Any day that I get to say Poop Poopovich in English class is a good day.
So, we all know the Bechdel test, right? Two women have to be in a movie. They have to have a conversation. That conversation cannot be about a man. This “test” was originally mentioned in a comic by Allison (Alison?) Bechdel in the late 80s, and it spoke to the lack of female characters doing anything besides talking about dudes in movies of the time.
All these years later, I still see people cite the Bechdel test when talking media, and it has always irked me because of the fact that while the intentions are good (making women fuller and more useful characters), it does so my limiting what women are allowed to do (they can’t talk about men, and they can’t be independent characters who just happen not to interact).
A few weeks ago, Kelly Sue Deconnick spoke of her “sexy lamp test,” which is that if you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp, you’re a fucking hack. I was thinking about the difference in these “tests,” one saying “women can’t do x,” and another saying “women can do anything as long as they can’t be replaced by an inanimate object,” and it got me thinking.
And I thought about how Avengers fails the Bechdel test (three women, but they never talk to one another), but it soars above the sexy lamp test (If you take out Natasha, who brings in the Hulk or jams the scepter into the cube; if you take out Pepper, who keeps Stark Industries running or demands Tony take things seriously; if you take out Maria, the helicarrier would have dropped into the damn ocean).
So, it’s no that I can’t understand the use of the Bechdel test, but I would really like to see movement over to the sexy lamp test.
I am intrigued! I think the Bechdel Test is still super useful as a shorthand, and a lot of people recognize that a Bechdel pass is not the same as a successfully feminist movie, and a Bechdel fail doesn’t mean the movie isn’t feminist — see again, Avengers fails the Bechdel test but is most ways more feminist than Twilight, which passes the Bechdel test.
The sexy lamp test seems difficult to deal with, though, primarily because — like, technically, you could not replace Severine in Skyfall with a sexy lamp, because she needs to be animate enough to tell Bond about Silva. But … she’s basically a sexy lamp. So how do you deal with that in this test?
I like using them both in conjunction, though! Neither of them tell the whole story of a female character, but together they tell a lot.
Not that I’ve seen Skyfall, but the modification that springs to mind is “sexy lamp with a Post-It stuck on”
Like, if she is a sexy lamp and also a vehicle for the transmission of information that is slightly better but not all that much better
"Sexy Lamp with a Post-it Stuck On" is now officially my favourite way to use/explain this test. *amused* I was sort of imagining the lamp transferring information by "shedding light" sort of thing? But a post-it is easier to explain to people. (Also yes to the OP re: Bechdel vs Lamp, I couldn’t articulate what it was that bothered me about the Bechdel, but this is it. Natasha is a perfect example.)
I agree with the purpose of the women in the Avengers, but seriously. Women are HALF OF THE POPULATION OF THE EARTH. During the course of any given movie, you will have a hundred conversations between men, and yes, conversations between men and women.
But how is it possible that movie makers have created some sort of alternate universe where, just by sheer coincidence, two women don’t accidentally speak to each other? How does that happen? It is nine thirty am and I have already talked to about twenty women today, because as it turns out, there are are a lot of us and sometimes we interact.
Failing the Bechdel test points out a fundamental flaw in how movies are structured, how popular media is structured where the default is male (and likely white/straight male) and anything else is an actual statistical freak of nature. When in fact, guess what?
The only place where the world continues to be white and straight and male is in the goddamn media.