I have a tough time understanding what this speaker’s main point is; he seems to vaguely dance around some issue, but doesn’t say what exactly it is. From what I can tell, it has something to do with him wanting boys to have more fictional female role models, because this will somehow be vaguely good.

He mentions the Bechdel test. According to Wikipedia, the Bechdel test is used to [vaguely] measure gender bias in stories by evaluating how female characters are represented. But the Bechdel test is, in and of itself, stupid. This is because characters are not meant to represent the class of beings to which they belong (whether it be females, aliens, priests, etc.); characters are meant to represent sides of the story’s goal (how they either help or hinder the main character) and/or sides of the story’s theme (how they encourage or discourage it).

This doesn’t mean criticisms of class representations in stories or films are invalid, but these criticisms assume that a story-creator was biased in his story-creating decisions, and that this bias is bad. (All story-creators are biased, culturally and naturally; the criticism must include why the bias is bad for it to be a criticism and not just a recognition of a trope.) The Bechdel test seems to assume that all females are represented by female characters, and if there aren’t enough female characters not talking about male characters, this is a bad misrepresentation of females. But female characters are meant to serve a story purpose, not a cultural representation purpose. (The same goes for male characters in female-oriented romantic comedies.) So the test is invalid, at least when applied to stories in general.

(A criticism would be: “Hey, all the females in this guy’s films are evil and manipulative. Why?” Or: “Hey, all the father figures in these American sitcoms are dimwits. Why?”)

So to say, as he does, “I think our job in the Netflix queue is to look out for those movies that pass the Bechdel test” seems rather naive. That is, whether or not a movie passes the test implies nothing about what gender views or values they will encourage. Nor does it make any sense to “nudge our sons to identify with those heroines” rather than heroes as if that will somehow naturally promote something vaguely good.

Not that you’d want to nudge them away either.

My point is simply that girls and boys being biased toward role models of their own sex (and the social roles that go along with it) is not, in and of itself, unhealthy. It seems rather obviously natural to me. So you don’t have to do anything about it. (Abusing women is not a characteristic of recognizing differentiated gender roles; it is a characteristic of depraved morals in general. One does not imply the other.)

If you have something specific to criticize about gender representations in fiction (besides story-purpose roles, such as the “damsel in distress” trope), go for it, and prepare to argue it. But this talk is too vague.

Categories: Stories


LanthonyS · January 20, 2013 at 10:01 PM

Wholly agreed. Especially about this pragmatic conclusion, “I think our job in the Netflix queue is to look out for those movies that pass the Bechdel test”—censorship has not been eroded, as the Zeitgeist would have it; people just censor (i.e. are scared of) different things.

S P Hannifin · January 20, 2013 at 11:42 PM

I think he also misses the point of the “damsel in distress / female to be rescued” trope.

The point of this trope is not that females are weak and need strong males to give them a good life, or that females are an objectified prize to be won.

The female is actually playing an important role in the conflict of the story. She is the “stakes character.” Her love is what the hero loses if he fails in his mission, thus her life is what makes the conflict matter. It is not the conflict itself; rather, it provides context for the conflict. Their love is understood to be mutual, or else it doesn’t work.

The speaker seems afraid that audience members will merely assume the former.

Or maybe not; even as I re-watch, I still can’t tell what his point is. And all his film examples seem to completely misrepresent the films.

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