Monday, January 13, 2014

Failing the Bechdel Test

In 1985 my cartoonist idol, Alison Bechdel, drew the strip above. The concept that for a feminist to watch a movie it should have at least 2 women characters that talk to each other about something other than a man has become known as the Bechdel Test. Bechdel writes about it in her blog, here.

I've known about the Bechdel Test for a while, avid follower of Dykes to Watch Out For that I am. However, I didn't realise that Bechdel was influenced by Virginia Woolf. She notes that in chapter 5 of A Room of One's Own, Woolf talks about the comment "Chloe liked Olivia" in a fictitious book. I've just discovered that of the 6 Virginia Woolf books I can find on my shelves, none of them is A Room of One's Own, so I will quote Bechdel's selection from her copy of that text:

"All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends … they are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men …

Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them:  how literature would suffer!"

Meanwhile, I think that "12 Years a Slave" fails the Bechdel Test magnificently.

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