Mar. 9th, 2014

hoveringsombrero: (smilehand)

After my review about Revolution, I got to wondering if it passes the Bechdel test and I sez to myself, I sez, "Self, this is the Internet Age, surely there's a website which complies these things and I can just look it up."

Well, there's a decent one at the obvious url but it only lists films, and it doesn't seem terribly active. So I went back to my friend Google, and stumbled upon this very well written critique of the Bechdel test. It honestly hadn't occurred to me that people would be using the Bechdel test as as a strict of a pass/fail as it was in the original comic by Bechdel from which it originates. I see it as a good point jumping off point and way to draw attention to problems with women in entertainment. But upon reflection it doesn't surprise me that some would cling to it as a very strict measuring stick of the worth of a piece of entertainment.

As for myself, noting or learning that a piece doesn't pass the Bechdel test isn't the sole hinge on which I base my decision on which to consume said piece of entertainment or not. If you know me, you know that I consume a lot of objectively horrible television/film/books, and oftentimes I enjoy picking them apart as to why they're so horrible as much as I'd enjoy something objectively great. Especially when I've a few like minded friends with which I can do said picking apart/bashing/ranting. But I digress.

The aforementioned article was a good spark to my current rumination on this topic, which led me back to friend!Google.

To re-cap for the link-allergic. The Bechdel test requires three things of a piece of entertainment/fiction:
1. Have at least two named female characters in it.
2. Who have conversations with each other.
3. In which the content of said conversations include something other than men/relationships.

As I said this is an excellent jumping off point, which led me to the discovery of other "tests" which have come into being along similar lines, which I will sum up:

The Ellen Willis test:
If the genders are swapped, does the story still make sense?

The Sexy Lamp test:
Does the story still work if you replaced your female character with a sexy lamp? This is the outlier in which if it passes it's not a good thing. It means the female character has absolutely no substance and contributes nothing to the work.

The Mako Mori test:
1. Has at least one named female character.
2. Who gets her own coherent narrative.
3. In which said narrative does not exist solely to support the story of men/a man in the same piece.

The Tauriel test:
1. Has at least one named female character.
2. Who is good at her job.

And lastly, an incredibly excellent one which deals specifically with women in the scientific field. This one is another unique one in that it doesn't refer specifically to fiction, this should be applied to articles/news items about women in the scientific field. And back to fiction, this works brilliantly for any SciFi.

The Finkbeiner test:
States that any of the above must avoid including any of the following items/wording

* The fact that she is female
* What her husband does for a living
* Her child care arrangements
* How she nurtures/is nurturing of her underlings/employees
* How taken aback she was by the presence/level of competitiveness in her field
* How she's such a role model for other women
* How she's the "first woman to ..."

Now, combine all these tests together and we have something approaching a Grand Unified Theory of the Female Presence in Entertainment/Fiction/Society. While the preceding tests are concerned solely with fiction, Finkbeiner bridges that gap and really points out (to me, at least), where the issue in entertainment/fiction is coming from.

Fiction isn't written in a vacuum. While it may be wildly different to reality in content and scope, it is still informed by the authors' experiences, interactions, biases, et cetera. And so when you're living in a society that still insists on focusing on gender when writing about a female scientist but does not do the same for a male, it's not even something many writers will notice that they've even done, because That's Just The Way It is.

But on the flip side, this is changing. It's simply being slow to reach the fields of harder science. Even a decade ago you might not have batted an eye when someone said "female doctor" referring to an MD. This has all but disappeared from the common vernacular unless you're in a very small town or are over 60 years old. Also true about "female lawyer", "female judge", and so on.

Yet you will still hear/see the gender modifier of female being attached to scientist, physicist, engineer (all types), and so forth. The tacit point being that the fact of her femaleness takes precedence over her accomplishments/worth in her profession. To a lesser degree this is an issue on the other side of the page. Male nurse, male babysitter, male hairdresser, again and so forth, et cetera, et al.

Herein lies the issue, for some reason a person's gender is still often seen as more important to their worth than what they are actively contributing to society.

The chicken or the egg conundrum comes into play at this point. If we treat genders equally in entertainment/fiction will that lead to a shifting of societal perception? Or does societal perception need to shift in order to inform our fiction?


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