Avoiding anti-male bigotry with the Reverse Bechdel Test


International symbol of masculinity

In the July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest, on page 8, is an article called ‘Girl Talk’ which touts the ‘Bechdel Test’ as a way to write more feminist fiction. Yeah, ick.

The Bechdel test is actually familiar to me. It originated in a Lesbian comic strip, ‘Dykes to Watch Out For,’ that I used to read at a time I was not a Christian. I must confess it’s hard for me to take a comic-inspired test seriously.

Now, the common feminist belief is that the writing world is actively hostile to women. But there are actual genres out there that are JUST for women readers and women writers. Romance novels, chick-lit, Lesbian fiction…. there’s nothing quite like that just-for-guys. And anti-male sexism is rampant in these women-only forms of literature.

 

How many works of WOMEN’S fiction would pass a reverse Bechdel test? Here are the rules:
1. The work must have two men in it.
2. They must speak to one another.
3. They must speak about something other than a woman.

 

OK, think about the last women’s romance novel you read (traditional or Lesbian.) Who were the men in it? Did they talk to each other? About something other than a woman? I think a lot of romances wouldn’t measure up as masculinist fiction. (And if all women need to be feminists, why shouldn’t all males have to be ‘masculinist’ and let a men’s movement shape all their opinions for them?)

 

Most of the time, the men in a romance novel talk about the fictional heroine. The talk may be complimentary, or it may be harsh. If harsh, the man is probably either a villain, or the love interest who is destined to change his mind. All males in women’s fiction are destined to serve the pleasure of the female reader. Quite literally the pleasure, in the case of the misnamed ‘sexy romance’ novel. (It’s actually not romance at all, but sex fiction with a requirement for 3 full-on sex scenes per novel.)

As for Lesbian romances? Many might as well take place on a planet with an all-female population. In fact, one of the Lesbian novels I own DOES take place on a planet with an all-female population. That one would flunk the Reverse Bechdel Test bigtime.

 

But wait a minute. There are much more important tests your fiction REALLY has to pass that are about more important things than if your work rigidly conforms to this year’s ideas about ‘diversity.’ (No one has suggested a test to create ‘diverse’ fiction which portrays political conservatives, American Republicans, or prolife persons as human beings entitled to respect and a lack of bullying.)

The real test of your novel’s plot is this: Are all the actions, characters and conversations in the plot furthering the plot? If you put in a scene with two unconnected women in your thriller novel discussing how much they want Elizabeth ‘Pocahontas’ Warren for our next president, it may help your novel pass the Bechdel Test, but if it doesn’t help any of your characters find the terrorist nuclear device hidden in the center of Washington, DC, that conversation has no real place in your novel. Cut it, unless you have a readership that demands feminist ideology and doesn’t care about plot. (Sadly, there probably are no readerships that don’t care about plot.)

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3 thoughts on “Avoiding anti-male bigotry with the Reverse Bechdel Test

  1. Most romances have flat “heroes” with no personality beyond being handsome and rich. Jane Austen is different that way. But I’m not sure her novels are truly romances.

  2. Jane Austin’s work predates the concept of a mass genre of ‘romance’ novels for women readers. In fact, I think back then ‘romance’ meant fantasy fiction, not love stories. I think the best ‘romance’ fiction transcends the narrow ghetto of the ‘just-a-romance’ category.

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