Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Bechdel Test

With the passage of a mere 85,560 seconds since the premier post in this, the thrilling 26 days of the A-Z blogging challenge, we now find ourselves at the post for the second day. I may have mentioned it explicitly yesterday, if not, for sure I hinted at it. Yes, the Bechdel Test is today's entry, brought to you by the letter "B".

Following on just a bit from yesterday's rambling discourse on "agency", today's word (phrase) comes from the fertile mind of a cartoonist, possibly someone who read the work of that cartoonist and was inspired to credit the cartoonist for something her cartoon characters said in one of her episodes. Check out the ever helpful Wikipedia entry on the Bechdel Test and all will become clear(er). The cartoonist is Alison Bechdel and the friend who may have noticed is Liz Wallace. The founding incident took place sometime in 1985, back in the halcyon pre-internet days when ink stained paper in a far larger volume than it does today.

In my media consumption world, the introduction of the Bechdel Test was quite revealing, and it continues to be. First of all, it has further dimmed my respect for mainstream media content creators. To be fair, they are under pressure to create revenue from their media creation efforts, so they are certainly biased in their efforts and hesitant to change anything that would lessen their success. Such is life in our capitalist frame of reference. Regardless of that though, the Bechdel Test reveals in a very interesting way, just how lopsided media tends to be STILL in 2015 when it comes to portraying women.

Inquiring minds want to know, assuming they didn't click away to the Wikipedia entry, just what is the Bechdel Test? It is a simple protocol consisting of three parts. The media in question:

  1. has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.
That's it.

Almost half of all films made in the last 20 years FAIL this test. Going further back in time this ratio is worse, way worse, as you might expect. I won't repeat the Wikipedia article, I hope you will click on that link though and read up on this notion. For me it is eye opening. In a moment of self-congratulatory back patting, I am also EXTREMELY proud of myself for writing Dana, a main character in my books in such a way as to pass the Bechdel Test, before I even knew this test existed. You can bet that all my MCs with the xx chromosome are going to continue very much in this fashion.

One recent example of successfully passing this test, to me anyway, is a Sunday night prime time TV show we stumbled across, Madam Secretary, starring Téa Leoni and Tim Daly (of Wings fame). To my eyes, when it comes to passing the Bechdel Test and agency for its female MCs, this show PASSES with flying colors. That this is a Sunday night prime time show on an old letter network, CBS, makes it even more impressive. Once again, a well done Wikipedia entry on Madam Secretary informs the discerning media consumer that this show was created by a woman and is produced by a woman. There is one other producer surprise. Go read the entry....

As an aside, tiresome though they may be, I am shocked at how much I am using Wikipedia. I am going to have to make a contribution. The body of knowledge stored in Wikipedia gets more impressive by the day.

Back in the day when our college freshman was a mere lass of five or six, she began playing soccer, which remains a foundational part of her young life. In those early days, I remember watching her outrun the boys on the team. She was the team's leading goal scorer and quite the little athlete, small in stature and age though she was. Somehow, around that time in our family life, my wife and I began using the phrase "girl power" around all three of our daughters, even the littlest diaper filler, who was already hard at work keeping up with her older sisters. Dora the Explorer comes to mind as one possible inspiration. I cannot clearly remember how we came around to using that phrase, but it clearly had to do with our parental awareness of our daughters NOT playing second fiddle to boys. We really pushed this notion of standing side by side, not one in front of the other. Looking back, this is one of the things I am most proud of as a parent, even more so, when things like the Bechdel Test serve to remind us just how far in the wrong direction Hollywood continues to go in terms of portraying women.

Thanks for reading this far! Until tomorrow's thrilling diatribe on the letter "C", I bid you farewell.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! This is a term I confess I have never heard of, and it makes me want to go and watch Madam Secretary. Thanks for the very interesting post.