We’ve been thinking about the balance of our books lately, and in particular our female characters. Caro had never heard of the Bechdel-Wallace test, so when we went over the requirements, we were pleased to note that we had inadvertently exceeded them! For those. like Caro, who have not come across this before, the Bechdel -Wallace test started as a tongue in cheek comic strip about going to movies:
So we looked at our books, and yes, all three of them pass with flying colours. It’s all about the depth of women’s stories and the range of their concerns. Of course, we’re writing romance, where the woman tends to be the central figure. If we turn the story on its head though, and apply the Bechdel test to the men in the story, are we still good?
Let’s see, in Yesterday’s Shadows, Noah and Sam have plenty of conversations. But when we look back on those conversations, they are all about women. In Dark Embrace, all the male-male conversations are about women (even if one of them is a demon). Is this a sad indictment on our perception of the importance of women in men’s lives, or is it just that we need those conversations to develop the story? In our heads, we know that they talk about other things, but we’re only showing you the key discussions. Whew! And in book 3, we have several conversations (including one about rugby) and implied conversations between our male characters.
There are now some other similar tests, so we applied these as well both to our female characters AND our male ones:
The ‘Sexy Lamp Test’ from Kelly Sue DeConnick – “If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft”. We have no sexy lamps, male or female. In fact, we are inclined to overwrite our characters and endow everyone with a back story…
The “Sphinx test” by the Sphinx theater company of London asks about the interaction of women with other characters, as well as how prominently women characters feature in the action, how proactive rather than reactive they are, and whether they are portrayed stereotypically. Again, we think we do fine with our female characters and probably just squeak through with the male ones. Our third book definitely has the strongest independent male characters, so maybe we’re getting better at this writing thing!
We are making light of this, but it has long been a serious issue in popular culture, especially movies. To find out more about the Bechdel-Wallace test and to see if your favourite movies pass, check out this site. And please, do take it with a grain of salt. There are some fabulous movies which would not pass the test, but it’s because having women in them would make them ridiculous. The Name of the Rose for instance, set in a monastery!
What do you think? Has the balance swung back around? Are there good examples for both kinds of movie? We’d love to hear from you!