Home > My Fiction, Star Trek > How well do I Bechdel, updated

How well do I Bechdel, updated

It’s been nearly four years since my “How well do I Bechdel?” post, where I assessed the gender inclusiveness of my fiction by applying the famous Bechdel test (an imperfect but useful assessment for an aggregate body of work, as discussed in the original thread). I was surprised at how poorly my original fiction came out, since so much of it is female-centric, but the problem was that it was mostly short fiction that often centered on one male and one female lead. Anyway, I’ve had a significant number of new stories and novels published (or due for publication) since then, so I figured it was worth updating the list.

To recap, a work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

There’s also the related Mako Mori test for works with only one female lead; such a work can pass if:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

Of course, as I mentioned last time, passing the test doesn’t guarantee a work isn’t sexist, or vice-versa, since it’s more about the aggregate than an individual work. A great example I came across a while back is the Roger Corman horror movie Forbidden World (1982). The movie passes Bechdel handily thanks to a scene where the two female leads have a lengthy conversation with each other about how to communicate with the monster attacking their lab… however, the entire conversation is conducted while they’re fully frontally nude together in a futuristic shower. Indeed, they’re treated throughout as sex objects and victims. So Bechdel alone is not a definitive assessment. But then, part of the point is that it’s an absurdly low bar to clear, so there’s no excuse for so many stories in popular culture to fail it.

So let’s see how my total body of work stacks up now. My first post covered my published or pending works up through Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown from January 2017. Most of my published works since then have been original, so we’ll start with those. In publication order, and including sold works awaiting publication:

“Twilight’s Captives”: Passes Bechdel. The female lead Madeleine Kamakau discusses the rescue of hostage children with the mother of one of the hostages, as well as with a female alien leader and an alien of a third “brooder” sex using a female pronoun. An asexual, non-gendered alien also has conversations with several female characters.

“Abductive Reasoning”: Fails Bechdel, but passes Mako. A two-hander between an alien female and a human male, but the alien’s pursuit of her own goal (which involves reconciling with her sister) drives the story.

“Hubpoint of No Return”: Ambiguous pass. Nashira Wing and the female alien Tsshar have a conversation that is partly about rescuing the male lead David, but evolves into one driven primarily by Nashira’s own agenda. Passes Mako twice over, as both Nashira and Tsshar have their own independent agendas shaping events.

“Aspiring to be Angels”: Passes. Emerald Blair and a female scientist have several discussions about the driving concepts and themes of the story, with the male lead only occasionally discussed.

“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”: Limited pass. Nashira converses with several female characters about various matters, although her overall goal is to locate and help David. (Also contains a metatextual joke about this very subject.) Not a Mako pass; three female characters (Nashira, Yldai, and Tsshar) have narrative arcs (i.e. storylines that develop and resolve rather than just unchanging motives/goals), but all are about David in some way.

“Hubstitute Creatures”: Limited pass. Nashira argues with a female colleague about her work (though her relationship with a male character is brought up) and discusses a medical matter with a female alien doctor. Mako pass, since Nashira’s personal agenda and narrative arc drive the story.

Crimes of the Hub: The new bridging material added for the collection includes one scene that passes, where Nashira speaks with two female colleagues (one human, one not) about their respective careers.

“The Melody Lingers”: Fails Bechdel and Mako. There are two primary named female characters (arguably three, but one isn’t truly present), but they have almost no direct interaction except through the male viewpoint character, and neither has an independent arc (one is subservient to him and the other is reacting against him). But this is arguably more a feature than a bug, since the intent is to critique and challenge the viewpoint character’s self-serving treatment of women.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”: Barely passes Bechdel. There are several named female characters discussing the artifact around which the story revolves, but they’re mostly discussing it with the male lead, and there’s only one paragraph in which one woman addresses another. Probably passes Mako, as Captain Veronica Moyo has a clearly defined agenda that, while it ultimately puts her at odds with the male lead, is not specifically about him, and her actions in pursuit of her goals are a primary catalyst of the story’s events.

“Conventional Powers”: Full pass. Emerald Blair discusses multiple subjects (largely her own actions, aspirations, and beliefs) with at least five other women, four of them named (or at least code-named).

“The Cat Who Chased Her Tail Through Time” (Patreon): Full pass. My debut Patreon story is a self-indulgent piece I wrote long ago about my cats, so it has no “onscreen” human characters except myself; but all but one of the cats in the story are female and they interact and discuss a great deal; also, the story is catalyzed by the actions of two female humans based on my two best friends from college.

“The Moving Finger Writes” (Patreon): Borderline pass at most. There are several named female characters, two human and two alien, but the two female aliens only briefly converse to establish their kinship, and all other conversations are with or about males. Probably a Mako fail; several female characters do have their own independent agendas, but their narrative purpose is to support and advance the male lead’s arc.

