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On passing the Bechdel Test

by Ian McHugh (writing at ianmchugh.wordpress.com)

I’ve been talking with my little girl, age 8, about how stories work. This started a couple of years ago when we read the first of Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon books. When the hero, Hiccup, got exiled from his Viking tribe at about the midpoint of the book, my daughter burst into tears. My response was to start talking about how stories work, and how everything has to go wrong so that the hero can put it all right again. That fixed the tears and, since then, we’ve moved on to other aspects of storytelling, like act structure, how beginnings, middles and endings work and showing not telling.

One thing we’ve talked about that she’s really taken to is the Bechdel Test for gender bias in movies. She tells me how it’s disappointing that The Avengers failed, because it had three female characters and two of them shared scenes. She was very pleased that Frozen passed in the first scene (because snowmen don’t count), but it was noted that almost the entire supporting cast was male, including the reindeer (for the record, according to the script, there’s six other female characters with speaking parts, but only three of them have names and only two have more than two lines of dialogue – one is a servant, with four inconsequential lines, and one is a troll, who tops the list with seven lines, albeit most of them about a man). It didn’t spoil her enjoyment of these movies, but she noticed.

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