1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    How important is the reverse-bechdel test?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Commandante Lemming, Aug 12, 2015.

    So I've been thinking a lot about the overall shape of my novel - properly writing a female protagonist in a satisfying way, etc....and I hit on a side question about the overall shape of my plot that I thought posed and interesting question.

    We talk about passing the "Bechdel Test" (or the "Mako Mori Test") as being important for female characters in a plot - but does it apply the other way? If so, does it apply to the same degree?

    The reason I ask is this - I'm writing a pretty female-dominated story (female protag, female antag, female sidekick, multiple other important female characters.) I have no problem with passing the actual Bechdel test - I have plenty of female characters who constantly talk to each other, and mostly it's about work.

    However, if I flip the narrative - a lot of my male characters really DON'T pass the Bechdel test if I apply it backwards. I have the love interest - who's main arc revolves around falling in love with the protagonist. I have his buddy/co-worker - who I've realized often functions as a vulgar, testosterone-laced version of the rom-com "female character's best friend" - so he certainly doesn't talk about anything but the surrounding women. I do have an older male mentor character - but even he is really motivated by his past romance with the female mentor character (she's become a jaded alcoholic oppressed and enabled by the villain - for which he falsely blames himself - and that guilt pushes him forward).

    Now - there is a BACKGROUND plot that passes a reverse-Bechdel - all of my reporter characters are covering the election of a Pope, so when I cut to the cardinals, obviously they're ALL male, all priests, and mostly talk about religion. But does that solve a problem in the FOREGROUND plot?

    Then again, is it even a problem? We talk about under-representation of strong women in fiction and that's why we have the Bechdel Test in the first place. The flipside of that argument is that really we don't have an underrepresentation of strong male characters in fiction - so therefore a book about a kick-butt girl-squad that doesn't pass a reverse-Bechdel can't really be defined as "part of a larger problem".

    Discuss.
     
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  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's so far off that the Bechdel Test will be irrelevant I don't think anyone need worry about books that don't prominently feature men.
     
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  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think a reverse-Bechdel test is important at all. Nor is the Bechdel test, in a vacuum, of any importance. The work has to be looked at in context before you can start talking about this stuff in a meaningful way.
     
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  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Right but then the question is whether the idea is to correct an imbalance in the industry or to ensure a balanced plot within one's own work. And I know for me personally I'm a serial underdeveloper of male characters and this doesn't help the overall quality my work - so I'm working on that just from a craft standpoint.
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The idea of the Bechdel Test was to address systemic issues in industry, not to address plot concerns for any given work. There are works that can fail the Bechdel Test and be just fine, however for the overall body of work it doesn't make sense for so many to be lacking to the test spotlights an over-arching problem.
     
  6. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds like this book is a) unrealistic and b) for girls. No, I wouldn't read it with a gun to my head!
     
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  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Does your male love interest spend all his scenes telling his friends how much he loves female protagonist? That would make me think you're telling rather than showing them falling in love, which would be my only concern over this 'reverse Bechdel test'. If not, what is he doing in his scenes? Is he always with your female protagonist?

    Now that I think about it, my story doesn't pass the reverse-Bechdel either. It has women talking to each other about things other than men, and men and women talking to each other about things over than the opposite sex/romance, but only two of the major characters are male and they don't meet. I'm not concerned about this. My two big male characters are well developed, they just don't happen to spend significant time with other men in my story.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've read a fair amount of it as a beta, and trust me, it's neither unrealistic or just for girls. It's actually very good. It features excellent female characters (and several good males as well, including that priest) and tackles lots of contemporary issues. It's been several months since I read the partly-completed book, and I remember several of the male characters very well. In fact, I'm really looking forward to reading its completion.

    I think @Commandante Lemming is bending over backwards trying to be fair, and wondering if he's slanting things too much. That's to his credit, but I don't think he is. Not in this instance, anyway. I'd hate for him to feel he has to manufacture confrontations between male characters which don't move the story forward, just to satisfy some formula, which, as @Steerpike pointed out, was created to shed light on an industry-wide situation.
     
