Do My Stories Pass the Bechdel Test?

I’ve never been too much a believer in the Bechdel test’s value as a gauge of “representation”, let alone good representation, or even the value of representation as such in fiction, at least “representation” the way the mainstream usually think about it. Still, the “Bechdel test” is trending on Twitter today and I’ve been itching for a blog post topic recently, so I thought: why not go back and see whether my stories pass? I have a good sample size: 16 stories on Amazon, plus one additional story just posted to my blog, plus three additional stories I’ve completed but am holding back until later in the summer, for a total of 20 stories. Wow, to think I’ve written 20 stories.

The Bechdel test asks a work: does it feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man? So let’s go through my stories one by one, starting from the most recent:

  • My untitled Mars story: fails. But purely by dint of there being only one male and one female character. If the leading girl’s master computer is considered as a female character (maybe it has a feminine voice?), it barely passes.
  • Wings of Fire: passes with flying colors. Perhaps surprisingly, considering it’s the story of a moon landing in 1949. But the expedition’s organizers make a point of representing both sexes in man’s first trip to another world. A big contributor is Marina Behrenberg, the first woman in space (same type as Valentina Tereshkova) being in charge of Mission Control while Carlotta von Frey is all alone in the command module.
  • Ready for Rapunzel: passes. But just barely if you go by the dialogue; the mother swears in the daughter as the leader of the space assassins. Aside from that there is no actual dialogue, aside from Rapunzel being sworn in as President by a judge (whose sex is undescribed and that I envisioned as male, but might just as easily be a woman). She describes plenty of interaction with other women that doesn’t center on men in her speech.
  • Girls’ Night Out: passes with flying colors. They do talk about a pilot, and use masculine pronouns to describe him, but the vast majority of the two girl characters’ conversation with each other center on each other or the spectacular sights they’re seeing, not men.
  • Ten Weeks at Onigaminsing: passes. Anemone befriends Lithie, another college girl, and they talk about physical disciplines, their looks, canoeing, and Eastern spirituality, among other things.
  • One Day and Two Nights: fails. Pleasuring the leading man is the leading girl’s job, so she doesn’t talk to anyone else, and we only see the other girls talking to the leading man.
  • Last Light: fails. But purely by dint of there being only one male and one female character.
  • The Coldest Inferno: passes with flying colors. Tziporah, Ruby, and Sadie are the only three significant characters, they talk a lot, and usually about things other than men. Indeed, the only men who even appear are Ruby’s and Sadie’s dates at the very end and they don’t even get any lines!
  • Spectres Call for Me: passes. Surprisingly, considering it’s two male-female couples talking to each other as couples; the woman oracle directly addresses the leading girl once, and the topic is not a man, so it barely passes. Though it’s a matter of interpretation how much of Tisiphone’s monologue is addressed to Thanata and how much to her man, so it might pass with flying colors.
  • Black Sky Hallows: fails. It follows the leading man’s point of view, and no dialogue between any of the women he interacts with and any other women is shown. Most of the story is focused on just the leading man and the leading woman.
  • The Saga of the Ilithianades: passes with flying colors. Most of the main characters are parthenogenetic women who never interact much with men at all, and have plenty of other things to talk about.
  • The Night of the Calendars: passes. Both with women talking to each other in the actual story and in the framing device, the letters they send to each other about their night. Possibly the most interesting example.
  • Calypso, Girl of the Crystal City: passes. Calypso, Nyx, Sakura, Kamaria, and Poppy are a tight-knit group who talk about plenty besides men, even if, being courtesans, their lifestyles are oriented around male pleasure.
  • Nereogenesis: passes. Ariel, Phoebe, Scheherazade, and Violetta, all girls, have plenty of conversation among themselves on topics besides men.
  • A Trip to Starlit Spa: passes. Nolwenn and Nevenka once again converse plenty among themselves on topics besides men. The two girls are the only named characters, and the only male character even mentioned is their pilot.
  • Warp Dawn: passes. There’s a lot of conversation between the leading girl Emma and the Sisters of Mokosh that isn’t about men.
  • The Saga of Viggo and Xyla: passes. Xyla makes some girl friends and converses with them on some topics that are not men.
  • Letters from the Airy Deep: fails. Once again, purely by dint of there being only two characters, a man and a woman; though there are some aliens, their sex is somewhat ambiguous. If the alien Ilmatar makes first contact with was a female, then this story passes, just barely.
  • Dear Future Me: passes. Most of the characters are girls, and have conversations among themselves about plenty other than men.
  • The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure: passes. Mostly by dint of the girls conversing with each other in mixed-sex groups about topics other than men, but it passes.

