Star Trek and the Bechdel Test

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by tafkats, Dec 28, 2011.

  1. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    The only premise it's pushing is that a good TV series should probably feature multiple female characters who have lives outside of who they're dating. Unless you're saying that women's lives should revolve around men, I don't think you actually disagree with its premise.
     
  2. Admiral Shran

    Admiral Shran Admiral Admiral

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    I know that Hoshi and T'Pol have a few conversations in the episode Vox Sola about how to communicate with the alien they're dealing with.
     
  3. Captrek

    Captrek Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The Bechdel Test is interesting. It seems likely should be so easy to pass, and it's fascinating how few works do. In 79 TOS eps, how many pass the test? Very few, especially if the androids in WALGMO and I Mudd don't count as women.

    Vanna and Droxine briefly argue with each other about the structure of their society in The Cloud Minders. There's one.
     
  4. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I don't think the former counts anyway, since Andrea and Chapel exchange at most three lines that aren't about men: 1) "I'm Andrea. You must be Christine. I've always thought how beautiful your name is." 2: "I am now programmed to please you also. Is the food appealing?" 3: "Yes, thank you." And those are both part of scenes where the rest of their dialogue is about or with men. The Bechdel Test specifies having at least one conversation that isn't about a man, not just the occasional isolated line.

    And I'm not sure Uhura's brief conversations with Mudd's female androids really pass the spirit of the test, since they're solely about Uhura wanting to stay beautiful forever. So she's still being defined by her attractiveness rather than her career or her personal interests or the sorts of things that male characters are usually defined by.

    But the Droxine-Vanna exchange in "The Cloud Minders" definitely passes. Good catch.
     
  5. Destructor

    Destructor Commodore Commodore

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    I think there's a tendency, particularly among men, and particularly among men who like certain shows, films and books that do not pass the Bechdel test, to get defensive about them and say things along the lines of Who cares and Doesn't affect the quality of the work. We should be aware of this tendency and try to push back against it. The Bechdel Test is a great example of how 'invisible' sexism can be. You barely notice how few independent female characters there are in cinema and on television until you start applying the test- and realizing barely anything passes. Massive kudos to Voyager for passing the Bechdel more than any other Trek show, and most sci-fi shows in general.
     
  6. CoveTom

    CoveTom Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    That would be the point. I do not believe the Bechdel test indicates whether or not there is sexism, invisible or otherwise, in a particular work. That is what I was trying to say. I disagree with the basic argument that having a female character in an episode of a TV series who fails to have a conversation about something other than a man is inherently sexist. There are lots of intelligent, educated, self-sufficient women in this world who still have plenty of conversations about men with other women. The two are not mutually exclusive.
     
  7. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    How is it not sexist if the only thing that female characters talk about amongst themselves is men? If the only thing female characters talk about amongst themselves is men, that means that those characters are only being portrayed in terms of their relationships to men. But women, of course, exist separately from men and have large portions of their lives that do not revolve around men -- just as men exist separately from women and have large portions of their lives that do not revolve around women. If women are depicted as only ever talking amongst themselves about men, then those female characters have no lives outside of whom they're dating. And if women are not portrayed as having lives outside of whom they're dating, then that's sexist.

    But the Bechtel test doesn't fail a work for having female characters who talk about men. It fails a work that has female characters who do not talk about anything else. It's not the presence of talk about men that's sexist, it's the absence of anything else that is sexist.
     
  8. Destructor

    Destructor Commodore Commodore

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    Yeah, this. It's also about recognizing that we define the male view as the default. Take the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Holmes and Watson have adventures, talk politics, go to bars, solve mysteries, get up to all sorts and talk about all sorts of things. It's not really questioned that women would not be involved. Movies where women do these things are vanishingly rare. Just because an individual movie or episode isn't sexist, the cumulative effect of 95% of all movies/television being about men is.
     
  9. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But it's not about what real women may or may not talk about, it's about how the creators of fiction portray women vs. how they portray men. Male characters in movies routinely talk about things other than women. Outside of romantic films, they mostly talk about their work, their beliefs, their goals, their hobbies, etc. If they do talk to each other about women, it's generally a sidebar, a brief change-of-pace scene between scenes that advance the main plot. It's a fairly small percentage of what male characters talk about in most films. But by contrast, female characters in the same films are rarely shown talking about their work, beliefs, goals, hobbies, etc. They mostly relate to men, which means either they don't talk to other women (because there are plenty of movies that have mostly male casts with only one or two female speaking parts) or they only talk about men (because in many films the women are only there to be romantic interests for the men).

    So it's not really about conversations. That's just the metric used to assess what the test is really about, which is how films define male and female characters. Male characters in film are generally defined by their careers or their quests, with romance or sex being just one facet of their lives. But female characters in film are generally defined by their love lives and little else. Or if a film does have a woman defined by her career -- for instance the archetypal strong female hero Ripley in Alien, or Agent Carter in Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol -- she's often a solitary woman whose interactions are mainly or exclusively with men.

    Ultimately, the point of the "Test" is to compare how the two sexes are portrayed in movies. You're missing the point because you're only thinking about how the women act and not how it compares to the portrayal of men. The Test is defined in that particular way because it's very, very easy to find a movie in which there are at least two men who have at least one conversation about something other than women, but it's very hard to find a movie in which the same goes with the genders reversed.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2012
  10. tafkats

    tafkats Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, bingo!
    I don't think it's pushing a premise so much as it is making a point and presenting an interesting way to look at entertainment.

    Failing the Bechdel test does not make a work bad or mean it has no other value. TVTropes uses the example of "Twelve Angry Men" or numerous movies that take place in all-male military settings. At the same time, a work can pass the test and not be particularly progressive in any way, or it can pass the test and be a piece of crap.

    But applying the test to various works in our culture -- and then trying it in reverse as well -- illustrates the extent to which women in pop culture are often depicted only as ancillaries to men, and that's a sociological issue worth discussing.
     
  11. JarodRussell

    JarodRussell Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That Bechdel "test" is funny. It's not fully thought through at all.

    Just look at Voyager. Janeway and Seven of Nine might have a lot of conversations about something other than a man, but at the same time Seven of Nine wears a skintight catsuit and fake boobs just to get the sexually insecure male viewers' attention.
     
  12. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    I agree with you that Seven's costume is sexist, but the Bechdel test isn't designed to be the ultimate measure of how sexist a work is or is not. It's designed to measure one aspect of sexism in fiction -- whether or not female characters are depicted as having lives outside of their men. You might as well criticize a speedometer for not being able to tell you if the oil needs changed.
     
  13. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I think people are forgetting that the "Bechdel Test" or "the Rule" is actually from a comic strip. It was meant to be a pithy, biting, but humorous commentary, not an exhaustive sociological analysis. Like I said before, it's not intended to be a formal measurement system, but a rhetorical instrument for calling attention to an idea. And yes, that idea is just one piece of the puzzle of sexism in the media, but it's worth calling attention to and worth thinking about.