Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Bechdel Test

It is time, once again, to talk about the possibility of subconscious sexism. Whoo?

What I mean is being fair to the characters and to the story by not making it all about one particular gender, skin tone, or viewpoint. The most egregious example historically has been men, more specifically white men, even more specifically white men with money. Which is fine so far as it goes, white men with money did and do engage in many story-worthy things. For instance, beating up all those Na'vi and burning down their silly tree to get their magic rocks. Parker Selfridge was the true hero of that movie, also I've never watched the ending.

Anyways, to avoid this, I apply The Bechdel Test in a non-binding way to everything I write, the basic structure being:

1. it includes at least two women (preferably named),
2. who have at least one conversation
3. about something other than a man or men.

If it doesn't pass, I answer the question "Why?" to my satisfaction and move on ("There's only one character!"), but the important thing is that I've answered it.

The Bechdel Test isn't restricted to women, of course. There're viewpoints and skin tones and, in speculative fiction, species. In fact, I'd have to say I use the test more for moral viewpoints than for anything else. I'm calling it the Straw Man Test.

1. it includes at least two characters who believe X.
2. who have at least one conversation
3. about something other than characters who believe Not-X.

If a character's belief is only defined by opposition to another belief, he's a Straw Man. If all of your character's beliefs are only defined in opposition to each other, your characters aren't having any fun.


This picture passes the Bechdel Test handily. Two women, Ms. Sato and Ms. Takahashi, discuss the three most popular beers in Japan before purchasing and consuming them. This is, of course, a common street scene in Modern Tokyo. Or at least much more common than giant robots and monsters. I'm not sure why large glass bottles of beer are more popular in Asia than cans, but it does look more classy, and it's louder. Two essentials in the drinking experience.

In case you're wondering: The ladies decide that Sapporo is the best of the three, because it has a star.

1000 words? Yes
Short Story "The Language of Ice Cubes" - finished
- - - -
Reading - "Anansi Boys" (Neil Gaiman)



  1. Good test, I like it. I think beyond trying to avoid sexist or racially exclusive stories, it helps you get out of your own shoes, which is essential to writing well crafted and believable characters/stories. If you’re a well-to-do white man, your stories will be one-note if that’s all you can give the audience (I’m using you in a general sense, not you specifically :-) ). The idea gets two thumbs up from me (And she wanders off to test the concept on her own work...)

  2. It seems that most of Writing (besides, of course, actually writing) is empathy.


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