There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Is your Fantasy Novel gender-biased? April 3, 2013

I am a Fantasy writer. I am a reader. And I am a (young) woman. Because of who I am and the way I was brought up, I am always asking myself how women are represented in fiction, especially Fantasy. And since I write Fantasy books myself, I am always careful to avoid the usual pitfalls of gender-biased novels.

But how, you ask, do I know I am writing a novel that represents women in a way that is both realistic and unbiased?

First, you need to ask yourself if there are women in your story. As incredible as it may sounds, too many Fantasy novels published nowadays STILL don’t have a female main character. We can forgive Tolkien because he wrote his books in the 1940s. But in 2013, if a book doesn’t have a female main character, I’m sorry to say I’m likely to leave it on the shelf, or to read it and hate it. And it’s not because I’m a feminist. It’s because I’m a reader who lives in the 21st Century.

But let’s say your novel has a female character, whose part is somewhat important to your plot and story. To check if your book is gender-biased, you can use the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel test was introduced by Alison Bechdel in 1985. She credited the idea for the test to a friend, Liz Wallace.

The test is as follows:

1. The piece of fiction in question must have at least two (named) female characters.

2. They must speak to each other.

3. They must converse about something other than a man.

Anything with a score lower than 3 fails.

The test moved into mainstream criticism in the 2010s and shows that a great proportion of contemporary works fail to pass this threshold. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films, but has since been applied to other media.

Most recently, it was applied to the new Doctor Who series.

Doctor Who

Here are the results:

Total percent of failed episodes: 35.2%

Total percent of episodes in which there were two named female characters, but they didn’t speak to one another: 14.8%

Total percent of episodes without two named female characters: 8%

That’s one example among many.

So would your novel pass the Bechdel Test? If not, will you revise it? I’d love to read your comments below!