Bechdel Testing

Hey, guess what showed up in a big ol’ Fed Ex box yesterday.¬† I’ll give you a hint–it wasn’t The Tick ūüôā

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Because it came up in the comments yesterday Tuesday, I thought I’d talk a little about the Bechdel Test.¬† For those of you unfamiliar with the test, check out the Wikipedia link.¬† In brief, a story has to meet the following three requirements to pass the test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a man.

The Angry Black Woman posted a modified version regarding race:

  1. It has to have at least two people of color in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something besides a white person.

The first time I saw these, my first reaction was of course to apply them to my own books.¬† The goblin trilogy is iffy on the first test.¬† Book one fails, but then we get Grell, Golaka, Kralk, Billa, and we start to fare a little better.¬† The female characters are definitely in the minority though, and I’d have to go back and check to see how much they talk to one another as opposed to being all about the men.

In terms of race?¬† Not a clue how to apply it to the goblins, since few of my characters in this series are human.¬† On the other hand, the actual humans, dwarves, and elves were all white.¬† Why?¬† There’s no deliberate reason; I just defaulted to white¬†when I wrote the books.

The princess series fares better, passing the original test with flying colors.¬† When it comes to race though, that’s a little different.¬† Of the three heroines, Talia is the only non-white character.¬† It’s not until book three that the books pass the racial¬†test.

I’m not aware of anyone saying every story¬†has to pass the tests.¬† We’re not talking about¬†quotas, and I swear to Cthulhu I’ll loose the goblins on the first one to raise that strawman.

The point, at least for me,¬†is how few stories actually pass these tests.¬† Because we default to what’s easy or familiar, or what we’re used to reading and writing.¬† Why did Darnak the dwarf have to be white and male?¬† Why is Talia the only non-white servant I’ve described working in the palace?¬† Did I think about the politics and racial atmosphere in Lorindar and make a conscious decision to minimize non-white characters, or was I just lazy?

Most of the time, I don’t think it’s a conscious choice.¬† I know I don’t always see the trends in my own writing until I deliberately stop and look back at my work.¬† The Bechdel tests are one way to do that.

Remember IDIC¬†from Star Trek?¬† (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, for those of you whose geek-fu is not as strong.)¬†¬†It’s not about quotas or satisfying the PC police.¬† It’s about telling better stories.¬† Because defaulting our stories to a single narrow slice of reality, limiting what we write and read to tales of Straight White Men, is simply illogical.