Friday, October 29, 2010

A bit more about Bechdel

I came across an absolutely brilliant write-up of Bechdel today that is a must-read if you're interested in the topic at all.

Some selected quotes:

'I'm not a feminist, but I've learned a hell of a lot from feminists on my flist about what they want in stories. This does not give me feminist bona fides of any sort; I'm not trying to make a bullshit claim to them, because I don't have one -- hell, I'm a registered Republican with a concealed carry permit; I *am* The Man, ok? -- but I do try to write stories that a fairly wide variety of people will enjoy, feminists included. And if there's one thing I've taken away from the discussions of feminism and queer politics and anti-racism that I've read, it's that I don't have to agree with people to learn how they would like to be treated.'

Right on. If more people felt this way, the world would probably be a much higher functioning and much more pleasant place.

'Why are stock roles important to the Bechdel Test? Because *men fill a billion of them.* There are many more stock roles for men than for women. As a result, the more thinly drawn a character is, the more likely that character is to be male. But the problem caused by stock roles goes farther than that. Many characters exist in order to perform a mechanical function: to provide information, to fight the hero, that kind of thing. They're not created to be a person, but to do a job within the story. This means they tend to start thin, and be fleshed out. But the fact that they start thin means that a whole lot of characters begin as some variant of a stock role.

Men are, from a dramatic perspective, incredibly useful creatures, because they fit into all manner of preconceived slots -- stock roles -- that come in handy to writers. Need a character to do something dangerous/flamboyantly stupid and risky? Men, especially young men, are great for that (when I worked in a medical examiner's office, the young men who came in fell overwhelmingly into one of two categories. Their last words were either, "You motherfucker --!" or "Hey, guys, watch THIS!"). Need a character to convey established authority, i.e., "this bank has been in business for five million years" authority? Older men, especially older white men, get that across without opening their mouths. And so on. There are all kinds of things that men are great for, and more to the point, *men are easy for.* Because we have seen men doing those things in a billion books and novels, and we have vague memories of a billion similar characters, and that makes filling the role easier -- and often, more effective -- for the author and the readers. This requires work to overcome.

By contrast, women have fewer stock roles, and most of these revolve around their relationships to other people.'

Definitely read the whole thing if any of this piqued your interest; there's a really great breakdown of EXACTLY what goes wrong when women are left out of stories.

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