Do You Have to Study to Pass the Bechdel Test?

Dearest Rachel –

I can’t recall if you’re familiar with the concept of the Bechdel Test. At its most basic, it’s meant to be a measure of the representation of female characters in a work of fiction. The idea is that in order to pass, such a work needs to

  • a.) have at least two female characters,
  • b.) have them interact with each other (presumably without involving any male character), and
  • c.) have their conversation be about a topic other than a man.

It’s actually mildly embarrassing to discover how little fiction actually manages to pass this test (I should mention that your beloved Doctor Who is surprisingly adept when it comes to this concept, which might contribute to the the reason why you loved it so much). It probably could be argued that some of the stems from what the TV Tropes website explains as ‘most writers are male.’ It’s just… that’s been the way of things. And because of that, they simply don’t know how to write for women: how women think, how they talk, how they interact with each other. Consider, just for a small example, how many comedians make hay out of the mystery of why women go to the bathroom in pairs – or groups, even! – and what they do when they get there. We guys simply do not understand, and do not know (pace Jerry Seinfeld) “what’s the deal with that?”

The best that most male writers seem to be able to do with women is to have their existence predicated upon – and revolving around – men. Quite frankly, it’s a bit embarrassing that my male colleagues consider themselves so incapable of writing for women (not that I could consider myself any more of an expert on the subject than any of them, mind you – it’s just a generally embarrassing situation, that’s all). Certainly, you would think they wouldn’t want to live in a world where males outnumbered females by so many orders of magnitude, and yet, this is why tropes like the Bechdel Test – or worse yet, the Smurfette Principle – exist.

To be sure, it could be argued that some of the more interesting, action-oriented stories are based within what would be referred to as ‘situational fraternities.’ Places where males make up the overwhelming – if not the entire – population. This would include stories based within the military – any military – or perhaps the wild west. Even a story said set in any of the halls of government (almost without regard to time or place) would be predominately male. However, the problem is that most people’s real life experience is one where the male to female population is more or less balanced. But for some reason, writers – or at least male writers, perhaps? – can’t seem to figure out how to work with that. Or maybe they just don’t know how to make it interesting.

Now, at some point, you got to be wondering “well that’s all well and good, sweetheart, but what does any of this have to do with you and or me?” Well, I’m getting to that.

You see, I have to confess that, ever since you’ve gone, I feel like my life has been failing some gender-swapped version of the Bechdel test. Whenever anybody asks me how I’m doing, I’m pressed for an answer. If nothing else, there’s the question of whether they want a simple ‘fine’ or ‘hanging in there,’ or whether they genuinely want to know how I feel, what I’ve been through, and what’s been happening in my life recently (assuming they already know the major backstory). Which, to be sure, is a feeling that is common to all of us at any time when we greet each other in passing: how to respond to that question. But in my case, it’s particularly painful, insofar as my existence, my identity, is so inextricably wrapped up in you.

The fact of the matter is, I literally can’t have a conversation without you being a part of it, even though – maybe especially because – you’re no longer here. Everything about my life revolves around your absence or, to a much lesser extent, my hope and search for a ‘Megumi’ to fill the space you left behind. Either way, there is a woman hovering over the conversation, in spirit if not in actual presence.

Even any discussion about these letters is a basic acknowledgment of you and your absence, because it’s you I’m writing these to, despite the fact that I’m fully aware that you’ll never read them.

And the more I think about it, the more I realized how much of my life has failed this reverse Bechdel test. I’ve always gotten on better with females than males. I’ve never been the type to ‘go out with the boys,’ as the saying goes. My closest friends are the ones you brought into our relationship, which is to say, a handful of females. Indeed, I actually feel rather uncomfortable in all-male groups. I couldn’t say why, I just know that’s the case.

I’ve done what I can to modify the situation since you left. I’d been invited to – and I’ve joined – a men’s Bible study on Saturday mornings. Although, even then, the timing leaves you in my thoughts, as Saturday morning was ‘our’ time together (and I don’t have to explain that any further, regardless of how much I might like to, and in great detail). In fact, I find myself wondering (silently, of course) at the rest of them around the circle; most of them are married, and still work for a living, and I can’t help but wonder when they get together with their wives. I suppose, as far as what’s spoken out loud, this hour or so each week meets the requirement of this reverse Bechtel test, but these thoughts are still in the back of my mind. They may not necessarily distract me from the topics at hand, but they are still there.

Now, you might laugh and remind me of how aptly I am named. You might feel pity, and wish to apologize for having left me – I know you were like that only a day or two before the accident, when I was so worried about where are you and Chompers were, when you were at Kerstin’s all that time. But you can’t deny how much of my existence and identity is wrapped up in you, and I’m sure it would not surprise you as to how lost I am without you.

So I guess I’m going to have to make an effort to set this aside so that I can move forward. But where does one go – and what can one do – in order to study so that one can pass the Bechdel test?

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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