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Roland Martin - Issue #24

The Bechdel continuum ... a quick revue of women with words.

Roland Martin

June 14 · Issue #24 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

The Bechdel continuum … a quick revue of women with words.

‘Was Shakespeare a feminist?’ is a question oft-wrangled within the confines of an English Literature class. This week, I stumbled across some definitive/reductive work over on Collectively, by Anna Barbour. It seems he passes the Bechdel test - 'the low-bar feminist criteria usually applied to films in which, to pass muster, two female characters must be seen on stage at the same time, having a conversation about something other than a man’ - more often than he fails it … 
Shakespeare: The Complete Wenches
… which pleases me no end. I’ve always been a fan of his feistier heroines, so it’s good news that he would regularly have jumped through Alison Bechdel’s hoops. 
Some films I’ve admired (including Toy Story!) do fail though - 
10 Famous Films That Surprisingly Fail The Bechdel Test — Film School Rejects
- which is disappointing. I mean, Star Wars? Four out of seven fail! After writing a rallying call for Lucas’s Edutopia recently, and wondering if I should be reconsidering my position, I take some solace in the fact that he’s getting it more right these days with Rey, Captain Phasma and Maz Kanata, for example. Rey would probably pass the Mako Mori test too, named after Pacific Rim’s character of the same name. ’A tumblr user, spider-xan, whose real name remains unknown, made the test to honor Rinko Kikuchi’s character … spider-xan proposed a similar three-question test’. 1. Does the film have at least one female character? 2. Does this female character get her own narrative arc? 3. Is this narrative arc not about supporting a man’s story?
Star Wars: Analyzing the Female Characters of The Force Awakens | Den of Geek
That said, the original trilogy didn’t really teach impressionable young men that women - other than Leia Organa - had much to say. Just over one minute of screen-time.
Watch Every Star Wars Line Spoken By A Woman, There Aren't Many - CINEMABLEND
Literature obviously offers plenty of Bechdel and Mako Mori successes, and has done so long before these tests were devised - Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, FrankensteinPride and PrejudiceMrs Dalloway, The Color Purple, The Bell Jar and The Handmaid’s Tale being a handful that I can think of which are often studied in schools. Once upon a time I had fun teaching Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber and other stories, some of which definitely pass these tests. But this next link offers an alternative viewpoint, that the Bechdel isn’t relevant in literature, that the lacking of women’s voices has been an issue for Hollywood rather than Penguin. Here, a case is made for a variety of literary role models for young girls, most of them already familiar and some canonical, thankfully:
Why Books Don’t Need A Bechdel Test: 13 Female Literary Characters who Are ABSOLUTELY Fantastic Role Models for Young Girls | The Next Book on the Shelf
I’m sure there are plenty of theses which have been written at greater depth than this revue - there’s a fascinating one about Disney films I found, for example - and I can see that anything this reductive can be flawed, but I just thought I’d throw out some food for thought. 
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