04 August 2010

The Bechdel Test

Did you know Author John Scalzi has an SF movie column over at AMC's filmcritic.com? (Did you know AMC had a film critic site?!) If so, you're way ahead of me, which wouldn't surprise me at all. :)
Anyway, last week Scalzi wrote a very provocative article entitled: Does Your Favorite Sci-fi Movie Do Right by Its Female Characters? in which he applied The Bechdel Test. This test asks three questions:
  1. Are there at least two women characters in the film?
  2. Who talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

Suffice to say, he conclues recent movies do not do too well with this test. Curious, I rushed to apply the test to the last movie I saw: Inception. There are two main female characters and one of them is <...SPOILER ALERT...> dead. Thus, initially, I assumed they never converse, but then I seemed to recall some crazy stuff going on in those dream levels, so I'm not sure... If anyone recalls better, I'd enjoy hearing about it.

Today, Scalzi's article is entitled Pondering Inception's Sequel Odds and Revisiting the Bechdel Test, so I thought I'd get the answer to the question. Alas, I was wrong. It's still an interesting article examining what the Bechdel Tests Fails imply. Hint: men are the perceived SF audience.

So, how do your favorite SF movies stack up? How about your fave fantasies? :)

We will have some announcements about the Electric Spec Aug 31, 2010 issue by the end of this week. Keep sending in those stories!


Peter Dudley said...

I enjoyed the linked articles, thanks. I find the conclusion that "men are the intended audience" suspect. I find the implicit conclusion that women might not like films that fail the Bechdel Test logically fallacious.

Why? Cosmopolitan magazine and all its cousins. The Bachelor and similar "reality" shows. Oh, and virtually any Disney story involving a princess, and any movie involving Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

While I agree that Science Fiction movies may not be doing much to advance the cause of feminism, neither do they stray much from the mainstream in re gender roles. That is to say, they are certainly no worse than any other genre, and in many ways they are far more progressive than your typical romantic comedy.

But thinking about this is really interesting--it will help me shape my current WIP a little differently. Not in service to some arbitrary test, but because I see how having two of my main female characters interact directly will improve the story over how I was going to do it.

Thanks for the links!

Victoria Snelling said...

I don't think it's a genre thing - almost all movies and TV, and a good percentage of fiction, fail the Bechdel test. Even in films where most of the characters are women, they often spend most of their conversation on men/rrelationships with men.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I have to agree with our commenters, but I do believe, at least for movies, that the 18-24 year old male is the intended audience for anything not chick-littish. I think most guys might be pretty happy with the fantasy that girls only talk about them. (snicker)

Peter Dudley said...

I agree, Betsy, but I would drop the lower end of your range (18) a few years to 13. I think MTV's demographic is 13 to 24 or something like that. Which is the same age that boys start moving away from reading.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

That could be true, Peter, since most movies now seem to be PG-13 (most of which I allow my 11 year old to watch).

The Mysterious Traveler said...

I had difficulty thinking of a single film that was not a chick flick in which female characters talked to each other about a topic other than men.

But then I wondered...is the very definition of a chick flick a film in which two women talk to each other about something other than men? I thought of Julie & Julia (women talking to each other about book publishing); The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Maybe these are called chick flicks because men have no interest in seeing women discuss anything except...men.

457 plans said...

I think most guys might be pretty happy with the fantasy that girls only talk about them. (snicker)

Cécile said...

That being said, I much prefer movies/stories with no women at all than works in which the director felt compelled to include a woman, but made her into a huge cliché just because he had no idea about how to make a believable female character.

My favourite example is Tolkien. There are almost no women in his novels; but when you see how he seemed to be completely clueless when it came to creating a believable femle character (eg. Luthien, who behaves just like any hero all along, which is just fine, and then suddenly faints when she sees a werewolf because apparently Tolkien thought that's what women do, which is very wrong...).

Honestly, when writers/directors have no idea about how to create a good female character, I prefer them to leave women out of it altogether. Of course that's not an excuse not to do your research ;)