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11 January 2009 @ 10:29 pm
your fascinating bit of sexism in pop culture for the day  
sunday afternoon coffee, as usual, was stimulating and caffeinated.  We got to talking about the Bechdel Test, and I wondered if the flist knows about this?  It's popped up here and there for me in the past couple of years.  The test is this:

1.  Does the work have at least two women in it?
2.  Who talk to each other?
3.  About something other than men?

It comes from a comic by Alison Bechdel called Dykes to Watch Out For. One of the characters suggests that she doesn't watch movies that don't pass this test.

Even though it originally came up in the context of film, it's a curious experiment to think about it in other contexts. Do the fantasy novels I've just spent the last week qualify? (on the whole, no) What about the fic? (pretty much no) My favorite television shows? (not often) Every episode? (nope)

It seems like such a simple thing. I do it every day (I mean talk to women about something other than men). And yet...

Now, I'm not advocating that every single mm slashfic has to have two women in it who are talking to each other about something else. And I'm certainly not going to boycott texts or films that I don't think will pass this test. But when the sexes are evenly divided out in the world, why don't we have more parity in our fictional texts?

more links about the Bechdel Test
[ wiki on DtWOF ]  [ bechdel test movie list
apothespisis: blondeapothespisis on January 12th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
I became familiar with the Bechdel Test a few years back via a Gender and Literature class I took. Off topic: the professor was an out lesbian who hated all men, and especially me because I had the audacity to speak in class. All of the assigned texts were lesbian literature, and while I was happy to read it, I found it odd that a class whose purpose was to explore the concept of gender within literature paid no attention to work written by men or contained male characters who were not the topic of wrath.

You make an excellent point and it's caused me to consider my own fanfiction. I write predominantly about Xander and in third-permission, but it always comes across as if Cordelia was the narrator. She's so ingrained that she's now a part of me, or else her character echoed something already within me.

I do write a lot of female characters and hope that I do them justice, but I find that I often have them discussing men because it's within the context of the story, i.e. they might be discussing Xander, who's the protagonist and drives plot. I think the genre, setting, and overall arc of the story is a determinative factor in how the characters speak and what they discuss. That said, I want to explore this idea more of women discussing other things. It can only be a good thing.

One thing I have shied away from since I first began writing is the idea of women fighting over a male character for whatever reason, be it romantic interest or friendship or control. In the beginning, I was brutal to Buffy simply because I wanted to persecute her because I disagree with many aspects of her character. Now when I have women arguing over a man, I try instead to explore the underlying issues. The man is a catalyst, so to speak, and I also try to present fairly both sides. Because there is NOTHING more pathetic than two women fighting over a man. Women deserve better.

Oh, um, BTW...how are you?!?! *tackle!glomp*
my monkied brain: x/c - *snuggle*katekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
One of my frustrations as a student is hearing about experiences like yours (where men who are actually *interested* in the subject of gender construction are met with outright hostility from the very women who ought to welcome men into the conversation). I want to shake some sense into those women. Glad though, that at least you were able to get something out of the reading list, even if it was one-sided.

And on a tangent from that, one of my all time favorite examples of practical feminism was Zsuzsanna Budapest's story - she brought men (including her son) to discussions/rituals of the goddess, and other women gave her flack for it. And she told them, basically, that if they didn't involve men in the conversation, if they didn't teach their sons, then the world was never going to change because they'd just be a room full of women agreeing with each other.

I honestly think that it's difficult when writing/reading in the fandoms we do (although i know your Charmed fandom at least has the sister triumvirate) that very often the women do not have good relationships with one another. I mean, I like the fact that Buffy & willow are friends, but the fact that Cordelia, even after she's accept into the group, is often still held at arm's length? I love the fact that you've envisioned Anya and Cordelia getting along quite well in your fics because I do agree with you that they would (though I somehow doubt that, had they hung out in cannon, they would have played nicely, for reasons that have to do less with character and more with 'dramatic' tension.

And the internalized Cordy voice? I so see that in some of your work!

Thank you for *thinking* about the dynamics of women in your fics. I LOVE that, and even without you pointing it out I can absolutely see the work you put into exploring women's conflicts in an honest way (like seriously, i ADORE HP & the R Seer for all of the ways in which you jerk ... crap, like half of the characters up by their own foibles, so that they *think* about why it is they're acting the way they are).

Oh and BTW *SQUEEZES YOU TILL YOU EEP* hi!!! i'm doing ok - less crazed than usual. what about you?? how you been?

