According to Wikipedia, otherwise known as the guide for almost everything, in order to pass The Bechdel Test, a book must:
- have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man.
Its definition makes the test seem simple, but if you continue down the Wikipedia page, you'll note the various questions that have arisen from these three rules. When to start/end a conversation, whether mentioning a man "invalidates the entire exchange," whether fiction need be "realistic" in the representation of women etc. etc. It's also an imperfect test. As the article points out, a book can still pass those guidelines and have sexist content, and books like the Harry Potter series, with prominent female characters like Hermione and Ginny, can fail. Is it still right, then, to herald Hermione as a strong female character, a feminist icon, without her voice being as strongly heard, without it being at the forefront?
If you're going to write from a male perspective, as in Harry Potter, which probably doesn't pass the test very well, since most conversations revolve around Harry or Snape or Dumbledore or etc., then you should be cognizant of how that will affect the power dynamics. I don't think it's a coincidence that a lot of young adult novels involve female protagonists coming from female authors--perhaps this is a manifestation of women giving women louder voices. Ultimately, even if the BT is a tad flawed, I think it's got the right notion of things, challenging writers to consider the implications of perspective and protagonist decisions and romance and everything, all the conversations and mentions and portrayals of female characters. In young adult literature, this is even more critical to consider, since so much of the work involves some sort of coming-of-age tale, an identity of crisis of sorts. If you're discovering who you are, how much of the discussion should revolve around someone else? And someone else of the other gender? Is romance truly the best catalyst for self-growth? The most realistic?
Somehow, this reminds me of the discussion of love triangles in YA, how the love triangle will probably negate the Bechdel Test from the start, and how some have argued that they are ultimately freeing for women. Well, is having the choice empowering when it centers the protagonist's life around romance, around another man? Is having the choice empowering when ultimately the choice is to remain with another man? (Because I still haven't read about one where the protag. walks away). The love interests may very well treat the protagonist like an equal partner, but perhaps I am jaded. When I think of love triangles, I generally think of the stereotypical types (2 male interests; I have seen some other excellent ones, but they are not typical), bad and good guy alike, with the "bad" guy somehow always "winning," and how rarely that ever seems to allow for female choice. Rarely do love triangles seem to allow for the female character to have a life separate from the male's, to have a conversation not revolving around him... but now I sense that I'm going off on a tangent, and I'd like to direct the discussion back to the Bechdel Test. Do you think the Bechdel Test is an appropriate guideline for young adult literature? Do you think of it as you're reading or reviewing? How do you see it affecting and being applied to YA lit?