Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Playlist Project and the Bechdel Test

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It's a very basic litmus test of gender bias in stories. In order to pass, three criteria must be met: 1) there is more than one female character, 2) they talk to each other 3) about something other than men. There are variations, but that's the most basic one. Films and comics are particularly bad at failing this test (think about recent films you've seen...try Avengers for instance--and that was written by Joss Whedon who has actually written lots of stuff in the past that does pass the test).

I thought it would be interesting, since I have so many stories and also consider myself a feminist, to see how the playlist project does with the Bechdel test. Am I free of gender bias? So far I've gone through the first 72 stories in the project and analysed them to see if they passed (yep, I'll go through the rest too because I know I was more aware of the character gender as I went). 19 of the stories, or 26% completely pass the Bechdel test. I'm not sure what to make of this at this point. Many of the stories contained only two characters, so if the gender was randomly distributed among characters, 25% is what I should end up with, at least to meet the first criterion. Some of the stories also had characters of unidentified or no gender (yep). Some of the stories didn't have any dialog (failing the second criterion automatically). Only twice in those 72 stories did I have two female characters talking exclusively about a male character (failing the third criterion).

So I think I'm actually gender unbiased in my writing, on the whole, since the gender of my characters align with random distribution. Since my stories are almost always speculative, the female characters are naturally unlikely to solely discuss a male character (as opposed to say, the romance genre), which may affect the pass rate compared to the output of other writers. Would you agree that I am unbiased or disagree?

When I'm done with the analysis I'll post a list of the passing stories (and maybe someone can use them as an example--it would interesting to see if male readers find the stories that pass boring compared to those that don't, or don't notice anything at all).

1 comment:

Rick Barnett said...

Sometimes, I think, the goal of gender neutrality is eclipsed by other considerations. The stories, for instance, based upon the Diary of Anne Frank are too important to be classified under some simple measurement of gender bias.