Passing the Bechdel Test

August 8, 2015

For those who don’t know, the Bechdel Test asks whether a piece of fiction:

  1. Features at least two (named) women who
  2. Talk to each other about
  3. Something other than a man.

It’s always been important to me that my stories pass the Bechdel Test. Half of humanity is female, so it was inconceivable to me that I’d write stories where there weren’t at least two named women who had a conversation at least once in an entire novel! And if that makes me a SJW, then hand me my social justice pike (or whatever), because it just sounds like common decency to me.

So I was worried. I asked a friend: Does it count if the two women are in a group? Like, does the conversation have to be a private conversation between only the two (or more) women, or does it count if they are in a big (mix-gender) group, as long as they’re actually talking and (preferably) address each other at some point? (And aren’t talking about a man.)

To which my friend replied, of course that would count, you idiot. (I was being an idiot.) The point of the test is a rough measure of inherent sexism in a piece. That’s it.

Which is when it struck me: Isn’t it really easy to pass this test? I mean, seriously! All you need to do is have a few female characters, make at least one of them a main character, and then it’ll pretty much happen by accident! (For the record, Wage Slave Rebellion passes the test within like four scenes. The next book will pass it easily as well.)

The sad fact is that so many stories have so few female characters, or the female characters they do have are so unimportant, that they can’t pass this simple test. Which is the entire point of the test, clearly. It’s just so damn easy if you pay attention at all—the problem being that so many people don’t.

And look. Some stories won’t pass the Bechdel Test for totally sensible reasons. FiveThirtyEight notes that Gravity doesn’t pass the test, even though it has a well-regarded female lead. When Cast Away spends nearly the entire movie with Tom Hank talking to a volleyball, it can be forgiven for not having a ton of women. Likewise, some stories won’t pass the logical opposite for male characters, even though there’s no name for that test because it doesn’t exist. (I propose the Dick Test, because I’m twelve years old inside.) That’s fine, if there’s a narrative reason for it.

It’s when the vast majority of films (as an example) don’t pass something as easy as the Bechdel Test, that you realize the sorry state that industry is in. The deck is stacked against women, and my nieces won’t be able to see nearly as many interesting, dynamic female characters in movies as my nephew will see interesting, dynamic male characters.

Thank the gods that written fiction is so often better. That’s what nice about being out here on the long tail. I don’t have to cater to a mass audience, nor to idiot producers. I get to tell the story want to tell, with the characters I want, and I can make my villains, my heroes, and even my mooks female if I want to. Because, as my friend said, women are capable of being just as clever, vicious, and bastardly as men. Amen to that.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.