MORE THAN BECHDEL-WALLACE:

HOW FEMINIST FRIENDLY IS YOUR WRITING?

fifth element leeloo

AMBER LOVE 15-APR-2016 It’s about time I wrote this down in a place where I can easily share the link because I find myself typing it out often enough when discussing whether a body of work “passes the Bechdel Test”. Don’t worry, this isn’t a lecture. It’s meant to be helpful and get you to think about the writing you do and the entertainment you consume. Sometimes, a female character just needs to save the world and if she gets to kiss a smoking hot partner afterwards, awesome. Become an AmberUnmasked backer at Patreon!

THE BECHDEL-WALLACE TEST

First thing I’ll say is that Bechdel herself asked for the test to be called Bechdel-Wallace because she credits her friend with actually coming up with the bullet-points while it was herself that shared it and made it popular. It came from her comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Someone has gone to great effort to make a website that examines movies and lists them as pass or fail. It’s a simple test and it’s a good place to start, but over the years, people have pointed out flaws using this system.

The movie (or book) must have:

  1. at least two female characters (preferably with names — a stipulation added by an unknown person later)
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man (which is where rom-coms usually fail even though women are the target consumer demographic).

For example, a scene with two female characters:

JENNIFER: Damn! Look at her fat ass!

ALLISON: You can’t blame that on the baby weight!

Technically, neither women are talking about male characters; it could be argued that they are however, referencing beauty standards which we all know are defined by the gaze of cisgender heterosexual (usually white) men. Yet, this example does pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test.

THE MAKO MORI TEST

When it came around, it seemed everyone agreed the Mako Mori Test was a much better indicator of feminist-friendly content. It’s named after a female character in the movie Pacific Rim. Having never seen the movie, I can’t say why this was the point of origin for coming up with a better quality test.

From The Geek Feminism Wikia:

  1. changes it to requiring one female character (preferably named)
  2. who gets her own narrative arc
  3. that is not about supporting a man’s story.

pacific rim mako mori smile

The change from having a conversation to having a narrative arc of her own is why this test is such a vast improvement. Unfortunately, the blogger credited with the creation of this test seems to have deactivated their tumblr.

THE NANCY DREW TEST

I’ll confess, so far I’ve only completed one Nancy Drew novel and began a second. They are written in a voice that’s utterly different than mystery novels of today. Characters are referred to by out-of-date proper titles like “Mrs. (Husband’s First Name) So and So”; and every bit of dialog is tagged with “said,” a practice out of use today.

Rick Castle

One thing for sure though is that Nancy Drew is a feminist icon. She and her friends explore strange areas with bravery; they show courage by interrogating suspects; and they are often without adult supervision showing how independent they are. For all those reasons and because even Richard Castle admires her, I created The Nancy Drew Test.

  1. you have at least one named female character
  2. with a defined goal to achieve
  3. who is capable of asking for help when she needs it
  4. and doesn’t represent a “female version” of a male character.

This is something that comes up often when critically examining characters of comic book history. Batwoman compared to Batman. Supergirl compared to Superman. Are they just lesser-powered analogs with hot bodies?

So, when it comes to The Nancy Drew Test, can your female character get through a story arc without someone saying, “…. for a girl”? As in, “She did a great job solving that case… for a girl.”

THE JESSICA FLETCHER TEST

To complement The Nancy Drew Test, I turned to my favorite sleuth of all time, Murder, She Wrote’s lead character Jessica Fletcher. We don’t do a very good job in American television of featuring women over a particular age. We finally have an “over 40” catalog of shows that get a lot of praise for their own reasons: Rizzoli & Isles, The Good Wife, Scandal (Kerry Washington is late 30s truthfully), and How to Get Away With Murder. There are others for the middle-aged pool of characters of course. Yet, there hasn’t been anyone like Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher in a while.

TRIGGER WARNING

The reason I often refer to my Jessica Fletcher Test is because of the sheer absurd amount of sexual assault against female characters that is fully perpetrated, threatened as a means of control, or referred to as something from their past. Part of why there’s so much more today is because networks allow this stuff when they didn’t used to. Another reason is because fiction is often the only time women are given an outlet to channel real world violence against them. But, the thing is, it’s often done because of lazy ass writing, almost always by men, who don’t know what else to do with female characters. I previously wrote thorough explanations about how to handle violence against women in stories in a three-part blog series. (Part One. Part Two. Part Three.)

In Part Three specifically, I called out the lazy writing trope of The Perfect Victim. These are usually victims of Hollywood as much as victims of a rapist. They range in age from 12-29 from the looks of my Criminal Minds marathon. They typically have long hair and gorgeous “standard” hot bodies. Why? Because people get off on it. Plain and simple. It’s why horror movies and action movies usually have female characters end up topless or in their underwear for absolutely zero reason regarding moving the story forward.

The Jessica Fletcher Test will hopefully make creators think a little bit more before they pen that sexual assault story arc:

  1. you have at least one named female character
  2. with a defined goal to achieve
  3. who has support from her peers/friends/family
  4. and you wouldn’t have in a sexual assault story that stimulate male audiences.

In other words, you wouldn’t write a script where Jessica Fletcher gets raped because she’s a sweet 65-year-old widow woman from Maine and no one wants to see a movie about that. (Addendum: If your character wouldn’t go through her story as a sweet 65-year-old woman the same way because of the violence, then you need to nix that part of the story or ask yourself why you’re really including it.)

murder she wrote jessica fletcher