Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Bechdel Test (Or "So You Want To Write Female Characters?")

This is an interesting concept: it's sort of a litmus test for the representation of female characters in media. You see, this test (born on the webcomic "Dykes To Watch Out For", proving once again that no
webcomic will be seen soon in your newspaper, if newspaper are able tu survive nowadays, anyway) works like this:

* Your movie must have at least two female characters (Some argue that they should be NAMED characters; not just some background girl that held a little chat with one of the protagonists)

* Who have at least ONE conversation

* About something other than men, love and/or romance.

It seems easy, isn't? should be that way, at least, but that's kind of the point: once you apply the test
for some of the highest profile films of all time, it's surprising (and a li'l bit scary) see how many of these movies fail. It's not hard to understand why some classic films from other eras are unable to pass it (since, you know, all the sexism-thing) but it becomes really impressive and sad the more you advance in time, since
modern media are still struggling to make a fair representation of women.

Now, I want to make this clear: the fact that a movie fails the test doesn't mean isn't feminist, or that it's a bad movie, for that matter. Great films with awesome heroines like "Alien" don't pass it, yet, traditionalist, ol' fashioned in gender stereotypes ones like "The Sleeping Beauty" or "Cinderella" DO.

I actually admire Disney but..she won't be the face of feminism any time soon, isn't she?

And the point isn't to force female characters where shouldn't be logical or accurate (like a war film scenario where and when only men were allowed to be). Heck, maybe you could say that this isn't really against an individual level. Several of my favorite movies fail this little test, yet, while I do acknolewedge the need of change, that doesn't mean I can still apreciate the stories I know and love.

You're safe, Toto and had me at...well, the whole FREAKIN' PLOT *-*

However, it does say something about us and we way we produce and perceive media. The fact that the great majority of movies can't success on such a (aparently) simple criteria isn't a criticism against one or two of them, but as the media as a whole. Why it is so hard for writers, directors and producers? It's hard do point out a single cause, since usually the fiction a society produces is a reflection of that society.

For the better or the worse...

It is true that there have been really great advances in gender equality , and that we're surely improving day by day, month by month, year by year, yet there's still plenty of work to do, as much in real life as in fiction. It seems that the old school "machismo" is mostly gone, but instead of having true balance, we're dealing now with some sort of "soft sexism": one concept that doesn't deny the fact that female characters exist and are competent, but still makes them "peripherical" to men and his interests and pursuits instead of follow the ones they really want.

But I don't want to sound too extreme or too political. I, for one, an amateur writer (trying to make my way to professionalism), applied the test for my own work. One of my books, "El Club de Hopewell" (The Hopewell Club; a teen comedy) passed the test...the other one, "Conozcan a Josh" (Meet Josh; about the life of a former child star), did not. I think the best way to deal with female characters is...not to make a big deal: you know, threat them and write them with her own dreams, fears, strenghts and (wait for it), ANY OTHER CHARACTER.

We'll see more of female archetypes in the near future. For now, go, think on your favorite films, and put them to the test...let's see how many of them succeed.

Shalom comrades.

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