  9. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I didn't think it sounded unrealistic at all. And it's a shame if only women are expected to enjoy books with strong female leads.
     
  10. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can picture realistic dramas that are only/predominantly men. Police, military, politics, firefighting, construction, security guards, janitors, homeless men. I can't think of too many dramas that would realistically contain only females (outside of female sports or all girl schools). Furthermore, having a story where the men simply revolve around females and don't talk about anything else ever. Sorry, but that just doesn't match almost any experience I've ever had in real life.

    It's not really an argument. Each potential reader will be entitled to his or her own point of view on this.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's a very limited view of literature there @123456789.
     
  12. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I think he thinks he's funny.
     
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  13. jannert
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    I think I was just pointing out that his book doesn't just revolve around females. It's actually very diverse—and lively, with a lot of humour—and very well written thus far. I think he's given the wrong impression by asking the question the way he did. He actually has strong male characters who interact with both males and females. It's just that (with one exception I remember) all his POV characters are female.
     
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  14. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually I asked the question more because it was philosophically interesting and figured it would be a fun conversation - although since I know the back-end creative process of my own work, I actually am working on better male character development just because any new "interesting" character I think of tends to be female - whereas a good portion of my planned male characters were created because I wanted the female characters to have love interests.

    But mostly I thought the question itself was interesting regarding how we treat gender in fiction , since it's usually asked about women in male dominated plots, but I haven't heard a lot said on the role of men in female dominated plots (which probably is also a reflection of how few female-dominated plots there are more than anything, but figured it was worth throwing out there).
     
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  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually the love interest tries very hard to keep his feelings to himself, but his loud-mouth buddy figures out what's going on and aggressively eggs him on to ask her out (actually I blew it up in such a way that the two only found out they liked eachother because the loudmouth got so frustrated with both of them that he spilled the beans)
     
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  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like he should be leaving the PR to you!
     
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  17. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well you do have a lot of dramas set in girls schools or women's sports ("A League of Their Own", "Bend It Like Beckham"). You can also set up a situation where the plot is mainly centered around the interaction of a group of girlfriends and the men in the story are primarily mentioned because they are romantically entangled with one of the girls ("Sex and the City"). It's not that my men don't have lives outside of their relationships or spend all their time talking about it - but since the romances is the primary conduit for their involvement in the plot, I tend to cut to them primarily when they are discussing issues revolving around that conduit (I really don't care about them loading the van with camera equipment because that's not relevant to the story).

    As for male friendships where talk always tends to revolve around women...that happens ALL. THE. TIME. Actually my best-buddy character is specifically modeled after a male co-worker I have who, when women are not present, has a tendency to turn the conversation to which women at the office are hot, and asks me for my opinions on said matter - which I'm usually uncomfortable giving, but honestly have learned to answer directly as to whether or not I agree with him on girl X or Y, because it either ends the conversation quicker or at least makes it less about being pressured to answer. So, yeah, I can write that plot pretty well.

    Also you do get workplaces where women are the majority and men are the minority - I used to work at a PR firm where I was the only male among the junior level staff and was quite literally the odd-man out (The funny thing was that the higher-ups were mostly male, but the grunts, so to speak, were all women). And of course as time progresses - and I'm writing in 2034 so it has - you will see that balance continue to shift and more workplaces where the old boys club (so to speak) aren't boys.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh well - you'll miss a fun political drama :).
     
  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm less worried about the bechdel test and more interested in reality. Have I seen people act like this, talk like this, behave like this? Or at the very least think like this. If I can answer yes than I feel okay with the character. If I feel like I'm stretching things for sake of the plot I start to tweak things in the 2nd draft. Also I try to watch doing the opposite of something - weak women do that so I'll make my strong women do this. That can tend to backfire as a lot of writers have only dropped one trope for another rather than understanding what the bigger issue is.

