#FeministMondays | Decoding The Bechdel Test

Image Source

I only recently read about the Bechdel Test. For those who are unaware of this;

The Bechdel test is a method for evaluating the portrayal of women in fiction. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. 

This test is apparently used as an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction. We already saw how women are portrayed in Indian cinema last month. This week, before getting into the real life scenario I want to talk about three classics that miserably fail the Bechdel test. Before we get into that, let's ask ourselves one question. What do we women like to talk about the most? To other women, I mean.

Personally, I'm someone who can talk non-stop about my job, books, food, music, movies or sports. While I might mention a man who is attractive when it comes to any of these topics, I'm sure that the conversation will not only revolve around that. Most women I know love to talk about their husbands or their boyfriends. Some, in a good way. Most others, in a negative way. I don't see why some women base their entire lives only around the men in their lives. They can only talk about them. If they are single, they can only talk about why there are no men in their lives. Isn't a woman's life worth living or talking about if there is no influence of a man in it? Or have we reached such a state where in a woman's conversation and her life is considered incomplete without a man?

The recently released 'Veere Di Wedding' was supposed to be about female bonding. But what do the four women in the movie bond about? Men! Almost everything they talk about is either about men or sex or both. I have a bone to pick with people who make these so called "women-oriented" movies. People need to understand that there are many facets to a woman apart from her sexuality. A woman discovering and exploring her sexuality is not the only thing that feminism is about. Women might talk about men and sex, yes, but that is not the only thing in their lives. A lot of people, both men and women, need to get this right.

That was about the movies, now let's come to the books. Why do writers have female protagonists and have their lives and minds only revolve around men? Let's take the famous 'Pride And Prejudice' for instance. In this one, all that the five Bennet sisters can think or talk about is men. The only expectation of Mrs. Bennet for her daughters is for them to marry good men. The sisters lives revolve around attending parties or staying with other families and talking about men. Elizabeth Bennet was applauded for her feminism and pride, but I could see neither. The way she succumbs to both Wickham and Darcy almost blindly does raise questions on her pride. Written by Jane Austen, a female author, this book should be the first one to fail the Bechdel test.

Another work by Austen that gets my goat is, 'Emma'. If there is a literary character that I absolutely loathe, it has to be this one. Emma Woodhouse, the protagonist of this book can only think of one thing. Matchmaking. She takes on people as projects and tries to find a match for them, whether they like it or not. She doesn't hide her preference of the social status for marriage either. She is either thinking or talking about men. First for others and soon enough, for herself. She's supposed to a headstrong and self satisfied woman, but she is one of the dumbest characters ever written. Probably this whole Bechdel test came into existence after someone read this book.

Image Source

Next, it is the so called "greatest book ever written", Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina'. Honestly, I did like the writing style of the book and the build up of its famous heroine, Anna Karenina. It is a really long book traversing various families, characters and morality. But at the heart of it is a woman, battling her feelings for her husband and her lover. She's either love lorn for Vronsky or is trying to escape her husband, the Count Karenin. There are other women too in the book, but then again, all of them long for men to accept them. Any conversation that Anna has, has to do with men, be it her brother, her husband or her lover. It would have been so nice if she could have spoken about her passions (if she had any), to Dolly or Kitty, the other women in the book. But no! This is another epic fail in terms of the Bechdel test.

Coming to real life, how often have you heard two women talk about anything apart from men? You could talk about anything, be it the household chores, a job, a hobby or something else that doesn't have to do with a partner or any male figure. Does it happen often? I've seen women talk non-stop about how nice their husbands are and how they buy them things. On the same side, I have also seen women who talk about their husbands in the negative parlance. Either way, they are spoken about. Is this normal? Does this come from the sub-conscience? I have no answer to that.

