as we build an archive of posts, we can access a lot of the things I post on those sites by adding those topics to the reader.

This weekend, I am planning to shift my Zero to Hero posting to Sourcerer, unless we happen to get an assignment that focuses specifically on a writing-related topic. I started the challenge here because I had Sourcerer’s content for this week planned out and scheduled by the time the challenge started, and I did not want to crowd out the contributors who debuted over there this week.

Now that we’re returning to a more normal blogging pace, I think the focus of this site needs to shift back to writing; so, beginning Monday, you can expect to see discussion and reblogging of writing-related topics resume.

Thanks to everyone for following. I am looking forward to a marvelous year of (mostly) everyday blogging.

Character Authenticity: Gender

Elmowrites has a post today about the problems of writing characters of a different gender than one’s own. I find it interesting because I have had this conversation many times, but always with men who are trying to write women, and this post looks at it from the other side. It ends with a good question:

But is there also an element of stereotyping? Do we feel more comfortable saying men act / think / feel a certain way than we do with other classes of character?

My take on this is that any time you say “This character is not authentic because of X,” where “X” is a socially-constructed category of behavior, there is a stereotype involved in the judgment somewhere. Having said that, I don’t think I have ever paused in my reading and thought “A man would never say that.”

However, I have said things like “Boy, this character sure doesn’t know very much about Catholicism for a priest,” and “Why is this 15th-Century Scot acting so English?” Rarely, very rarely, do I read a female character and question the authenticity of her behavior based on gender.

Supported by nothing but my own reading habits, I would suggest that readers don’t question male characters as authentically masculine as often as they question the authenticity of other categories of characters. There are more canonized male writers than female, and more men working as writers than women. That means that even when men and women are equally represented numerically in a text, the male characters tend to be better fleshed-out and therefore, more authentic from the perspective of a reader.

My sense is that the range of “masculine” behaviors depicted in fiction is much more broad and diverse than the range of “feminine” behaviors, so it stands to reason that masculinity would be questioned less often than femininity. Of course, I am a man, and I understand masculinity much better than femininity, so it could just be that I personally question male characters less often, and my own habits are not generalizable beyond white, middle-class-educated men from the U.S.

I discussed this with a friend as I was formulating my response. He suggested that the perceived gender of the author is also a factor here, such that women with masculine pen names should have the authenticity of their female characters questioned more often than they would if they used feminine pen names, and vice-versa. Which strikes me as an interesting topic for a research project.