I’ve mentioned the Bechdel Test a few times in conversations recently and most people have given me a “huh?” look and proceeded to listen to my explanation of what it is with a glazed look of disinterest. But stick with me for a few minutes because I think it’s worth a moment of thought.
So what is the Bechdel Test? Originally used to evaluate films and now used for other works of fiction, it is a quick and basic way to look at a film or book or whatever to see if it fails a very simple gender bias test. The criteria: Two named women characters (let’s revise this to females b/c with kids’ books we’re not always talking about grown ups) speak to each other about something other than a man (let’s revise this to male for the same reason stated above).
Seems like a pretty basic test to pass, but it’s amazing how many films don’t. Just taking a look at this year’s Oscar nominated movies for best picture, only four out of nine pass. (Here’s a website where you can explore what movies pass/fail the test and a thoughtful article about women in movies by Frank Bruni called “Waiting for Wonder Woman”.)
Now I realize the Bechdel Test isn’t a perfect way to evaluate the gender biases of a work of fiction and certainly isn’t a good judge of whether or not a piece of fiction is good. The test is too simple to be a comprehensive look at gender bias, but I think think the point is that it’s simple and it’s a good jumping off point. And there are many, many works of fiction that are brilliant that don’t pass the test. (I’m thinking of The Shawshank Redemption, one of my favorite movies, which happens to fail all three of the Bechdel Test’s criteria and probably shouldn’t pass the test given the setting and time place–an all male prison in the past.)
So it seems Hollywood isn’t doing a great job at representing the–ahem–better half 😉 of the human race. But how are we doing in YA? I think a pretty good job. If there’s one form of fiction that is female-centric, it’s YA. There are so many different genres, topics, issues, and characters in YA, and it is this diversity (when I say “diversity,” I’m not talking about race here…that’s a whole other topic) that is one of my favorite things about YA.
Sure YA has lots of books about boy-girl romances and there are those books where the regular girl falls for the hot, often non-human, guy for no more compelling reason than he’s hot and maybe not totally human. Beyond that, though, there are romances where the female character has real conversations with her female friends about things other than the male love interest, there are books about female friendships, and there are books where females are taking on the world together. (Now you want some specific examples, right? Hmm…maybe I’ll have to pull some recommendations together for another blog post.)
Just for fun, check out this post by S.E. Sinkhorn called “How to Write the Perfect YA Heroine” and if you haven’t seen my past Females in YA posts, you can find them all in this link. So what are your favorite YA books that pass the Bechdel Test?