I recently learned of the Bechdel Test, a three-part test used on works of fiction to determine how well its female characters are developed and integrated. It was devised by none less than Alison Bechdel, author of the remarkable graphic memoir Fun Home (which you should read if you haven’t yet). There’s already an entire website devoted to evaluating movies with the test, but of course my immediate concern was how well my own works would fair under scrutiny.
The test is as follows: A work must have (1) two or more female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides a man. Sounds simple enough! Let’s see how I fare.
Sunrise. (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! There are a few examples, mostly from Issue 4, but some from other issues as well. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try harder, as I do notice that these examples are few and far between.
Realm (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Back to the drawing board for Realm. Luckily, I haven’t plotted out the entire book yet so there’s still plenty of time to revise.
Zirconius. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. This is not an entirely fair application of the test though, as the Zarks are basically genderless. Still, they are referred to with male pronouns so I suppose this still counts as a violation.
Let’s look at some recent short stories (not available online, unfortunately).
“Imagine the Violin.” (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Only one female character, and she’s going insane. Sigh.
“Constance.” (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! A story about two women who talk to each other, and only briefly about a man! As clear a pass as anyone could want.
“Real Space Experience.” (1) Yes. (2) No. Verdict: Fail. Quite a few female characters, but they never speak to each other. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the story, but it’s still a violation.
Let’s look at a few other things.
Barnacle Bert in “Hands Up, Jellyfish!” Oh, no. You can’t be serious. Ah well, here goes: (1) No. Verdict: Fail. But– but–two of the jellyfish are female, and they’re talking! I think! No, wait, if they are talking they’re probably talking about Bert. Argh. Well, at least the anglerfish is female.
The Violinist. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Having a female protagonist is not enough to pass the test.
Remnants. Some of you may recall this novel from a few years ago, which was available online for a while. Let’s see how it fares: (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! Finally. Flawed as this book may be, my brief foray into it just now yielded three Bechdel-Test-worthy conversations. Yena, the female protagonist, talks to Mrs. Tamila (a grouchy customer), Rimel (an utter imbecile), and Morica (the villain). All loathsome characters, unfortunately.
Just to round out the number to an even ten, we’ll look at “Lander,” my astronaut story that probably a few of you have seen. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Sigh.
So, to summarize:
Works examined: 10
Works passing Bechdel Test: 3