Last Friday, Krista analyzed her writing projects to determine if they passed the Smurfette Test (the work has more than one woman) and the Bechdel Test (it has more than one woman who talk to each other about something than a man or men). These tests are important because many films, TV shows, novels, etc. still feature a token female character or put the female characters off to the side. Krista's post made me think about some of my projects to see if they would pass these tests.
The Season Lord Trilogy (Day of All Seasons, Fifth Season, and the unfinished Summon the Season Lords) featured a group of four female magic-users who have to work together to save their country. This definitely passes both tests.
My short story "A Reptile at the Reunion" is about a woman going back to the University of Magic to meet her friends, one male and one female. The two females discuss magic, not men.
My novella "Move Over Ms. L." featured a young woman who talks to her mother, her labmates (who include two lesbians), the director of the time travel program, and her ancestor's aunt. While some of the conversations are about men, others aren't.
This leads me to my current project, Across Two Universes. While there are several female characters--Paul's sister Cass; his love interest Yvonne; the ship's psychiatrist, Dr. Stern; and the ship's captain--they don't talk to each other as much as my female characters do in other stories. They tend to talk more to my main character, Paul, instead. And even when they do talk directly to each other, they talk a lot about Paul or his plans. I wouldn't say it completely fails the Bechdel test, but it doesn't pass as strongly as some of my other stories. Why?
The answer has to do with my main character, Paul. Almost all of the story is filtered through his perspective. As the main character, he has the most at stake, and his actions drive the story. It's not surprising that the other characters react to him. Paul isn't sexist; he was raised by a strong-willed mother, and he encourages his love interest to pursue her own interests. But he's also a teenager and an actor, so he has a strong ego too.
Another reason that there isn't as much female-female conversation in a book with a mostly male POV is that the women talk more to each other when Paul isn't around. There are at least three spots in my book where Cass and Yvonne (who are friends) are alone together, but since Paul's doesn't hear them, we don't know what they talk about. There are also topics women don't feel comfortable discussing in front of men. For instance, Yvonne and Cass aren't going to discuss 20th century tampons vs. 22nd century menstrual cups in front of Paul. (That's assuming they still bother with a period, that is.) Finally, during the scenes when Paul is having a conversation with more than one woman, the dialogue focuses on plot points (where speakers address the entire group or Paul in particular) instead of developing character (which would allow more sharing between secondary characters like Cass and Yvonne, rather than one of them talking directly to him).
Is a male POV always an obstacle to having a story pass the Bechdel Test? Are there other reasons why this would happen? And are there strategies we writers can use to increase female-female conversation in these stories? This topic is too important for one writer to tackle alone, so I'd like to invite you to comment on this post and offer your insights. I'll return to this topic on Wednesday, hopefully with ideas to help male POV stories pass the Bechdel Test. Stick around!