I read an article about a week ago about the Bechdel Test. The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel.
- It has to have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
Sweden has now created a rating system for all films there, giving them a pass or fail based on the Bechdel Test. Now, I may be an opinionated blowhard that has pissed off far more feminists than I personally can afford, but I do actually take gender issues, especially representations of women in my work, very seriously. In other words, I tend to piss on the feelings of people who I believe are overtly sensitive and are driven by an agenda, but I also know the importance of putting positive messages, positive characters, and diversity into the world. The art we create can potentially live forever so it is good to think about how it affects people, that it does not promote the wrong ideas about gender, race or religion. So on a whim I decided to put the properties I have through a series of tests, starting with the Bechdel Test.
Earth Man centers around the transformation of the main character, Danny Boyle, into a force of nature. There are two secondary female characters; Danny’s wife Helen and his daughter, Morgan. I can’t think of a scene where either of them interact with anyone other than Danny, or his son (Morgan’s brother). Helen talks to Danny’s best friend Phil after his accident, as well as the doctor, but it about Danny. There are I think only three women roles and a girl in the story.
So technically, this book fails the test. In the sequel both of them get major roles, taking on bigger parts of the story. This, you see, is where the test shows some flaws.
Helen is a carpenter. She doesn’t get a lot of time in the book because she has to work to support her unemployed husband and two children. Part of the drive that pushes Danny to be a hero is his guilt over not pulling his weight; he knows his wife is contributing more, doing more, and running their household while he is constantly screwing up. Helen is the head of the household and the main bread winner. So while the wife is the figure of authority in the book, somehow the book fails a gender test. Mainly because Helen was too busy to be chatting with her friends.
Let’s try another test, GLAAD is proposing a complimentary test for movies to evaluate how well they depict LGBT characters. Dubbed the Russo test after Vito Russo, the film historian who co-founded GLAAD, it is used to determine whether a film (or work) adequately represents the LGBT community.
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. I.E. they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another.
3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character should matter.
I know Earth Man fails this test. There are no LGBT characters in the story. The story revolves around a small cast in Kelowna, BC. Statistically this is realistic, there simply aren’t enough characters in the story or the locations that would lend itself to a group that only makes up 10% of the population (roughly). If I can fit a LGBT character into a story without making a big deal of it, I usually do but in this case there was no real need to. Earth Man is at its core a story about men accepting their responsibilities as husbands and fathers and it just never occurred to me in this particular story to fit a LGBT character into it.
As a collection of short stories, we’re only going to judge my own work in the anthology. Not every story is going to pass every test, but overall, WHITE ZOMBIE comes across a lot better than Earth Man does.
There are a total of five women in WZ who interact with each and with other characters to various degrees. Due to the confines of the zombie genre, there are only survivors left and that doesn’t leave you with a lot of people for the characters to interact with. However, the last story, The Fighting Dead, features four of those five women. The fifth is an old lady who lives with her cat. Does a female cat count?
The Fighting Dead also has a black lesbian woman who is a major part of the plot. She dropkicks a guy out a window, one of my favorite scenes I wrote in this series. She is the “Darryl” of my zombie series.
It is an interesting experiment because even if you fail the test, you at least become aware of the representation of women and GLBT people in your work.
PUNCH is a book with an all-GLBT cast. The Corrupter has no GLBT characters. The characters are there to support the story, not to support an agenda. But is was an interesting thought experiment either way.
Never hurts to put your work under the microscope. I am curious though how The Hunger Games will fair against these tests. . . .