The Bechdel Test

Someone asked me the other day why I decided to write fantasy fiction with a woman at the helm. It wasn’t asked in a derogatory way, it was very pleasant and an honest question. A lot of fantasy books are sold these days, and more often then not those stories are lead by a man or a boy. More recently there are WAY more stories lead by females, but the problem I see with a lot of these stories is that most of them don’t pass the Bechdel test.

So when this person asked me WHY I write fantasy with a woman at the helm, my response was, “I want a story written by a woman with real women in it. I want to pass the Bechdel test.”

The response I got, “ohhhh that sounds hard!” And I laughed because passing the Bechdel test is probably the EASIEST thing any writer could do. Are you ready for the conditions???

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl), also known as the Bechdel–Wallace testis a measure of the representation of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.

I’m not kidding that’s all there is to it. Easy peasy right? But apparently in a lot of ways it’s really not that easy at all. Most fantasy books have VERY few women in them, and even fewer of the books that have women, have them talking about something OTHER than a man. It’s as though a woman’s only purpose in a fantasy story is for procreation and to further the story line / character development of the man.

Now I would never completely bash on LOTR because I LOVE that series, but COME ON! Where are the women!! Even Eowyn who slayed a ringwraith had to fall in love with Aragon instead of just focusing on her incredibly ability to fight. She DEFINITELY talked to other men about war and fighting tactic and getting her uncle back, but she never talked to another lead woman character about that. That is the main problem. Here is a fantasy story, and EPIC saga with three amazing female characters BUT not at any point do they talk to one another.

Here’s a fun list of movies you wouldn’t think of being “non-woman” centric and yet they fail the Bechdel Test:

  • Lara Croft Tombraider
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • A Star is Born
  • My Best Friends Wedding
  • Arrival
  • Avatar
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • The Social Network
  • The Avengers

Now I’m not saying those movies aren’t amazing, but it’s crazy to think that the only reason these movies failed this test is because there aren’t two women, with names, that talk to each other about something other than a man. That….is…..CRAZY!!

As a writer, I want to change this. I want to be a book filled with strong women and male characters, that all have discussions and conversations that don’t solely focus on intimacy and love interests. I won’t lie, it can be hard to ensure you have the right mix of characters that will not only be engaging but will also be something your readers are willing to read. At the end of the day we all work to sell to a consumer, and if the consumer doesn’t like what you are creating, then you can kiss your precious work goodbye.

The point however, is that we CAN write rich and incredibly well crafted stories that include a lot of women. When you look at the ratio of women to men in GOT you will see how MANY strong women there were throughout the entire series. It’s quite incredible that through the whole series the women seem to grow in numbers as the number of men slowly dwindles. I think George is onto something 😉

On that note, I do hope as writers you try your best to keep this simple test in mind next time you sit down to plot out some characters. Are you certain that character has to be a man? And if you made that character a woman, what dynamics would it change? How would it enrich your story. Think about it the next time you plot your Best Selling manuscript.

Cheers my peeps,

Jessie McSpadden

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