Monday, September 19, 2016

Guest Post: Karina Fabian on Rocking the Bechdel Test (with Nuns)

Karina Fabian is a friend and a talented science fiction and fantasy author, who spends her free time helping others improve their writing craft and marketing strategies. As part of a promotional tour for her new novel Discovery featuring nuns as space explorers (yes, you read that right), please enjoy her fun and informative blog post.

Want to Rock the Bechdel Test? Have Nuns as Your Main Characters!

Many readers may have heard of the Bechdel test. This three-question quiz is supposed to evaluate how well you represent women in your fiction, be it a movie or a book. Essentially you need
1. Two or more named female characters (named characters being a recent addition)
2. Sharing a conversation
3. That is not about a man.
This test was popularized in Alison Bechdel’s comic, Dykes to Watch Out For, and has taken on a life of its own. There are whole websites devoted to which movies pass the Bechdel test, and a study was done of the latest Dr. Who reboot (Doctors 10-13) and how their episode meet the test, broken down by companion and writer. (Ironicaly, the River Song episodes fail).
The test itself is not always the end-all of how women are portrayed in a story. For example, the 2013 SF hit, Gravity, fails the test (despite a very brief scene where the shuttle pilot and the astronaut share a couple of lines about the shuttle arm), but there are only three main characters. If we were to apply it to my DragonEye books, they’d all fail, because the stories are written first person through the viewpoint of Vern. (Although he says there’s some grounds for dispute because as an androgynous dragon, “he” is only uses a male designation because Pope Pius thought Vern d’Wyvern was a cute name for a dragon.)
However, I can say this: if you want to rock the Bechdel test, then just make nuns your main characters!
Discovery is my first Rescue Sisters novel. In it Sisters Rita, Ann and Thomas (“Tommie”) join the crew of the Edwina Taggert to explore the first ever discovered evidence of alien life – a crashed ship in the Kuiper belt. They are in charge of training the crew for EVA exploration and of the overall safety of the mission. It’s a serious undertaking, especially when they find an artifact onboard that can tap into the subconscious and show people the needs of their own souls.
This is actually a good candidate for the Bechdel test because the cast of characters is huge – nuns, academics, asteroid miners (to free the ship) and the crew of the ET herself. Thirteen named females and fifteen named males. The test only requires a single conversation to be female-to-female and not about a man, but that just seemed too easy, especially with a cast so large, so I checked the conversations. Here’s what I found:
Total Conversations: 390
Conversations of mixed genders: 317 (I didn’t count, but I’d guesstimate 25% - 35% were romantic or relationship in nature)
Female-only conversations: 50
·       # not about a man: 42
·       # about a man: 4
·       # about God or where a male saint was quoted, which I wasn’t sure counted: 4
·       % about personnel or the mission: 60%
Male-only conversations: 23
·       # not about a woman: 18
·       # about a woman: 5
·       % that were about mission or personnel: 50%
Definitely rocks the Bechdel test. In fact, in some ways, it underrepresents the men, but then again, the top two characters are nuns. (Sister Tommie has a supporting role.)

The Bechdel test and so many others like it are not the end-all of literary merit or fairness to the sexes in literature. So much depends on story. However, it does make an interesting exercise for evaluating the strengths of your story and perhaps uncovering something you hadn’t noticed.


For those of my visitors who can never have enough books (that would be most of them!), I will mention that Karina has also written stories about zombie hunters, a dragon detective and a telepath who talks to aliens, all available on Amazon. Happy reading!

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