“They Also Serve” (Patreon): Fail. Emerald Blair is the only female character, and she’s merely the audience for Arkady’s narrative about meeting his husband.

Arachne’s Crime (upcoming): Full pass. There are multiple central female human characters, a female-identifying AI (Arachne), and a genderfluid alien species for which 3/4 of the most prominent characters are female for most or all of the narrative. They have numerous conversations and debates about a wide variety of topics. (Includes the events of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” discussed in my previous Bechdel post, with most of the conversations mentioned there present here as well.)

Arachne’s Exile (upcoming): Full pass. There may be a higher ratio of female-male interactions to female-female ones here, but there’s still a number of the latter, and one of the two female leads becomes a more active driver of the narrative and shares several scenes with a female alien ally discussing various topics (spoilers!).

“Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter bonus): Pass. Has two main female characters who discuss their respective future plans and debate exploration policies.

“Vein Glory” (Kickstarter bonus): Only 2/3 Bechdel pass, Mako fail. Two named female characters who speak to each other, but only about matters pertaining to the male lead.

So… as of my previous post, my original fiction had 6 Bechdel passes out of 10, many of them borderline. Now I make it 18 out of 27, so I’m up from 60% to 67% (and only three unambiguous Mako fails) — a moderate improvement, though it could be better. However, I’ve succeeded in substantially improving LGBTQ representation in my original fiction, since about half of the above works feature overtly LGBTQ characters, 7 feature same-sex romance or attraction (8 if you count an ambiguous same-sex kiss), and three feature characters (mostly nonhuman) of non-binary sexuality. And 100% of my novel-length original works (Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime/Exile, and Crimes of the Hub as a fixup novel) succeed at both Bechdel and LGBTQ representation. It’s easier to achieve with novel-length works where there are more characters and interactions.

And now my comparatively few Star Trek works:

DTI: Shield of the Gods: Passes, briefly. Two female Aegis agents discuss their business.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference: Passes, though not extensively. Caroline Paris and Kivei Tizahr get acquainted; Devna and Maras discuss various matters (including but not limited to a male character); Tizahr discusses transporter ethics with Regina Tallarico (and two male crewmates); etc.

TOS: The Captain’s Oath: Moderate pass. It’s mainly from Captain Kirk’s perspective and relies on TOS characters, so it’s strongly male-centric, but there are a few Bechdel-passing scenes between female characters original to the novel, mainly Starfleet/Federation personnel discussing their work or crisis situations, though there is also a close female/female friendship depicted between Kamisha Diaz and a Caitian classmate. Mako pass, since several female characters have independent agendas and arcs.

TOS: The Higher Frontier: Moderate pass. As before, most of the passing scenes are between book-original characters, including Reiko Onami returning from Ex Machina, but Miranda Jones has a conversation with Chief DiFalco from ST:TMP, and there’s a scene or two of Uhura reasoning with a (more or less) female community leader of a group of aliens (though a male community leader is also involved). A strong Mako pass, as several female characters’ agendas drive much of the narrative.

Before, 20 out of 23 Trek works passed the full Bechdel test, though all passed at least one part. Now I make it 24/27, bumping up the percentage slightly from 87% to 89%. On the LGBTQ inclusion front, there are prominent/returning bisexual characters in the DTI novella and the ENT novel, although The Captain’s Oath only manages a few incidental references. The Higher Frontier establishes one returning Ex Machina character as lesbian and another as bisexual, but only in passing.

In the case of my Star Trek Adventures RPG campaigns, it’s impossible to assess whether they pass, since of course I have no idea who the Player Characters would be in a given gaming group. But as far as Non-Player Character interactions go, Call Back Yesterday, The Whole of the Law, and Stolen Liberty have only one named female NPC each; The Gravity of the Crime has several prominent female NPCs who interact with each other; and Hard Rock Catastrophe has three named female NPCs, two of whom share a scene but do not necessarily address each other directly (depending on how the Gamemaster plays the scene). So only Gravity is a guaranteed pass; the rest depend on who the PCs are and how and whether they choose to interact with the NPCs.

So overall, a limited improvement, but I think it stacks up pretty well. Since Bechdel is more of an aggregate assessment, it may be unreasonable to aim for 100% success; an overall success rate of 2/3 or more across an entire body of works is reasonably good. After all, the goal is diversity; there’s nothing wrong with stories centering on male leads or a single male-female pair, just so long as they’re part of a wider mix instead of crowding out more female-centric stories.

(Just a reminder that you can find more information and purchase links for these publications elsewhere on the site, by following the menu options up top. And if you read them, please post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like; the more reviews a publication gets on Amazon, the more its visibility improves in searches.)

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: