Advanced patriarchy blamers have already strapped into their handydyke utility belt of blaming techniques the Bechdel Test. But a little refresher can’t hurt, so check out the vid.
The Bechdel test dates back to the 80’s and Alison Bechdel’s iconic comic Dykes to Watch Out For. The test aims the Blistering Beacon of Blame at the infrequency with which female characters in film are represented as fully realized human beings.
To pass the test, a film (or, if you like, any other sort of arty or infotainment-y work*) has to have at least two female characters, the characters have to have names, and they have to have a conversation about something other than dudes.
These criteria are always burbling in the back of the my lobe as I ingest media from the various screens in my life. Constant scanning for representations of female characters that even vaguely nod at the truth makes the act of consuming entertainment absolutely exhausting. You more or less expect women to be characterized as dude accessories in pre-feminist movies, but the scarcity of more recently produced shows that pass the test continues to boggle the spinster mind. The other day during an episode of “Star Trek Voyager” I did the butt-dance when Janeway and Torres had a discussion about a warp core breach. Of course, they do that on every episode. I personally think the Bechdel test ought to exclude Janeway-Torres warp core breach discussions.
Let us not forget, however, that the Bechdel test only measures whether two female characters have a few lines of human dialogue. It doesn’t gauge whether the female characters in question are generally representative of female humanity, so it can’t really be used to award any feminist points. There may have been, for example, a few seconds here and there in “Sex and the City” where the women chit-chat about getting Brazilians instead of about getting laid, but the show’s overall unmitigated heteronormative misogyny pretty much cancels out any brief flirtation with the notion that women are human.
I don’t know if you have young nieces and therefore were compelled to see “Toy Story 3” in a theater with about 4792 other kids, but I do and I was. (“Toy Story 3” sort of borderline passes the Bechdel test on a sort of technicality, but definitely flunks it in spirit; there is one brief scene where two women, one of whom is named “Mom,” discuss giving toys away to charity). I won’t bore you with “Toy Story 3’s” yawn-o plot details, but it will not bowl you over to hear that the hero toy is a dude, the sidekick toy is a dude, most of the supporting character toys are dudes, and the kid who owns the toys is a dude. Oh, and one of the two or three female characters is a Barbie, and she is an airhead. Business as usual.
But check this out. Yesterday, while shoveling a buttload of horse manure into my Gator, I listened to a recent “Fresh Air” podcast wherein Terry Gross interviews two Hollywood dudes who had something to do with making “Toy Story 3.” The Hollywood dudes start talking about “getting to the emotional truth of the characters.” I have, with my usual painstaking attention to detail, transcribed the portion of the interview in which they reveal how they went about getting to the “emotional truth” of a Ken doll character.
Hollywood Dude #1: I don’t know if you had any Ken dolls when you were growing up; I certainly didn’t. But my friends’ little sisters did and we made endless fun of Ken. Ken’s just a-a-a whipping boy […] We thought, well what does it feel like to be a guy who’s a girl’s toy? You’re a guy, but you’re only played with by little girls. And then further, he’s just an accessory to Barbie. You know he doesn’t carry equal weight to, with Barbie, he’s really no more important than a pair of shoes or a belt or a purse to her, and we knew that he would have to have a complex.
Hollywood Dude #2: Yeah, no, I mean, that’s one of the things that’s such a pleasure working on a film like this is that you go, OK, what, you know, what are gonna be the issues of a character like Ken, like what’s gonna be the thing that like keeps him awake at night, you know, and, so, you know, immediately you come into the fact that maybe he’s a little bit insecure about the fact that-that-that he’s-he’s, you know, a girl’s toy and maybe he’s in denial of that.”
Immediately one is struck by the empathy shown poor Ken by the Hollywood dudes. Through his degraded status as a “whipping boy” toy whose lot in life is to be “only” played with by little girls, Ken accrues pathos. The subtext — that little girls are low prestige toy owners and confer shame upon any “male” toy forced to associate with them — reveals that the Hollywood dudes have thoroughly assimilated the message that female children are of lower status than male children, and actually do have cooties.
Another hilarious facet of Hollywood dudes’ remarks is their cogent assessment of the condition of existing solely as an accessory. It is obvious to them that relegating a sentient being to the role of one-dimensional second banana degrades that sentient being, which sentient being would then logically suffer psychological damage as a result (Ken’s “complex”). Yet it eludes them that this is precisely the condition they have imposed on the female characters in their own film, much less that it’s the condition overwhelmingly imposed on female characters in most other films, as well as the condition imposed on all actual live women. Does Mrs Potato Head lie awake at night pondering the horror of existing only as an afterthought to, and entirely in terms of, Mr Potato Head? Not in “Toy Story 3!”
In other words, the Hollywood dudes have perfectly illustrated the point of view of the entitled default human: men are men, and women are toys.
* Is it just me, or does even Terry Gross seem to interview way more dudes than dudesses?
[YouTube link courtesy of Veganrampage]