Thursday, May 4, 2017

For Some Tests, There's No Easy A

by Stacey Fearheiley

If you listened to this week's POPeration! podcast you know that Eric and I talked about women in pop culture and in media in particular.  The unfairness monetarily and in role availability specifically.  We talked about how there were so many fewer female roles than male and that the quality of those roles was often insulting.  Eric brought up the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women or girls who talk to each other about something other than a man or boy.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)  

What we didn't talk about were variations to that "test". In one variation, a comic book writer stated that her "sexy lamp test" was if a sexy lamp could take the place of your female character and the plots still worked, you should probably do another draft. Thus create a better female character. This intrigued me. Can these tests be used in real life; everyday living; in every day situations?

Do I leave a conversation with a girl friend if we're just talking about her husband or boyfriend?   Can I have a discussion with my female HR rep about my male boss and thus fail?  Do I give that colleague who contributes to my brainstorming meeting as much as a chair to the Salvation Army?

As a feminist, I want to be all gung ho about keeping the world as fair and safe for women as it is for men.  I want equality.  The Bechdel "tests" and its derivations, while evolving from the idea helping to that end,  are not perfect.  Indeed they weren't really meant to be.  They were and are created to just hold a mirror up and say, "look where and who we are.  Do we want to change?  Is this ok?  How can we improve?"

But they are being used in a more weighted way.  Critics are right in that "passing" any of these "tests" does not prove quality, or art.  It doesn't quantify a good story or characters.
As a writer and artist, the idea that I must create characters who are equal to each other, in any way, feels stifling.  I resent it.  I should be able to create characters who have the traits and values I want them to have...they may be male, female, gay, straight, black, white, good or bad.  And therein lies the battle.

Now, clearly no one is making film makers or writers put female characters in their pieces...there are too many male/male buddy movies for that to be a thing.  But maybe we do need to let those who DO write female characters have more opportunities.  Thereby more choices for characters to talk about more than men and more plot lines than those driven by men.

Eric and I mentioned Thelma and Louise, from 1991.  But there have been more recent examples. They include the Ghostbusters (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Table 19 (2017), Bad Moms (2016) and The Girl on the Train (2016).  

This is by no means an extensive list...there are MANY more, but these were hits and/or bigger budget gigs.  These had marketing money spent on them.  And all were clearly female in brand.

These are facts that make me feel better. The wins, if you will...not the losses.

If the Bechdel test, and those like it, do anything, it is to keep us thinking and aware of the inequalities still out there.  Awareness is key.  Admitting there is a problem is the first step.

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