Anonymous asked:why is the bechdel test useless?
AW MAN I WAS HOPING SOMEONE WOULD ASK THIS OK HERE WE GO ESSAY TIME
(NOT UNDER A CUT BECAUSE I FEEL LIKE THIS IS IMPORTANT)
I have a lot of problems with the Bechdel test, as you’ve probably noticed. It’s not like I think it’s pointless, per se — it was created for a good reason — I just think that it doesn’t really do anything.
First off, what is it even measuring? TVTropes cites it as, “a sort of litmus test for female presence in fictional media”. But what does that mean? Just because there are women in something, doesn’t mean that something has great female representation.
For example: Twilight. Twilight is terrible for representation. Its main message is (regardless of what Smeyer intended it to be), “you should change your entire personality, lifestyle, and group of friends just so that a Boy will come along and make your life better.” It romanticizes an abusive relationship, encourages young girls to not go to college so that they can be with their first boyfriend, and is basically just Really Bad All Around.
But it passes the Bechdel test! There are at least ten named female characters (Bella, Jessica, Angela, Lauren, Renee, Alice, Jane, Esme, Rosalie, Victoria, and probably more that I don’t remember, because I only ever read the first two books with any degree of interest), many of whom interact separately with each other, and most of whom have at least one conversation about something other than boys! And yet, nobody can argue that Twilght is anything resembling a bastion of feminism or whatever.
On the other hand, let’s talk about a great example of female representation in (hugely popular!!!!!) media.
This is Chell. Chell is the protagonist of Valve’s smash hit puzzle games, Portal and Portal 2.
If you don’t know that, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past seven years.
Now, Chell is a fantastic character: she’s (1) a woman, who (2) isn’t sexualized, (3) doesn’t have a love interest (unless you count her and GLaDOS’s creepy blackrom rivalry, but even that is not a standard heterosexual pairing), and (4), perhaps most importantly, isn’t white (if we’re going by her face model Alesia Glidwell, she’s Brazilian and Japanese). All of these things are really important, because both Portal games did incredibly well: the first Portal sold over four million copies, excluding Steam, while the second one became the top-selling video game in the country within its first week.
And yet, Portal does not pass the Bechdel test. The first one technically doesn’t even have two named female characters — Chell’s name is only given by the developers, never stated in-game — but, even saying that “well, we know her name at all, so it counts”, they do not have a conversation. About anything. Because (5) Chell is disabled — she’s mute.
So Chell is a fantastic, fantastic protagonist, for so many reasons, and in the first Portal game, 100% of the on-screen characters are female (Doug doesn’t count, as he’s never seen, and in fact his gender isn’t stated at all until the second game). Yet it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test! Neither does the second one, because again, Chell is mute — even though there are still more female characters than male ones (GLaDOS, Chell, and Caroline, vs. Wheatley and Cave Johnson. Spheres and turrets don’t count.)
(1) Just because there are multiple-named-women-who-have-a-conversation-about-something-other-than-a-man, doesn’t mean that a work is particularly empowering for women, and in fact can be outright detracting (Twilight);
(2) Just because there aren’t multiple-named-women-who-have-a-conversation-about-something-other-than-a-man, doesn’t mean that a work is not extremely empowering for women (Portal);
and therefore (3) The Bechdel test is a flawed system that doesn’t actually serve to prove any valid point towards feminism or representation.
Basically the Bechdel test is a witty snipe at how women are frequently treated in film because of sexism, not a rule for identifying truly feminist and not sexist work.
It originated in a Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip, with the punchline being that the character who applied the test had only seen Alien.