    If you have concerns about your male characters tweak their scenes.
    If all these male characters do is talk about the women that would be more of a red flag in my mind than the women talking about the men. I've sat in many coffee shops and noticed women will talk about their boyfriends 2/3 more than the men. And when the men talk a lot of it is about women in general not always specific girl friends or wives.
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would love to read the scene where he spills the beans!

    You're obviously a good writer so you've probably pulled it off. I would be tempted to have male character and loud-mouth buddy talk about something else though, even if their conversations always segue into the romance because loud-mouth can't keep his loud-mouth shut! If your male character is always trying to distract loud-mouth it will ramp up the conflict, make him more well-rounded, and still let you focus their scenes on female character. Just an idea.
     
  21. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    All very good points. Although speaking from the other side, men do talk a lot about specific women, but they do so when they think they are alone and no one will hear them. They also don't talk about their relationships very often unless they are complaining.

    If I return to my example with my co-worker - part of my job is as a sound technician for lectures, and the reason this co-worker talks so freely is because a lot of our interaction involves us being the only two people in a sound-proofed room. And it's not a ton of life-and-relationship talk - although we have had those - I know a lot about the dynamics of his relationship (he doesn't know mine). But the conversation often turns to his evaluation of how attractive various women at the office are...or women in the audience at the lecture (Pro-tip: If you're a woman in the audience at a lecture or event that's being filmed, there is a good chance that at least one person in the control room is checking you out - yes it's sad, but I've seen this happen behind-the-scenes with MULTIPLE all-male camera crews). Sample dialogue from a few days ago at my office:

    Me: "It's sad that that summer interns are gone, this was a good class." (I'm being honest - they were smart and good co-workers)
    Buddy: "Yeah, but your department didn't have any hot interns this summer."
    *I fidget sheepishly because, while I'm happily engaged, I had found one of the interns distractingly attractive - so while I wasn't interested in the discussion AT ALL, I technically disagreed with his point and couldn't honestly just agree with him and move on - this is one of the few instances where I wish I was a better liar.*
    Buddy: "Yeah but your interns in the semester before this one were hot, man."
    Me: *nervous chuckle* "Well that just goes to show that we have different taste in women. "
    Buddy: "Yeah I know. But your interns this semester just weren't that attractive".
    Me: *giving up* "Like I said, we have have different taste".
    *I tap him on the shoulder, point to the now-vacant chair in the intern cubicle and silently mouth "That one!" just in case any women are in earshot*
    Buddy: "Really?"
    Me: *shrugging shoulders* "I like neurotic girls."
    Buddy: "Yeah, but she's too easy."
    Me: "What?"
    Buddy: "Yeah, 5 minutes into the conversation and I would have had her upstairs, if you know what I mean."

    Do I approve of this conversation? No. Do I ever start this conversation? No. Do I get unwillingly forced into this conversation more than I would prefer? Yup!
    Which is probably why I layered this dynamic into the book - it's objectionable but it's realistic, and I can use it to ratchet up the pressure on my already-frustrated male love interest.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2015
  22. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually I need to work on that scene because I'm not terribly happy with how it came out. It happens in the midst of a bunch of workplace chaos where the loudmouth (also my love-interest's boss) is trying to get the two to work together, love interest starts fidgeting and mealy-mouthing when asked to work with protagonist on a major project, protagonist takes offense and starts to leave, loudmouth loses control and starts yelling at love interest about how he just needs to man up and ask her out already so that he stops moping and everybody can go back to doing their effing jobs.


    Yeah, and you're right that I need to work on rounding out the buddy relationship rather than just cutting to them when they start talking abut women.
     
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL. I say this with love, but you are SUCH a stereotypical D.C guy!
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    While that 'scene' isn't from your book and you're writing it as a thread contribution in the form of a script ...I had to smile while reading it. You really are good with dialogue that reveals character. This standard of dialogue is one of the things that makes your writing sparkle. I wouldn't worry overmuch about the Bechtel test. I think you're doing a grand job.
     
  25. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    LOL that depends on which stereotype of DC guys you're applying. Most people I consider stereotypical DC are the ones I want to punch in the nose (not that I'd actually do that).
     

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