The other night, while having a conversation with friends about what makes a a piece of fiction “misogynist” or “feminist” by any clear definition, the Bechdel Test was brought to the table.
This test, named for it’s creator, Alison Bechdel, is derived from Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, printed in the early eighties. It has since morphed into a common gauge used to measure a woman’s relevance to a film’s plot. And although this test may be well known to screenwriters and film aficionados alike, I think it could be easily co-opted for fiction.
The test is simple:
1. A film (or novel) must have at least two or more (named) female characters.
2. These two named women must talk to each other in a scene.
3. …about something besides a man.
Try it. It’s shockingly hard to find both films and novels that pass the Bechdel Test. Go watch your favorite movie or re-read your favorite book (or just imagine them). Go over plot after plot in your head. Do they pass? Are you surprised at how many fail? Me too.
It’s important to remember that passing the test does not mean that a work is feminist just as failing does not necessarily indicate that a work is misogynist. Rather, the test is a strong indicator of the quality of female characterization or the amount of token female characters.
You can find an extensive treatment of films to The Bechdel Test online. Perhaps its time we started comparing novels too.