1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    The Bechdel Test / Mako Mori

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by doggiedude, Jul 10, 2016.

    I was poking around a few agent websites the other day looking for people to send my Query out to when I ran across an agency which specifically mentioned in their submissions guidelines that they were not interested in any piece that didn't pass the Bechdel test and/or Mako Mori test.
    In my neverending quest for knowledge, I googled the terms & found a Wikipedia page about the subject.

    I think I failed the test.

    Official Wiki definition: The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ bek-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction 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.

    Mako Mori Test

    a) at least one female character;

    b) who gets her own narrative arc;

    c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.


    While my WIP contains several women, they all have male counterparts for their story arc, and they are blatantly not the focus of the story.
    I wouldn't describe any of them as "weak" or "needing a man" and they do discuss plenty of things that have nothing to do with sex/romance/etc.

    I try to be PC in my writing but I hate to think publishers are going too far the other way. Are we no longer allowed to write a story with a damsel in distress?

    I wander off topic... Anyway, I'm sure most of you will say "fuck them" write what you want, but I'm wondering if I'm hurting my chances of getting published.

    Any random thoughts on the subject?
     
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  2. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say the Bechdel test is deeply flawed, in the sense that a story can be horribly sexist while still passing the test and vice versa.

    The Mako Mori test seems much more sound, but I still wouldn't sweat it too much.
     
  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're allowed to write whatever you want to.

    And they're allowed to represent whatever they want to.

    This is one agency, not all of publishing. I think there are lots of readers and therefore lots of publishers who are interested in seeing women driving the plots of stories, but there are others who don't worry one way or another.

    (I will say, anecdotally, that I have zero interest in reading a damsel in distress story. So if the agents and publishers continue to move away from that trope, I'll be happy as a clam!)
     
  4. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    Both Boy's Don't Cry, a film about a transsexual and their struggle with their identity and justice, and Gravity, a film about a female astronaut's struggle to survive being stranded in space, don't pass the Bechtel test. So, I'd take it with a grain of salt.

    Never heard of the Maki Mori test.
     
  5. Auger
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    Auger Senior Member

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    It's strangely specific, but I'd pass it without any problems.

    Next we're going to have arbitrary tests of whether or not a work of fiction has two canadians/AIs/doggos engaged in conversation. I'd pass those tests as well.
     
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  6. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    Passed.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Exceptions notwithstanding, the Bechdel test revealed some pretty shocking statistics when it was introduced, and like the Academy Awards having no black winners this last go round, Bechdel still indicates a serious problem with how women are portrayed in film media.

    I doubt novels would score so poorly.

    That said, I agree with @BayView, write the novel you want to write, then look for the market your novel will sell in. Unless you are on a quest to make money and you are a versatile writer, aiming your book toward a specific market may not result in a good seller if it is not a subject you are interested in or inspired by.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, women are 51% of the world's population. I don't think they're quite as exotic as AIs or talking dogs...
     
  9. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Right... My next book will be about a self-assured lesbian female robot dog who takes over the world through cunning tricks.
    No balancing a treat on her nose!
     
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  10. Auger
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    Auger Senior Member

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    What if the plot is about the last human (female) on earth? The entire thing could be about a female protagonist and it still wouldn't pass.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree - the Bechdel test can be a bit too rigid. I just don't think it's a step toward absurdity, as you seemed to be suggesting.
     
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  12. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Possibly she should also be Canadian.
     
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  13. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Nah, multicultural. She's built from parts that came from all over the world.
     
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  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, there's absolutely no reason why a story with a damsel in distress couldn't pass both of those tests, so that question doesn't quite work for me.

    But addressing the main issue, I assume that that agency specifically wants to represent books that have women as a significant and important part of the fictional world, and that for them, that requirement outweighs many other requirements. There's absolutely nothing wrong with an agency choosing their requirements.

    If you write a book that fails those tests, just move on to try another agency. Failing the tests doesn't necessarily indicate that a particular work is flawed, it just means that that work doesn't happen to be in the class of works that that agency wants to represent.

    Edited to add: I wasn't clear, from your post, why your work fails the Bechdel test? You mention that each female character has a corresponding male character (I think?) but does that mean that it also fails the reverse Bechdel test--that there are never two male characters who have a conversation that isn't about a woman?
     
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  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds like that passes the Bechdel test just fine.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it may not pass the specific test. I'm not clear from the OP whether those women are discussing those non-man-focused things with other women.

    Plus, it's not that the conversation should not be about romance or sex--it should not be about a man, period. So, Lois Lane talking to Peter Parker about the price of coffee doesn't pass. Lois Lane talking to Pamela Parker about Superman's vulnerability to Kryptonite doesn't pass. Lois Lane talking to Pamela Parker about Pamela's problems with getting her male boss to give her better assignments doesn't pass.

    Lois Lane talking to Pamela Parker about Pamela's problems with getting her female boss to give her better assignments would pass. So would Lois and Pamela talking about the price of coffee. So would a discussion of Lois's heart problems, with Lois's female doctor. Or Pamela and her sister discussing Pamela's upcoming Ph.D. defense.

