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Passing Bechdel

I posted earlier today about the Women of Dragon Age Challenge. Over on Tumblr, there's been a little bit of a discussion about the choice of the Bechdel Test as a criteria for submissions. I have some thoughts -- of course I have thoughts; any discussion of the Bechdel Test is like catnip to me -- but I didn't want to hijack the post advertising the challenge, so I've come over here to talk about it instead.

One of the things I love about this particular challenge is that it explicitly references Bechdel and requests that every story pass. I have said before, and continue to believe, that the Bechdel Test is not primarily about evaluating the quality or female-friendliness of any one particular work but about looking at larger patterns in media. But still, I do think it can be a really great tool to apply to our own writing, because it makes us really think about our choices. Which characters do we write about? What do they talk about? And why?

To use a Dragon Age example, let's say I decided to write a story about Aveline and Brennan, discussing a man they arrested and the crime he committed. Is that a conversation about a man, or is it a conversation about work? I would tend to say that it's the latter, which would allow it to be considered it a Bechdel pass, even if the criminal is the only thing they talk about. But let me take a step back and ask another question: does the criminal have to be a man? Is there some reason intrinsic to the story I'm telling? Or did I make him a man because we tend to think of male as the default? Did I pick a minor male NPC because he fit into the story better than any other NPC available, or was he just an easy choice? Could I have made the character a woman, or chosen a female NPC, without any fundamental change to the story? And if the answer is yes, then why not do it?

I'm not saying every story can or should pass the strictest version of the Bechdel Test, especially not short stories, and especially not in fanfic where we are limited by the characters presented to us in canon. But I appreciate that we can use this challenge, and others like it, as an opportunity to look at our work a little more critically.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/569601.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2012 12:42 am (UTC)
I am really, really fascinating by this. I haven't done a lot of women's studies in college since I found race and class lines more interesting. I have never even thought about this in my own writing since I just look as characters as characters. If Isabela and Hawke are bonding and then they start talking about how sexy Fenris is when he broods, I have never thought twice about what that could mean to someone.

I hadn't heard of this test and had to do research into it. I'm definitely in and already have a great Sigrun, F!Warden, and Velanna fic in mind. The only thing that makes me worry about something like this is the lashback and suddenly everyone's a lesbian. I know the rules for this challenge specifically say friendship is perfectly acceptable, I've just had problems with situations like this.
Jan. 6th, 2012 04:15 am (UTC)
The Bechdel test has been around for a long time. It has its drawbacks as a tool for analysis -- a little too simplistic, too open for interpretation, not really a measure of any kind of quality. But the very fact that people still find it relevant and useful suggests to me that it hits on something important, too.

Glad you are going to do the challenge! :) The more, the merrier.
Jan. 9th, 2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
What caught my attention in regards to the Bechdel test is when I started to notice how often movies & tv shows completely fail to manage something so simple. Suddenly it seemed a lot more important. I'm very prone to the "male=human" default, & I think there's a sociological reason for it. It shouldn't be weird for women to be main characters, interacting with other women!

Also I'm realizing I only rarely apply the test to the fiction I read, & am suddenly curious to track my data for this next year.
Jan. 10th, 2012 04:09 am (UTC)
If an *entire book* doesn't even pass the Bechdel test, that's pretty sad. And yet I'm sure we can all think of plenty of examples that don't.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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