Do I think it is bad? Not entirely. In real life, it gets really hard not to talk about the men in our lives with other women. Of-course this need not be the sole topic of discussion, but it will be spoken about. In a matter of fact way, nonchalantly even. Nothing wrong in that. But having only the topic of men to talk about sure is an abomination. Exactly the same when it comes to books and movies. We need books and movies that show a woman and her life and passions. It may include a man, yes. But, not only that. We need more stories where women discuss their work, or a sport. We have seen enough stories with women talking about their sexuality or the need for a man in their lives. Maybe it is time we take the Bechdel test into account, while telling our "women-oriented" stories.

What do you think?


This post is a part of the powerful series #FeministMondays on Naba's blog and you can be a part of it too. On the second Monday of every month, write an impactful post with the hashtag #FeministMondays and link it back to Naba's blog.

10 comments:

  1. Yes, l read about the Bechdel test sometime in college. Could relate with it back then and now as well. Sure, men are a big part of our lives but do we have to only talk about them? I wish women had more well-rounded interests and more to theirtheir lives than men.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You said it, Rachna. It is so sad that some women base their life only on the men in their lives.

      Delete
  2. I knew I would enjoy reading your post--it's a feminist post, one that I know you are so good at writing, brave and frank that you are! And, I so admire that about you.
    Yes, I know of women who do that. I, do it, too, but only and only if something needs to be shared and only with my two closest friends. Once I get the matter off my chest, I like to talk about my blog, about the world or about anything else under the sun. Listening to women go on and on about their hubby-darlings can get to you, really. I agree. We need to have other things that matter to us and can be our identity apart from simply being Mr. So and So's wife/girlfriend, who either bitches about him, or puts him on a pedestal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Shilpa.

      Exactly! I only do it with my close friends too and very rarely at that. We women need to develop interests and passions so that we can talk about it.

      Delete
  3. I stumbled upon the Bechdel test while writing a work of fiction for a contest. I agree women have so much more in their lives than men. However when it comes to the classics it is important to understand that they were written back in the 1800s. They mirror those times when feminism wasn't a concept at all. Or perhaps, it was a whole different concept. That Elizabeth Bennet could think of marrying for love, could refuse Dracy despite his wealth might have been the feminism of those times. It would be wrong to judge those books by modern parameters. That said, I'm not such a fan of Emma too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I get that, Tulika. But women these days also seem to admire these women and that troubles me. Emma has been a pain to many, it looks like.

      Women need to work on their interests and passions to have more things to talk hope. I just hope they don't base it around their husbands again.

      Delete
  4. So I hadnt heard of this test till I read your post; but this has been my angst too in bonding with other women. I get on like a house on fire with women who are married yet single in their mindset - they are independant of their marriage/inlaws/husband and own their lives like a boss.
    I havent read Emma but it reminded me of the irritating character that Sonam Kapoor played in Aisha - Pride and prejudice was written in the victorian era and was all about that age - so I dont find the man obsession crazy- it rather makes the reading interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the kind of women the world needs :D

      Oh only Sonam Kapoor could have done justice to that annoying character that Emma was. It was tailor made for her, she did not even have to act :P

      Ah maybe! Unfortunately for me, it didn't go down very well.

      Delete
  5. I guess I am lucky. I have a girlfriend network that totally passes the Bechdel Test. Yup, we've got loads to talk about that doesn't involve males. Yup, we do refer to them occasionally, but only in passing and move on to other topics.

    As for classics, perhaps they did not know better; times were different. But I've read stories that focus on women without revolving around men.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I did not know about Bechdel test. I am however your type of person who believes feminism is not all about women exploring their sexuality and women empowerment been shown around this concept, and also abusing. I have a problem with this and this is not even entertaining for me. Women talking amongst them about their husbands, I hear you. There is something else also which they tend to discuss often - mother-in-laws and recopies and cooking. The moment I hear such chats, I drift away. Emma reminds me of Aisha and it was irritating.

    ReplyDelete

Care to leave a word or two? Thanks for dropping by :)