The Bechdel Test: Does a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man?
April 18, 2014
In a recent lecture I gave at NYU, I asked the class to draw the connection between Google’s recent acquisition of a drone maker and the evil Hydra drones in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I wasn’t being serious, mostly (I’m sure it’s just about increasing global market share…) This is just a method I use to help storytellers identify long-term trends for their movies, books and TV shows.
Then I read the following review Blastr: Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. But women should see it anyway, written by Carol Pinchefsky.
What’s The Bechdel test?
Pinchefsky explains, “It’s an important thought experiment about women’s roles in movies. In order for a movie to pass the Bechdel test, it has to have 1) two women, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man.”
While this certainly isn’t a comprehensive analysis of the roles of women in works of fiction, the fact that so many powerful women are in Winter Soldier, yet none of them speak to each other is kind of a shocker. The article goes on the point out many films fail the Bechdel Test, such as Avatar, Star Wars trilogy and Lord of the Rings series.
And there are loopholes. “Disappearing Spell” is book I wrote in the first person from a boy’s POV (George Spell, age seven). The two women in the book are his mother, Zarena, and her associate, Rosemary. The only dialogue George Spell hears happens to be about him. Does that make “Disappearing Spell” fail the Bechdel test? Well, if the test is applied to the letter, George is not a man so it just gets by.
A cast of characters, especially in a book, really helps. It lets you know what kind of characters you are getting. Dan Simmons and Larry Niven always do this nicely. Simmon’s books, where the aliens are more human than the humans, it really helps keep track of everyone.
Since none of my “Alex Detail” books have this dramatis personæ, here it is:
Cast of Characters, Alex Detail’s Revolution
The Crew of the Cronus
Alex Detail 17-year-old former genius war-hero and youngest admiral in ARRAY, the global the military
Captain Odessa Chief officer of “The Cronus”
Horace Witaker Vice Captain of “The Cronus”
JuneMary Commander of “The Cronus” (90 years-old, from New Africa)
Madeline Spell Speaker of the House of Nations (most powerful person in the world)
George Spell 7-year old son of Madeline Spell, and Alex Detail clone
Jonathan Innsbrook President of the United Countries of America
Brother Israel Lonadoon Hierophant Magus, Society of the Golden Dawn
Admiral Sevo Chief officer of ARRAY, the global military
Peevchi Derringkite Eccentric/madman billionaire who made first contact with The Harvesters
The Harvesters Aliens trying to extinguish Earth’s sun. No one has ever seen a Harvester. They are believed to exist in non-physical form
Governments and Institutions
The House of Nations Global government headed by Speaker Madeline Spell. In charge of the global military, ARRAY
The United Countries of America
United western hemisphere, governed by President Jonathan Innsbrook. Madeline Spell had been President of the UCA before being elected to Speaker of the House of Nations
ARRAY Global military. Primary purpose to defend against The Harvester invasions
New Africa Settled by the African Federation in 2195. Concentrated on the landmass on top of Venus’s highest point, Maxwell Montes, New Africa was made possible by a massive change in the Venus’s climate. Earlier in the century, Kade Kabede, head of rocket maker Somolian Industries, used her company to move the trajectory of comet Radius-9. The comet struck Venus, ejecting much of the planet’s atmosphere, depositing large quantities of water and creating a faster planetary rotation and magnetosphere. Several decades later, the planet become habitable in the highest altitudes.