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for lyceum: Wallace-Bechdel's Law

(though she might know of it already)
Charlie Stross links and spawns discussion. The 'Law' is rooted in a character who refused to see movies that didn't have (1) two+ women who (2) talked to each other about (3) subjects other than men. (That doesn't mean they can't talk about men, but they should talk about something else as well.) Not a perfect heuristic, and anything with first person or tight-third person POV on a male protagonist is likely to fail naturally, but it's something for evaluating a field, say of novels, or recent Hollywood movies. (3) can be extended to "other than men, babies, or fashion."

Comment link: film schools teaching to fail the test.

Of works I like:

Hodgell generally passes (not sure about Dark of the Moon, where Jame/Lyra might be the only female conversation, and its partly about Lyra's husband); Seeker's Mask passes enough for 20 other books. Buffy should pass, not sure about Angel -- probably at some point, like Cordelia&Harmony. Less sure about Babylon-5. Firefly may or may not; 4 female characters, but Zoe mostly talked to the men and River didn't have a lot of conversations. Serenity supposedly doesn't apart from River+teacher. Egan tends to fail, though he largely writes 1st person autists who happen to be male. Banks may tend to fail. Vinge has strong female chars but may fail this test anyway. McKinley's Sunshine passes multiple times; Blue Sword may fail (any other women? Harimad/Aerin vision maybe), Hero has Aerin and a female cousin but they hate each other. Xena passes by overwhelming default, as does Gilmore Girls. I think Roswell and Dawson's Creek would pass but it's been a while. Simpsons? Well there's Lisa and Marge. I don't know about Star Trek, though I think Voyager has to pass and would guess DS9 would. I have little hope for Enterprise. Torchwood passes.

Anime would be interesting... I won't dump out my list, but it seems to do well. Of course, for a TV series to fail is probably pretty egregious, indicating either tight male POV, a total absence of female characters, or a total romance focus. I think even romance series like Lovely Complex or Karin pass, if only by talking about school instead. The anime we watch often has more women in a military situation than you find in real life. (Then there's Simoun, where they're all women, for yuri-powered mecha.) A typical anime series will have 8 hours of screen time, 16 for US live action, if the women don't manage to find something to talk about besides men in that time...



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 2nd, 2008 07:12 am (UTC)
Firefly definitely passes in many episodes, as does Angel in the seasons where both Cordelia and Fred were part of the team. Applying this measure to novels written in the first person is odd and not particularly useful. Almost every novel with a female protagonist will pass, and most novels with male protagonists won't. The Blue Sword passes (I recently reread it) because Hari talks several times to the other female laprun trial competitor about all manner of things.

I find it an imperfect measure, but also generally indicative. Of late, most TV that I watch (Doctor Who, Torchwood, BSG, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, In Plain Sight, and Burn Notice) all tend to pass in at least half of all episodes, while very few recent geeky/actiony Hollywood movies do, which fits very well with my more general observation that these days movies are (on average) significantly more sexist than television

Aug. 2nd, 2008 07:26 am (UTC)
Applying this measure to novels written in the first person is odd and not particularly useful.

Yeah, I guess the fallback measure then is how many of the novels are written with male or female first persons (or tight third.)

Ah, I barely remember the female laprun competitor. But then that book has been oddly forgettable for me; I forget ever reading it, twice... Deerskin? Beauty? Beauty probably talks to her sisters, but most of the book is her and Beast, naturally.

Wonder if any of the Vorkosigan books technically pass. The Miles ones have an obvious handicap, and while two were written from Cordelia's POV, her interactions with other women were limited in my memory. Well, there's her and Mehta. Probably her and Delia. Oh, Kareen. Might have been about men. Paladin of Souls passes though. Sharing Knife probably does.

Almost every novel with a female protagonist will pass

Ah, but when they don't... actually, I don't know if it can be taken for granted; there could easily be a single female protagonist, surrounded by men. I mean, I'm not sure if Ouran Host Club passed (esp. 'significantly') and that's a whole series, as Haruhi was basically surrounded by boys. And it's why I was less certain of Dark of the Moon, which has multiple women (Jame, Briar, Kirien, Ashe a bit) but all disjoint from each other.

I wonder if it's that the TV writers are better than the movie ones, or that it's hard to fill up a whole TV series without passing at some point. Ah, but you say in at least half the episodes, which is once every 88 minutes, rather better than movies if you're right.
Aug. 2nd, 2008 07:31 am (UTC)
The utter impossibility of many movies passing this test (The Incredible Hulk, with a grand total of one named female character, being only the most obvious example) is quite striking. A significant number of geeky TV shows (largely meaning the ones that I watch) have multiple important female characters. That is vividly untrue of most movies in the same genre.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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