Applying the Bechdel test

This is an interesting exercise – have any of you ever applied the Bechdel test to your work of fiction?

For those of you who don’t know what it is, “The Bechdel test, also known as the Bechdel-Wallace test,[1] asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added…The test is used as an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism.[2]” – Wikipedia definition

You might be surprised how few of your favourite movies, tv shows and books actually pass the Bechdel test, but that’s for a separate post. Do YOUR works of fiction pass it?

I went through my first three Portia books today and found that yes, they do (thank God).

In Jewel of the Thames, Portia has many conversations with her guardian Irene Jones/Adler that have nothing to do with men. She also has conversations with her mother that avoid the topic. In total, there are 6 named female characters in the book – Portia, Irene Jones/Adler, Mme. LaPointe, Elaine Barclay, Mrs. Dawes and Mrs. Anderson.

In Thrice Burned, Portia does have a few discussions about the male characters with Annie and Irene Jones/Adler. She also has many discussions that do not involve men at all with the 6 named female characters in this book – Annie Coleson, Irene Jones/Adler, Elaine Barclay/Ridley, Mrs. Dawes, Emily Watson and Sarah Watson.

And in No Matter How Improbable, my detective once again has conversations with Annie and Irene Jones/Adler about male characters. But the majority of topics discussed by two women in this book are about the cases Portia is pursuing, which is perfect. It seems that in my third book I went all out, because Improbable also has 10 named female characters: Portia, Elaine Barclay, Annie Coleson, Nanny Pina, Princess Francesca, Mrs. Dawes, Lia, Dr. Heather Olsen, Sarah Watson and Emily Watson.

How did you do?

Author: Angela Misri

Novelist, Digital Strategist & Journalist

6 thoughts on “Applying the Bechdel test”

  1. Thank you for mentioning the test. Two scenes in three science books include the topic of dating and socialization. The female characters in my treasure hunt theme stories don’t speak of men and dating. The topic isn’t pertinent to the plot. One book has daughters urging their mother to date and another contains a scene where one figure gives advice on men to her best friend. In your opinion, do these count toward passing the test or failing the test?

  2. I’m quite familiar with the Bechdel test. Of the novels I’ve written, Reborn City does pass with several conversations about gangster life rather than men, and eight named female characters. So does Video Rage, which includes conversations about the war, about life, that sort of stuff, and four named female characters. Snake…while it has four named female characters (and one female Irish wolfhound) they don’t really converse with each other, except for one scene near the end. It passes, but just barely. Laura Horn passes as well, with several conversations not relating to boys and at least eight named female characters (though I’m still editing and I might turn up more). Rose, by its nature, doesn’t pass the test (unless you count hallucinatory conversations). The novel focuses on a single woman, who is isolated from the outside world. Her main interaction is with her captor. So there’s a fail.
    However, the Bechdel test isn’t a mark of quality or how feminist a work is. It’s meant to be sort of a teaching tool, a way to open up a discussion on how certain forms of media treat female characters. It’s purpose, in my opinion, is to invite examination rather than to grade a movie or book.
    You know, you might be interested in the Mako Mori test. It’s a test derived from the female lead from Pacific Rim, and deals with if a woman has a storyline independent of a male character’s storyline. Here’s a video on it:

    1. I am entirely unsurprised that you’ve given some thought to this in your writing Rami, but it’s interesting eh? And yes, checking out the Mako Mori test now. I wonder in my books if I’m guilty of the reverse Bechdel… I need to go back and make sure that Brian (who talks more about relationships than Portia) and Gavin actually speak to each other enough.

      1. I’m not too worried about the reverse Bechdel test. Plenty of works of fiction pass that test: Harry Potter, Star Wars, probably every Marvel movie or show, The Shining, Interview with the Vampire, and probably all the Sherlock HOlmes stories (though I’ll let you tell me if I’m right on that last one).
        If you decide to write a post about the Mako Mori test, I look forward to reading it.

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