Monday, February 27, 2012

Miscellaneous Mondays: Is This Sexist?

I'm going to preface this entire post with a simple statement: I don't consider myself a feminist. I consider myself an equalist of sorts, because I firmly believe that everyone should have the same rights across all genders, races, and sexualities. I don't like to go around pointing out every stupid thing I think might be sexist--that way lies madness and hatred.

That being said, after seeing this video from Feminist Frequency, I think there's an interesting point to discus. If you have ten minutes to spare, I recommend watching the video HERE. In sum, the video talks about evaluating representation of women in big name Hollywood movies by applying the Bechdel test to 2012 Oscar nominees. To pass the Bechdel test, a movie need only have two female characters, that have names, and talk to each other about something other then a man. Hollywood, by the way, seems to be failing.

I find the concept of the test to be fascinating, and I wonder what would happen if we applied it to main stream popular books. The problem, of course, is that I intentionally read mostly female centered books. they pass? Let's think about some of the strongest female leads out there.

Kate Daniels? Sure, she talks to Andrea, about weapons, and killing, and attack poodles. Prior to Andrea's appearance in book 2, however, I don't think Kate talked to to many women. So book 1 probably passes by the skin of it's teeth.

Mercy Thompson? In River Marked, which is the book I remember most distinctly because I read it most recently, there really aren't any other female characters involved in the conflict for Mercy to talk to. She talks to Jesse, for example, but it's about Jesse's father, so I'm thinking that doesn't count.

What about a romance novel? Indigo is my most recent traditional romance novel. It passes because Hester talks to various other women about the underground railroad stuff. But the thing is, there are a lot of romance novels that I don't think would pass, because the main plot centers around a romance with a man.

Look at Sea Change. We have a female lead dressing up as a man, surrounded by a male cast. The only time she talks to other women, it's to prostitutes about sex...with men.

What about the really popular stuff? Twilight? I'm pretty sure that would fail. Hunger Games? I'll let you know after I read it. Harry Potter? Fail. Vampire Diaries? From the one book I read, fail.

So here's where I come to my main point, which is that while none of these books pass with flying colors, none of them are inherently sexist or anti-feminist. Well...maybe Twilight. But the rest of them are fine. Even books written by women, about women, for women, will sometimes fail this test. If we used them to evaluate the popular fiction industry, as the video does with Hollywood movies, we might end up seeing a problem that isn't there. The test is inherently flawed.

I think the tidbit I get caught up on is the conversation with other women part. Growing up, all of my friends were boys. If they made a day of my life into a movie it would have failed the test. My life story is sexist?

All of that being said, I do agree that strong women are under represented in main stream Hollywood. All I'm really asking for is to have female characters engage in meaningful, plot relevant dialogue or action, not involving sex or romance, with any character of any gender. Books, or at least 90% of the ones I've read, do a good job at this. A lot of movies still fail. So yes, there's some room for work there.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we need more meaningful female characters? How do we measure that? Share your thoughts in the comments. Happy Monday, everyone!


  1. I think it's a really fascinating acid test... but I'm with you. I think it's inherently flawed. Maybe... in the context of a movie, it's slightly different. It's a shorter period of time, and women are so often used as props... in a novel... I mean, you have so much more character development, growth, and... hmm... you mentioned Kate Daniels, right? I don't think they could be considered remotely sexist, even the first one (the only one I've read). And Harry Potter? Could NEVER be considered sexist. One of the most kickass characters is a female bookworm who NEVER allows herself to objectified, never backs down, and saves the day almost more than the boys. Then you have Molly Weasely, the AMAZING Ginny Weasley, Professor McGonagall, Tonks, and etc etc etc on and on... but by this test, you're right, it'd be a fail. Because it's from a guy's POV. That doesn't mean it's sexist, it just means you're not going to see two girls having a conversation THEMSELVES, because, well, one of the participants is always gonna be a dude.

    Also: Hunger Games I give a pass. She speaks with NUMEROUS other female characters... though they're not all likable, some are brilliant. Rue broke my heart. ANYWAY.

    This is SO INTERESTING. Because I don't often think about, and I think the test has serious merit... but I also think it's flawed.

    And what you said at the start? "I don't consider myself a feminist. I consider myself an equalist of sorts, because I firmly believe that everyone should have the same rights across all genders, races, and sexualities." THANK YOU. THIS! It's all about equality, and, back 'in the day', this was what feminism was about. I think, to the people who have it right, it's still what it's about... it makes me kind of sad 'feminist' has become a dirty word because of people's misconceptionson both sides. It's all, like you said about equality. It alwyas has been. I don't want my fiction, entertainment, my WORLD to be pro-female, I want it to be EQUAL. Thank you for saying what I'd like to so elequently ;D

    1. I do think the context of judging a book is different. I guess my thoughts were: you have way more time in a book to have your characters interact with loads of people. So you'd think more would pass. But they don't, and not because they're sexist, but because of the restrictions of the narrative--Harry Potter is told with Harry always at the center, Kate Daniel's is too busy killing stuff to sit down to tea and crumpets, Mercy was on her honeymoon....So for movies that generally have less time, fewer characters, and more restrictions built into their plot/story telling, I do think the test is unfair.

      But YES, Hollywood does love to use female characters as props. This is positively maddening, and needs to stop.


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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