Testing the Bechdel Test
I had the misfortune of hearing someone refer to the Bechdel test, and despite my misgivings, asking what it was.
“Basically, a work passes if:
1) It has at least two female characters.
2) They speak to each other at least once.
3) It is about something other than about men.”
Such is the test for purity of sexual thought and lack of bias against women in the story. What is the test for racial purity in the story? Two non-Christian non-White must appear together in a scene and talk about something unrelated to Western Civilization and its concerns?
I ask because I remember reading a reviewer once who judged one of my stories as one that did not pass the racial purity test.
This was not because of the race of any of the characters, by the way. The main character was explicitly said to be a Mestizo, that is, an English-Spanish hybrid with some Red Indian blood thrown in, what is now called a ‘Hispanic’ albeit as best I understand the Ahnenpass rules of racial purity used by Democrats, Hispanics do not count as Caucasians, even though they are from Europe, and neither do Persians count as Caucasians, even if they live in the Caucasus Mountains.
So in the story there were no Anglo-saxons at all (all the characters with speaking roles were Mestizo, Hindu, Dravidian, Iberian, Coptic, Tibetan, or an artificial biofact, but this was insufficient race diversity to sate that particular mavin of correct race thought) but I was denounced as a racist. Since I am a Christian and a pro-Constitution pro-limited government free market type, the reviewer in that instance decided that any from Texas two of four centuries from now has to be a White Man, despite that the text said otherwise, and therefore I am a racist.
That experience shows that ideological purity tests have an innate flaw. Any joker dishonest enough and partisan enough to judge a book not on its merits but on its race-purity is also dishonest enough to lie about the test results if the results allow a Christian to pass.
We are the bad guys in the Leftwing worldview, and it is childishly simple worldview, one where the bad guy cannot be an antihero with some redeeming characteristics: all we conservatives are utterly vile and cruel and bigoted without exception, or the else the Leftwing worldview is unworkable.
In this case, sex is being treated like race, so if the story does not have enough characters of the right sex behaving according to this new stereotype of female behavior, it flunks, and the writer has committed thoughtcrime.
Let us quickly see what passes the test of Lefty Ideological Race Purity, or Sex Purity, as they case may be. Of the Great Books of Western Literature:
- ILIAD: I do not believe any two of the female characters discuss anything together. It is a war story. Hera and Aphrodite do appear in a scene together, but they discuss how to seduce Zeus, so this does not pass.
- ODYSSEY: Unless there is a scene with Nausicaa and her maids or Penelope and her maids, no, I do not think the women ever discuss anything outside of what the menfolk are doing.
- AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound. Hmm. Hard to remember. Prometheus Bound I know does not have any two people with speaking roles onstage at any one time, because it is always Prometheus speaking to someone. The women speak in chorus in Eumenides and Libation Bearers, but I am not sure if this counts. Clytemnestra and Cassandra do not appear on stage together in Agamemnon, if memory serves, but I am not sure about that.
- SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax. Again, my memory is weak. I believe there is a scene in Antigone where she is being begged by her sister not to attempt to bury the dead brother. I assume this does not count as talking about a man.
- HEBREW BIBLE: Well, some of these books are history and poetry or prophecy rather than literature, but I cannot recall any scenes off the top of my head where one woman is talking to another about anything.
- VIRGIL: Aeneid. Hmm. Is there a scene where Dido talks with her maids about anything? What about Camilla?
- DANTE: Divine Comedy. Nope. Virgil talks to Dante and Dante talks to ghosts or to Beatrice, but there is no scene where Dante overhears womenfolk talking about anything to each other. There are scenes offstage where Beatrice command another divine lady to descend from heaven and help Dante on his ascent.
- CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales. Here I cannot answer. I simply do not remember all the scenes well enough.
- RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel. I think it is mostly male characters here.
- SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets. Ah, now we are in a richer area. I am pretty sure Hamlet and Othello flunk the test, but, again, someone more literate than I must answer. In Macbeth the three Weird Sisters speak to each other in witchcrafty rhymes about the fall of kings. So it passes as feminist-friendly.
- BACH: St. Matthew Passion. Christ comforts the righteous women of Jerusalem, and the wife of Pilate warns him not to meddle with the just man, but I do not think women talk to each other.