    Veering on:

    Passing the Bechdel test requires that the fictional world have lots of women, and/or women who have plot relevance that isn't tied to a man.

    I feel that we're so used to fiction being tied to men that the Bechdel test is easier to "see" in reverse. For example, Orphan Black may not pass the reverse Bechdel test. That's because it's absolutely, thoroughly, about women. There is really no pretense that the male characters, however well-written and well-played they may be, are there for any purpose other than furthering the women's story. A conversation between two of those male characters that's not about a woman is really beside the point.

    It's OK for some fiction to be so thoroughly about one sex that passing the Bechdel test or the reverse test would require scenes that are beside the point. No single work should be condemned for failing either version of the test.

    But the fact that so very many fail the Bechdel test, and so few fail the reverse test, is a statistically worrying thing.

    (Corrected "pass" to "fail")
     
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  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    So if the conversation between two or more named women involves any subject involving other human beings, Bechdel says those other human beings must all be female?

    In my WIP (to cite one example), I have my FMC's best friend relating why she left corporate law to get into consumer law instead. The plaintiff in the case she cites is male. Here I'd been sure that conversation passed Bechdel. But apparently not?

    That's pretty arbitrary. If it's that strict, why bother?
     
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  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see that as that strict. Remember that not every conversation needs to pass. The test is passed if ONE conversation in the entire work qualifies. Do the character and her best friend talk again?

    Again, the application is mostly statistical. But if you search for works that pass the reverse test, and works that pass the test, don't you find it at all meaningful that the results are extremely skewed to passing the reverse test?
     
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  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I make sure my own work passes the Bechdel Test, even though it's M/F romance and the core plot/arcs necessarily centre on a man and a woman. I'm bored of novels for men about men where women are only love interests.

    It's frightening that the test looks for such an incredibly low standard and yet so many novels and films especially don't pass it.
     
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  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was pleased to see that The Martian passes. Since it's focused on rescuing a male astronaut, it could easily be excused for failing, but its world is so populated with plot-driving female characters that it passes anyway.
     
  21. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Martian is really good for diversity in general: characters who aren't white males but aren't Issues either.
     
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  22. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, all the conversations I thought qualified don't, I suppose, because my characters interact with both men and women. So both men and women come up in their talk, which is on various topics and not about "men" per se. My female characters don't spend a lot of time talking about their love lives, but dammit, they don't live or work in an all-female ghetto and I'm not going to add verbiage to make it look like they do.

    And look at it this way: Just because the male characters in a lot of guy-centered stories talk as if they lived in an all-male ghetto, do we turn around and do the same?

    Screw it. :bigmeh:
     
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  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But there's never a single conversation not about a man? Or even not about a person? You feel that for that to happen would require an all-female ghetto/world?

    Alien certainly wasn't all women, but it passed. It had two women who were plot drivers, who talked to each other. The Martian was far from all women, but it passed for the same reason.

    Do all of the following mean that a book is an all-female world? Assume that each one was followed by a response, making it a conversation.

    Hotel lobby: Janet looked up from the concierge desk. "Mrs. Jones? I got those theater tickets for you."

    Dorm: Mary yawned. "Judy? If you're pulling an all-nighter, can you put your headphones on?"

    Lab: Doctor Jones asked Karen, "Are you sure about these results?"

    Dana nodded to Debbie, "Oh, yeah, I can get the car. I'll just tell Mom it's for my senior paper. She wouldn't want me walking home from the library at night."

    The librarian looked up, frowning in irritation. "Suzy, you know that you can't borrow books from the adult section without a parent's signature."

    Do those really mean a female-only world?
     
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  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Examples of Bechdel-passing conversations from Buffy
    The Vampire Slayer---

    Buffy and her mother talking about:

    -the hope that Buffy doesn't get expelled again.
    -"wait till you get a job" about finances
    -Buffy wanting to drive
    -Buffy urging her mother to buy band candy and use it as a promotion
    -Buffy forgetting to pick up her mother's altered clothes

    Buffy and Willow:
    -college plans
    -Willow's efforts at learning magic
    -discussions about homework
    -"seize the day"
    -"Cordelia's been really nice...to me."
    -"You going to finish that sandwich?"
    -"I'm academically jealous!"

    This was not a female-only world. Giles and Xander and Angel and Oz also had reverse-Bechdel-passing conversations. And there were plenty of conversations that referred to the opposite sex.

    Passing the test is just not that impossible.
     
  25. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Write the story you want to write. Just don't submit to that particular publisher.

    I don't think any publishers in Australia would even know what the Bechdel test is let alone enforce it. Interesting.

    The test in general was only meant to highlight a problem. Adopting it as law was never the point. The point was that it shouldn't be that hard to represent women in the media. It applies to any minority. There is nothing wrong with female characters who support male characters. There is strength in that.
     
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