First things first: If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel test, it’s a simple test invented in a comic strip in 1985 that originally applied to movies. In order to pass, the work in question must:
- Have at least two named female characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something besides a man.
That’s it. And it’s surprising the films that can fail it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II fails the test. So does the entire original Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The test itself is problematic. Feminist films can fail it. Films that portray women absolutely one-dimensionally can pass. But it’s supposed to be a simple test. A baseline assumption about whether women are being represented in movies.
And it’s something I’m struggling with in my WIP. My main character is male. He’s always been male. I tried gender-bending him in my mind to see if a female protag would work, and it just… doesn’t. My antagonist is also male. I thought about making him female as well. But part of what drives him mad is his inability to relate to his teenage daughter.
So far, I have two parts of my book that make it pass the Bechdel test, or at least will pass once I go through and do revisions. Both times, the main character and his love interest, Hayleigh, are hitchhiking. First they’re picked up by a female truck driver. Right now, I don’t have any conversation (I don’t think. My WIP isn’t with me.) between the truck driver and Hayleigh, but it’s something I intend to add. The second time, they’re picked up by a family of six, split in gender 50/50. And I’m fairly certain I already have a conversation between Hayleigh and one of the girls. If I don’t, I will after revision.
When I started thinking about the topic, though, I thought I had written almost 30,000 words without passing the Bechdel test, and that embarrassed me. As a feminist, it’s important to me that I write something that passes such a simple test. But writing a male protagonist makes it more difficult. Especially in first person present. And especially after he and Hayleigh get separated. Is this something you pay attention to as you write? How do you work on consciously passing the Bechdel test in stories that are narrated by men or boys?
Is the Bechdel test something you notice when you’re reading or watching movies? How does it affect your moviegoing/book reading experience?