- CERVANTES: Don Quixote. Another one where there are several minor tales inside the main narrative which I simply do not recall. Dulcinea speaks to Quixote to be sure, but does she have a scene onstage talking to another woman about something other than a man?
- MILTON: Paradise Lost. The only two female characters are Eve and Sin, and they do not speak to each other.
- LA FONTAINE: Fables. Memory fails. I simply don’t recall his stories.
- RACINE: Phaedre. Well, there must be some scene a Phaedre where women appear together, but chances are they are talking about Hippolyte or Theseus.
- SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels. No soap. Gulliver speaks with Glumdalclitch, and with the Queen of Brobdignag, but he does not report them speaking to each other. No female Lilliputians are mentioned, nor any Laputans, Glubdrubdibians, or Balnibarbians given a name, nor is there any dialog between the mares among the Houyhnhnms.
- MOLIERE: Tartuffe. I think the maid speaks with the mistress of the house. I don’t recall if they are talking about men, but they probably are, since men are causing all the problems in the story.
- JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice. Men and marriage prospects is all they talk about here, despite a plethora of scenes involving the Bennet mother and sisters, or Miss Bennet paying social calls on other women of quality.
- TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nope, unless there is a scene with Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer’s Mother I am forgetting. Boys on a raft with an escaping slave and two (male) con artists, as I recall.
- GOETHE: Faust. Magician talking with a demon. Helen of Troy has no speaking part.
- WAGNER: Das Rheingold. I think there is a scene where Idunn, goddess of love and beauty, calls out to Fricka for help, and there is clearly a scene where the three mermaids talk to each other about guarding the gold. So it passes as feminist-friendly.
- DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov. Here again memory fails me. I remember lots of scenes with the brothers.
- TOLSTOY: War and Peace. There are lots of female characters here, among the most realistic in all literature. They talk about men.
- MELVILLE: Moby Dick. The book takes place on a Whaler, so there is no female character whatsoever. How this is a sign of gender bias is beyond me.
- CONRAD: Heart of Darkness. Likewise, no female characters in the story that I recall.
What a clear and useful test this is! So far, out of twoscore of the greatest works of fiction of all time, we have two scenes in two works that clearly make the cut: the three witches appearing together cackling over evil witchy things; and the three cute and airheaded Rhine Maidens appearing together singing over their task which they later ignore because they are too busy tormenting a dwarf with their sexual allure; these both pass the test for being non-gender-biased, on the grounds that sirens and witches are not at all simplistic yet rather negative stereotypes for women, but are completely realistic and well rounded portrayals. (Okay, I will stop now, my sarcasm circuit is overheating.)
Is that enough? This test requires one to jettison over nine-tenths of all great Western literature from consideration on the grounds that everyone (except, apparently for Bechdel) is ‘gender-biased.’
So either all of Western civilization is totally and absolutely despicable, or else the test is total and absolute crap. I understand there are people petty enough and angry enough (and obsessively narcissistic enough) to want to keep the test in order to abandon civilization. That is what Political Correctness is.
The test is bogus, because it assigns the only possible reason for not putting female characters in primary speaking roles is bias against women.
The idea that little boys like stories about Pirates or submarines where men have adventures and go exploring whereas girls like love stories where women talk about love, and ergo the idea that there could be an innocent motive for writing such books is, by the innate testing bias of the test, discounted.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE as well as TREASURE ISLAND and TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as well as LORD OF THE RINGS would fail this test, whereas A HORSE AND HIS BOY (Aravis talks to Lasaraleen as well as to Hwin, and not about boys) would pass it. It this bias present in Robert Louis Stephenson and Jules Verne and Jane Austin and Tolkien yet somehow absent in C.S. Lewis?
It is the kind of test a petulant bigot would insist upon, who cannot imagine liking a story if the hero is not of his race and sex and class.
This is not a test to detect bias; it is a test to promote bias.
I am really sorry I asked what this was. I should have trusted my instincts which warned me it was some Politically Correct bullshit from someone who hates women or hates being a woman or both. Anyone who takes such tests seriously condemns himself to endless wrath or endless despair.