Edited at 2009-01-12 05:09 am (UTC)
apothespisis: awkwardapothespisis on January 12th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
I need to look into getting a paid account just so I can edit my darn comments. *sigh*

"third-permission" = third-person omniscient. I'm sure you already figured that out, but it would drive me nuts if I didn't correct it. :P

In my defense, my contacts are wonky and I'm exhausted, which totally counts! :D
my monkied brain: buffywill - *hug*katekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)
lol - not to worry darling, i totally knew what you were talking about. And being wonky and exhausted totally counts!
reremousereremouse on January 12th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
Huh - you know, on the rare occasion there're enough characters involved in any given fic for there to be two women in the story, I can't think of any of mine that don't pass the test. Unless you count Comics, Cosmetics where Anya and Tara had their moments in the sun to offer Xander unsolicited advice for comic purposes.

That said, I don't know if I'd call a fanfic - slash fanfic in particular - sexist if it doesn't pass the Bechdel test.

Which leaves me wondering: would it be more sexist to include two token women in a story that has no place or need for them for the sole purpose of talking about something other than men? Can the same rules apply to slash that doesn't bash?
my monkied brain: s/x - a quiet momentkatekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
That said, I don't know if I'd call a fanfic - slash fanfic in particular - sexist if it doesn't pass the Bechdel test.

Very very true! I think fanfic has some very interesting rules/codes/parameters that make this kind of a test entirely unapplicable. If you're writing a fic where the two main characters are male, it's told from the POV of one of them, it simply isn't going to work unless you have him overhearing someone else's conversation. And how belabored is that?! Your question about strong-arming ff conversations into a work is well taken too - I think that it has to make sense, not just be something shoe horned, because then the shoe-horning is just being formulaic in an entirely different way. This rule simply isn't the only way to look at a text, not at all, and it's not really an either/or proposition.

And mostly I posted this to more ask the question. I don't think that works that don't pass this test are sexist out of hand. I also wouldn't suggest that texts (like say the film 27 Dresses) that pass this test should automatically be given a "ooh, non-sexist text!" green light either. And I'm hugely curious about the body of work that discusses slash fiction in the context of desire (both feminine and masculine) - it's an interesting conversation that I assume has only just begun - and some of my reading there discusses the idea of identification as not ever proceeding along gendered lines.

Once I'd heard about this particular little artifact of pop culture, and once I applied it to some of my favorite works, I was kind of amazed at how certain conventions are taken for granted. I don't think slash should ever have to incorporate a line in authors notes stating whether it met the Bechdel test or not - more that it might be one lens to look at things.

(sorry, got rambly there, hope this was coherent)
reremousereremouse on January 13th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)
Rambly ain't bad! You're in good and rambly company. And you know - I avoid the discussion of slash fanfiction in the context of desire because it tends to focus only on straight and bisexual women and gross generalizations and assumptions rather than taking fanwriters as the diversely motivated group they are. I write m/m when the characters I'm most taken with are male. I write f/f when the characters I'm most taken with are female. And I very seldom set out to write erotic fanfic for the sake of eroticism - and even then there's a degree of commentary and meta going on under the pr0n.

I think the Bechdel test only works for mass pop culture intended for the generally heterosexual audience. So in that context, it could apply to fanfic but with some alterations. In fanfic, my test (the rere test?) is 'if there is a woman involved in the m/m slash story, is her role something other than getting the men together, keeping the men together, attempting to drive the men apart or threatening the men or their relationship?' It's the same test from a different angle. Simply stated: is a woman's right to exist in a work defined by her influence on the romantic lives of the men? If so, there could be a whiff of sexism goin' on there, yeah.

And man - I hope that was coherent. It and all its run-on sentences.
i will write in words of fire: [mood] almost innocentposhlil on January 12th, 2009 04:17 am (UTC)
The fantasy novel i'm reading currently? Yes. I think most of my novels do. Except maybe Jane Austen's ones, where all they talk about is marriage ;) The fic? Sometimes (generally i read Doctor/Donna, so not in that case, no). My favourite tv shows? Um... yes, i think. Though possibly not EVERY episode.
my monkied brainkatekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
woot! what fantasy novel are you reading currently?

and i was totally posting it for a thinky experiment, you know? cuz i think not every text that doesn't pass is bad, and not every text that does pass is great or anything, just that it's kind of interesting to see what does and what doesn't (boy if that made any sense i'll be a happy girl)
i will write in words of fireposhlil on January 12th, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire". Currently on book four. It's seriously brilliant.

