Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Bechdel Test

Don't ask me why but the Wichita bureau thinks I need to know about the Bechdel test.  I quote Wiki
The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ bek-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Many contemporary works fail this test of gender bias
The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. In 1985, she had a character in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For voice the idea, which she attributed to a friend, Liz Wallace. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films, but has since been applied to other media. It is also known as theBechdel/Wallace test,[1] the Bechdel rule,[2] Bechdel's law,[3] or the Mo Movie Measure.[4]
Well he's right, and it's new to me, but I want to plug it into a larger matrix about women-talking-about-men-talking-about women and suchlike.  Example: so far as I recall, in Jane Austen, we never see a man outside the company of women.  For all the evidence, they may not even exist except when they show up to cause trouble or solve life's problems among the ladies.   Side note: FWIW, I like Sex and the City, too, even though on the Bechdel standard, that show seems to be a crashing failure.

But re Jane Austen--this is not a complaint.  I'm a huge Jane Austen fan and I suspect one reason she is so good is that she is careful not to write about what she doesn't know.  But it does move you on to the larger question: can men tell the truth about women? Can women tell the truth about men?  Or can they at best (as in Bechdel/Wallace) do no better than to tell the truth about what women think they know about men.

Can any male author tell the truth about women?  Well now I wouldn't know, would I? I'm tempted to say "Henry James," but the nearest I can come to evaluating him is to consider what women think of Henry James--and I suppose his rep in that quarter is pretty high.  I was about to say "James Joyce, channeling Molly Bloom"--but is Molly's voice that of a woman, or just a man trying to ventriloquize a woman?

Of course it cuts both ways.  Virginia Woolf doesn't have much to say about men but most of what she does say is laughable.   So also the Brontes (does anybody see either Heathcliff or Rochester as anything other than a girlish fantasy?).  Among serious novelists, perhaps the most interesting would be George Eliot: she does write a lot about men and a lot of it strikes me as shrewd and/or savagely funny. But here too, you have to wonder: are you getting a man's story, or merely the work of an (uncommonly insightful) woman on the outside looking in?

Update:  Oh, now I get it.  Sweden. Sure, should have seen that coming. Will they also movies on whether or not anything the ladies say about the men is true?

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