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Why the Bechdel Test is SO DAMNED Important

Illustration for article titled Why the Bechdel Test is SO DAMNED Important

So here's the thing. Gretnablue raised a question about whether or not the Bechdel Test should be applied to individual films/TV/comics/literature/ whatever, or as a "general indicator". I'm here to tell you in no uncertain terms that it should be a universal fucking standard.


As it happens, most writers are men. As human beings, we can't see the things we don't see. As a man, I continue to be shocked and appalled at the number of friends who tell me they've been catcalled or otherwise generally harassed by men. I'm shocked because, as a man, I simply never see it. It's (almost) never directed at me.

I bring this up because, since most writers are men, we instinctively write most characters to be men. It's not even habit— habit suggests something that develops over time. No. It just comes down to instinct, something that is automatic. The Bechdel Test deliberately puts focus on this imbalance, and helps all of us— men and women— notice what's going on in the stories we choose to sit down and write.


The Bechdel Test boils down to three requirements:
1. That there be two or more (preferably named) characters who are women,
2. That they have a conversation,
3. That is not about a man.

That's it. Three simple rules. And the fact that the vast majority of stories being published / filmed today don't satisfy the requirement is just… wrong. It's not lazy, because that suggests a lack of effort. You can't be accused of not doing something that never occurred to you. This isn't laziness, it's ignorance.


In your own head, take a quick poll of your friends, and count how many women you have in your social circle. Great. Probably more than one. Now: how many of them know each other? Probably at least two. Guess what! These women talk to each other about all sorts of topics that have nothing to do with men.

Fiction, at its core, is about telling stories that readers will connect to. Strictly from a numbers POV, you will reach more readers if you involve female characters, and give them something to talk about besides men, or what they're going to wear when they go out with men.


Likewise, giving your female characters something to talk about other than men also gives them depth and dimension. They become characters with interests, objectives, and passions; instead of mere accessories to the male protagonists. This. Is. Vital.

Something you should get acquainted with (if you're not already) is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. It's crazy-important. Also, I'm not ashamed to say, it opened my eyes about the kind of writing I was doing. The good news is I wasn't far off the mark. The better news is it turned me around and put be entirely on course.


What it boils down to is this: putting more women into leading roles in your fiction will make your work stronger. It will make it more realistic. It will appeal to a wider audience. These are all good things, and they cost you nothing.

Alien has been touted more than once for having (in deleted / Director's Cut scenes) conversations between Ripley and Lambert. They talked about Ash, yes, but they also talked about the Alien and their chances of survival. I'm sorry if this bursts a bubble, but in the original script, every single character was male. The genders of individual characters was a complete afterthought. By changing the genders of two characters, Ripley and Lambert help add depth and diversity to the story and its cast, and Science Fiction winds up with one of the single greatest female protagonists of all time.


My point is, if you're working through a story and it's decidedly Y-Chromosome heavy, consider gender-flipping one or more characters. I speak from experience when I say it will change how you look at your story, and open up avenues to you that weren't available, before. You have nothing to lose.

We should be doing better, about this. Our readers / viewers deserve it. They want it, even if it hasn't occurred to them, yet. So go forth, my lovelies, and kick some ass. I know you have it in you.



Casey Jones is a writer and voice-over artist. His graphic novel, All Fall Down, passes the Bechdel Test, as do most of his short stories and screenplays. His work so far in this year's NaNoWriMo does not… but it's only day three.

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