Oh i know, it makes perfect sense. It got me thinking! I just thought i'd post you some answers of my own ;)
my monkied brain: a/f - adorationkatekat1010 on January 13th, 2009 01:03 am (UTC)
LOVE THOSE!!!! They are awesome!! Someday i have to go back and reread them though - so much goin on that it's all a blur.

And yay! I loved having your answers, they are awesome!
i will write in words of fireposhlil on January 13th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
Sure are! He's an incredible writer, can't wait till he finishes off the series.

Lostgirllostgirlslair on January 12th, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
I think this is a fantastic topic for discussion! Although, I can't really think if my fav. shows do this or not. Though I'll be paying closer attention in the future.

As for my own writing, it does depend. In my novels, there are tons of women talking to other women about non-men topics. On the other hand, short stories are more focused, I think. I put in the characters that need to be there and often my stories are somewhat internal to the main character. There is one that I've been playing with recently where the main character has maybe . . . a handful of words with anyone else? But, those two characters that she speaks with so briefly do not *have* to men. I've written them as men, but they did not have to be men. ::ponders::

In my slash, there are fairly few female conversations. The two men that are the focus of the story do talk to women, but for the most part, my slash does not pass. *G* Of course, my femme-slash does, and . . . I don't think I've written any het that wasn't PWP, and since it would be fairly strange for another woman to pop there . . . ::laughs::

I'm trying to think of how to explain the way it usually goes for me. My main characters determine the story, to some extent. Levi talks to Celia and Bobby (her sister and her brother), and to a woman police officer, because she has to, because they are present. Amanda doesn't talk to anybody, because of the format of the story. It doesn't require her to speak to people, and in fact would discourage it.

I think that, in my original writing, it largely depends on what the plot requires, who my main character is as a person (who is around them, and their gender), and the length of the story. If there are two women in the story, they will discuss something, though in short fiction it will probably be the plot. And there aren't always two women around.

Also, though, what are we defining as 'talking to'? It may sound like a stupid question, but in one story one of the main characters is a police detective in the middle of a crisis. She talks to at least two women, one is her boss and the other a subordinate, and their talk is largely confined to the plot. Does that count as discussion other than men? Or, in other stories, there isn't much to say. The story is largely internal to the character and while they may exchange a few words with other characters (sometimes female) they're not exactly discussing anything.

The point I'm basically getting at is that the Bechdel Test is a very general thing. Which is good, to serve as a guideline it has to be, given the range of fiction out there, but I don't think that it can fit every situation and it certainly shouldn't be something we take as a hard and fast rule. However, as a guideline and as something that actually makes us *look* at what we're writing, I find it fascinating. *G*

(Er, right, now back to writing my story. In which no women are even present. ::snorts::)
my monkied brain: buffywill - *glomp*katekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)
Ok, i accidentally hit the wrong button and froze your comment! and then lj deleted my reply, darnit!

anyway, i basically agree with you that it's WAY to general for most of the specifics (particularly things like mm slash fiction). it's not something i would even want writers to include on a mental checklist (because i'd be half afraid the thinking would go like this: "did i pass the test? no? well i'd better write a conversation about the weather with my female characters stat!").

completely agree with you about the fact that it's cool because it makes us look at what we're writing/reading/producing/watching than anything else.

*squish* thanks for such thoughtful comment darling!
M: ROBOTS BB! Bring it - and a bag of chipsspankulert on January 12th, 2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
I heard about this test about a year back. I'd never given it much thought myself, but when I started looking at the shows I liked and why I'd liked them, interesting female characters that can stand on their own two feet were in just about every single one.

This would be why I like the Sarah Connor Chronicles so much. There have been scenes in that show that is the polar oppoite of the BT, where the guys actually sit and wait in the car, talking about the women, while the women are inside taking care of business. Very refreshing ♥

There was the I Will Not Be Afraid of Women: A Female Friendships Ficathon(galpalficathon) a couple of months ago. I hope they'll have another round with that one.
my monkied brain: buffy - the slayer (red) [ntm]katekat1010 on January 12th, 2009 05:56 pm (UTC)
ooo, cool comm! And I have been more and more aware over the years of finding texts that i liked and then later realizing it was because there were interesting female characters in them/leading them, etc. It's kind of fun to see the changes in just television over the years, from the days of Cagney & Lacy to now there's a big difference, you know?