Friday, May 30, 2014

Does the Bechdel Test apply to comics?

Sometimes a test may be applied in some weird ways, obtaining some very weird results. Recently a study was published on how Doctor Who would do when it the Bechdel Test was applied to it. Briefly, in order to pass the Bechdel Test a movie has to have two women talk about something other than men; the test was applied by episode over the last seven seasons in order to compare which writer was more feminist friendly.

It stunned me, leaving me with a permanently cocked eyebrow.

The problem character was River Song, as always. The problem with having a romantic pairing is that, if done well, both parties are going to talk about each other. A lot. Sometimes just to vent, sometimes to remind them why they don't just find someone else, and others to express their love for one other, but the statements are there. And River Song and The Doctor are very much in love, so of course every episode she's in she brings up The Doctor.

According to the criteria of the study, River Song is a bad character.

Suffice to say that Amy Pond did not fare much better. Donna Noble, on the other hand, did rather well. Not that there is anything wrong with Donna, of course; I just thought RIver and Amy were much better characters.

That is, The Girl Who Waited and her daughter were considered horrible characters by the study because they couldn't stop talking about the men they loved and this made them obviously anti-feminist characters, despite their being a match and then some for their paramours. And there is just something wrong with that.

Obviously the problem is that the Bechdel Test was used for something it was not designed for; it was designed as a pro-feminist test as a result of the creator getting tired of seeing too many movies that reduced otherwise great women to mere copies of the vacuous, sex-starved Cosmo-dependent Sex in the City girls, and should probably not have been applied to anything episodic.

But it does bring up an interesting point for comics. If I put a lot of effort into establishing a great female character, what do I do about romance? The reality is that even if I'm writing an all-ages comic, heterosexual romance is going to rear its ugly head. Can I write such an obviously depraved romance while still writing a great female character? Or will the fact that the character is having such a horrible romance and need to discuss it at some point with someone else, possibly another [shudder] female destroy any credibility she has a potential role-model?

Obviously it won't. But as a writer we need to be aware of the criteria others use to judge our works , and we need to decide if we are going to apply those criteria to our own works. There is the understanding that the more criteria we add the less fun it will be to write and the more annoying it will be for others to read as I'm writing for the criteria and not my own passion. We need to decide if we are going to write for ourselves or some set of rules. I get that peer acceptance is important, but at the same time if we write strictly for that acceptance our work suffers. The question becomes to what degree we write for ourselves versus others, and that's an issue we can only decide for ourselves.

Personally, as far as the Bechdel Test is concerned, I don't mind failing. It was designed to act as a tool to see if women were being written shallow, and mine usually aren't. I also tend to write for myself first and others second, so I don't care really care about writing for someone else's criteria. But right as you feel comfortable, and see what happens.

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