So 15 out of 20 of my stories so far pass. Hmph. Better than I would have thought. 3 out of the 5 failures are only because there is one male and one female character. Which is hardly unfair to women’s representation, since such stories also fail the Reverse Bechdel Test, a variant of the Bechdel Test that asks a work: does it feature at least two men who talk to each other about something other than a woman?

Just for fun, I’ll subject my 20 stories to this test too:

  • My untitled Mars story: fails. But purely by dint of there being only one male and one female character.
  • Wings of Fire: passes. The boys converse plenty among themselves about things other than girls.
  • Ready for Rapunzel: fails. Every character is a woman except possibly for the judge, and he only talks to the leading girl. Though she does reference her beloved man and the male pirate the Lone Wolf, and it’s possible they have some conversations that don’t center on women; however, none are referenced, much less shown.
  • Girls’ Night Out: fails. Only one male character, the girls’ pilot, is even referenced, and he has no lines.
  • Ten Weeks at Onigaminsing: fails. The only dialogue is between girls or between a girl and a boy.
  • One Day and Two Nights: fails. Though there is mention of a conversation the leading man has with another male with a pirate vibe, even if the dialogue isn’t spelled out, so arguably it passes.
  • Last Light: fails. But purely by dint of there being only one male and one female character.
  • The Coldest Inferno: fails. Only two men appear, and they have no lines at all.
  • Spectres Call for Me: fails. But only by virtue of the man being addressed by another male character as part of a couple that includes a girl, so whether that dialogue counts as being with him or his beloved girl is arguable.
  • Black Sky Hallows: passes. By virtue of one set of lines where the leading man talks to one of his boy friends, and about something other than a girl.
  • The Saga of the Ilithianades: fails. There is only one male character.
  • The Night of the Calendars: passes. There are instances of male characters talking to each other about calendars and timekeeping, which needless to say is not about girls.
  • Calypso, Girl of the Crystal City: fails. There are some male characters, but they don’t interact with each other through dialogue. Unless you consider a horde of aliens she interacts with as having a lot of male members who talk to each other, but that’s really a stretch.
  • Nereogenesis: fails. There is only one male character.
  • A Trip to Starlit Spa: fails. There is only one male character even mentioned, the girls’ pilot, and he doesn’t talk to anybody.
  • Warp Dawn: fails. Kinda. There is no actual dialogue in the text of this nature, but conversations between leading man Perun and many presumably male aliens is depicted.
  • The Saga of Viggo and Xyla: passes with flying colors. There are extensive conversations between Viggo and his grandfather through their letters.
  • Letters from the Airy Deep: fails. Once again, purely by dint of there being only two characters, a man and a woman; though there are some aliens, their sex is somewhat ambiguous. If the aliens Ilmarinen talks to were male, then this story passes, just barely.
  • Dear Future Me: fails. There are quite a few male characters, but they don’t interact with each other, just the leading girl.
  • The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure: passes. Mostly by dint of the boys conversing to each other in mixed-sex groups about things other than women, but it passes.

15 out of 20 of my stories fail the Reverse Bechdel Test. Mostly it seems because I include a lot more girl characters than boy characters in my stories. So help me, I just really like writing and thinking about pretty girls, hence why the Adamas Nemesis girls tend to be young and attractive.

All this turned out basically as I expected. The only really interesting result of this retrospective inquiry has been my fondness for stories with truly ensemble casts, a large group of both men and women; they represent a disproportionate share of what I think are my best stories and the ones I enjoyed writing the most. Considering that I have enough stories in my backlog to post one a month through August, that might be something to keep in mind when I see fit to start writing a new one.

One Reply to “Do My Stories Pass the Bechdel Test?”

  1. My _The Magic Battery_ and _Spells of War_ pass without trouble. It’s not surprising, even though the latter is nominally a war novel, since Frieda plays a pivotal role in both stories.

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