For each of the book reviews I’ve done this year, I’ve judged said books on a number of criteria, including whether or not they pass the Bechdel-Wallace. It’s come to my attention that many people aren’t familiar with this test, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain it.
The criteria for the Bechdel-Wallace test
There are there criteria required to pass the Bechdel-Wallance test:
- Are there at least two women?
- Do they talk to each other?
- Do they talk to each other about anything other than a man?
The history of the Bechdel-Wallace test
Alison Bechdel, author and comic strip creator, first included this test in her 1985 comic strip Dyes to Watch Out For, and the test was applied then – and is typically applied now – to movies.
I find it equally useful in parsing books as well, though it can be more complicated. For example, if the book is written in the first-person, and the narrator is a man, it’s difficult for the author to include two women having a conversation at all, especially if it doesn’t involve the man whose eyes we’re observing them through. When that specific situation arises, I will generally give it an N/A and judge it on other criteria more specific to that case.
Of course, it’s also entirely possible for a book / movie / etc. to pass this test and still be sexist as hell and have empty female characters. But once you learn about this test, you’ll be shocked / annoyed by how often you watch a TV show or movie, or read a book, and discover that the women never, ever talk to each other. It’s nuts!