The Bechdel test is a fascinating subject. It calls forth ideas about understanding the nature of the society we have created and what that means for all of us as a species. It highlights many of our social development faults.
The rules of the Bechdel Test for a piece of media are as follows:
1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man
The test identifies a few obvious trends in modern art and storytelling. It points to the idea that only male characters carry weight in these worlds. Often in many storytelling instances women have little to no autonomy due to their purpose being only to further the ends and identification of the male character and protagonist. While this is an interesting and expected trend in most media and art in general, the most interesting idea is that women themselves have been conditioned to some degree to expect less female autonomy in all stories, including those that play specifically to the female fantasy of love.
Romance to be very specific is usually a media that features love. The women are usually very good people but for some strange reason alone and out of fashion. Usually the author comments on looks, or on responsibilities that fall into traditional roles that are favorable for female characters.
The challenge of any fantasy is to make unbelievable instances take shape. Yet within the framework of believability. It’s called the suspension of disbelief in professional wrestling, magic shows and visual entertainment in general. This is a parody. Play act that facilitates a story about growth, love and passion.
This is exceedingly difficult to do when the author can’t even seem to identify the female characters in the story as people. It is unsurprising yet astounding in this day and age when that happens. I recall one of the complaints I’ve had about my female characters is that they are not likable. I casually and caustically explained after the critique was given to my female character without thought for the male who carried many of the same traits that she wasn’t supposed to be likable. She’s supposed to be human. She is to be accepted as she is, just as the male of the story is.
Ladies, let’s be honest, our romance heroes are not super romantic. Most of them are grade A assholes that for some reason cannot get enough of the girl most unlikely to matter to them. We respect them because they are not embarrassed or ashamed of who they are. We call that an Alpha male in this genre and most readers would be hard pressed to enjoy a book that didn’t feature one. I find it daunting that every time I write a woman the same way, editors and agents find her ‘unlikable’. Because of course in the court of love and respectability politics you dare not propose love for a girl who is “gasp’ unlikable.
I think to Shakespeares’ Taming of the Shrew. Which in essence is a stage play from centuries ago completely about respectability politics and how they affect the acceptable level of aggression a female is allowed to have and still be able to have a successful relationship with a man. The play was written by a man and yet he seemed to grasp the idea of well if you want this much woman you need to be this much man and accept a true partner that many female authors abandon for canned preapproved agency drivel.
I could almost buy the argument that this is because I may have unintentionally excluded ‘feminine’ traits from them. I prefer to err on the side that by dent of being a woman whatever she does IS feminine. However this seems to be our impasse. Which is why this test is so important. If there is a definitive aspect of how I write a character that is considered a female thing when sex isn’t being discussed, then I’m writing all of my characters wrong.
Humanity goes beyond discernable genitalia. Humanity involves spirit, heart, essence, a fiber a soul. All of these attributes should be portrayed without a sex, because they are. These things are embodiments of the human condition. I will relent and say yes some characters will express these motivations and desires differently, but let me be clear, they will not or ever be along sexual divides. I consider it to be lazy writing.
Producing characters driven by clothes because they like to look pretty is lazy writing. I seek to create unique stories about unique people which I find to be the reality of the world. My characters are driven by the impression they seek to make in those clothes. The inherent comfort or discomfort of those clothes. The decisions are sometimes frivolous but are met equally by hard thought out and followed through on choices that have little to do with a male or female perspective and more to do with a basic human one.
|Brave and Rightly So|
The complexity of humanity is a daunting task to write about. It intimidates me every time I plot a major twist because in that moment the people I love can betray me. Every writer understands what I just wrote. It’s the complexity of humanity that makes these characters live beyond us, outside of us, desiring their own peaks and valleys. My characters, male or female, don’t want the easy answers. They don’t want the cop outs and the maybes. They want their tragedies and they want their triumphs. They want to be the lowest speck of humanity while being the brightest. No chromosomal switch turn at the last stages of development determines whether they want or need that more or less. Yes they come across individuals that don’t agree and they are pitied for what they choose to give up.
I see the Bechdel as more than just checking for equality. It’s a call to arms for artists to be the change they should want to see.