|One of the biggest new titles of 2013 does not pass the Bechdel Test.|
In this morning's edition of The Guardian, Charlotte Higgins writes about the adoption of the Bechdel Test by Swedish cinemas as a part of the way in which they evaluate sexism. And so, if a movie doesn't contain a single scene with two named women talking about something other than a man, then it can't attain an "A" in gender equality. As Higgins writes;
"The test – whose origins are in a 1985 storyline in Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For – may sound like an incredibly low bar. But an alarming number of films showing in cinemas fail to reach it. "The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, all Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail this test," said Ellen Tejle, who runs Stockholm's Bio Rio, one of a number of independent cinemas that has instituted the classification."
Of course, and as Higgins readily admits, it's a "blunt" tool. Applied to comic books, it's even blunter. Can a 20 page comic, or an anthology title with a series of 8 page shorts, ever be directly compared with a 2 hour film? No, of course not. Nor would I ever suggest that a comic without a Bechdel-passing scene is by it's very nature lacking in gender equality, let alone in any way sexist. That would be a quite clearly ludicrous proposition. But there's still a point to be made about the world-view which appears to emerge when a pile of comics is worked through. If nothing else, it suggests - as if the thought didn't already linger - that the market remains fundamentally male-centric. As a result, even books by creators who are dedicated to changing this can every once in a while appear - and unfairly so - to contribute to the problem.
|A 2009 collection acquired for a project I'm writing for elsewhere; 4 issues, no top grade.|
So, as a totally unscientific experiment, I reached for my box of recently read comics and graphic novels and here's the first 25 which would fail the Bechdel test. (Six passed before I reached the quarter-century total.) Most of the titles are fairly new, though some very much aren't. These are nothing more or less than my most recent comicbook experiences. Some I've read before, and some I'm keen to experience again. Several of them were actually bought because I was suspicious of the way in which they might be engaging with such issues, which means that my sample fails to even reflect my own taste.
If an issue is here, it doesn't mean it has any problems beyond the fact that it fails the Test. It says nothing beyond that about the content of the comic, or of anything else that's appeared in previous editions of it. After all, you'd be on an entirely unplayable wicket if you tried to argue that Young Avengers was a problematical title when it comes to matters of sex and gender. Nor am I suggesting that what follows are by their very nature poor comics. Though some are - to my mind - lacking the knees of the bees, there are several of my favourite titles from the past year on the list. But it would be slimy of me to leave out comics that I love out.
No, all I'm suggesting is that it's tough to get a great many titles through the Bechdel Test, and that in itself suggests serious problems;
What does the above suggest, if anything at all? That a crude application of the Bechdel Test would mean a great many titles would be rated "S" for Sexist, or, in the Swedish terms, considered inappropriate for an "A" in gender equality? That there's many of the comics listed above that are anything but playing on the wrong side where equality is concerned? That the test is too "blunt" to be a helpful guide where individual titles are concerned? That the comics I've been buying for both pleasure and writing are a badly skewed sample? That it would be far, far more productive to consider a month's worth of product from the industry, or parts of the industry?
Well, all of the above would be true.
And yet, if you go to the monthly titles that you buy and try the same entirely uncontrolled experiment, what do you find? After all, we don't tend to perceive the world through representative samples of work. Like me, I suspect, your reading is determined by money, whim, availability, what's in the shop on a particular day, friend's advice, subjects that you want to discuss and/or write about, and so on. Because of all of that "noise", I'd really like to know what you find. Please do feel free to add your own experiences to the comments below.
After one last example of a book which fails the Test and yet would never be considered sexist;