Friday, July 30, 2010

In which tender subjects are considered

Last night I read an article wherein John Scalzi considers whether or not a slew of recent, popular science fiction movies provide authentic roles for female characters or just feature them for the sake of supporting the development and exposition of the male protagonists. It was hilarious in the same way that this picture is:

I.e., patently, but in such a manner as to leave one feeling uneasy, violated, unworthy.

Scalzi uses the Bechdel test to evaluate the films in question. The test asks:

1. Are there at least two women characters in the film?
2. ...who talk to each other?
3. ...about something other than a man?

I've applied something like this test to my own writing before and come out unsatisfied. I took a couple feminist philosophy classes in university and got pretty good grades, but, perhaps due to the fact that, rather than attend classes, I played videogames and abused the major organ systems of my body, I am not Bechdel-sufficient.

Such a fact is repugnant to my sense of decency, and with this well-articulated tool in hand, I hope to turn around the depiction of women in my writing.

While we are on the tender subject of gender,

I today received a haircut. There is a barbershop not far from office, though, being a scruffy, recent university graduate, I attend it but rarely. However, when I do, and after I have been clipped and shaved, the barber rubs my head with some kind of flat, rubber comb not unlike a potato scrubber. I cannot help but feel, at these moments, like a dog: washed, groomed, and de-loused, receiving a scratch behind the ears.

There is nothing I enjoy more than such a thorough scratch on the head.



  1. Interesting. My first novel (which was more of a practice novel anyway) didn't pass the test, and my second novel didn't really pass it either (though that doesn't really count, because after chapter 1, there are only really two characters for the rest of the story). My third novel, however, easily passes the test, and my fourth novel (the one I'm writing right now) passes, though in the current draft the women tend to talk about men and subjects connected with men more than they do anything else. I'll have to keep that in mind for the rewrite.

  2. Not sure how significant that test would be for novels... For example, if you write from the point of view of one boy character the whole story, that automatically fails the test, right?
    Oh well, think I'm in the clear for the most part, since my books typically star a girl, and she's usually more concerned with not getting killed rather than finding a dream boy.

  3. I think it's more significant for novels than short stories. Shorts usually revolve around one character and resolve quickly; but novels have the capacity to introduce and explore many characters.

    First person point of view would change everything, of course; but the Bechdel test was invented to evaluate films, which lack that possibility.


  4. On a totally non-ideological level, it's a really good idea to write novels that women can enjoy. Women do most of the reading in America.

    If you look around at any creative-writing class or English department, they also do most of the writing and literary criticism in America.

    And all of that is really only going to get more true. Unlike every other culturally-ignored group, women have market power.