A while back I wrote a little thing about applying the Bechdel Test to YA and whether it was something that should be addressed, but a couple things have tripped my wires that have caused me to revisit the question.
I won’t recap what the Bechdel Test is here – there are plenty of places that do – except to say that I think it’s a good method of examining gender relations in popular culture and could lead to more balanced and entertaining storytelling if applied carefully.
The brain switch was flipped when a Tweet sent me to film critic John Scalzi’s examination of the Bechdel Test in recent(ish) sci-fi and fantasy films. Of the fourteen films he looked at that came out between 2005 and 2009 he found only one that truly passed the test and three “technical passes” where the films only barely scraped by, but not entirely in the spirit of the goal.
The second jolt came just a few weeks ago when a list surfaced of the top 100 sci-fi books everyone should read. Without looking at the list, how many were written by women? How many do you think would pass the Bechdel Test?
11 women represented. Technically one YA and two middle grade books on that list. I can’t even guess about the list’s Bechdel ratings.
To cut to the chase, we have sci-fi movies written by men, directed by men, who as boys probably read a lot of sci-fi written by men, books that most likely failed the Bechdel Test.
It’s like a cycle of abuse. It goes unnoticed, unbroken, and it starts young.
One of the things I learned as a bookseller was that there is an incredible interest in sci-fi among middle grade readers and not a lot of books for that market. And when I say middle grade sci-fi I don’t mean books about aliens who take over as school teachers, there’s a lot of that. I mean actual science-based speculative work, the kind of mind-probing, thought-bending examinations of all that exists within the adult sci-fi genre. Kids are hungry for that stuff, and when they need to feed that hunger they usually get shuttled to the usual suspects: The Giver, or A Wrinkle in Time, or maybe Enders Game. Beyond that, when they go further afield, they land squarely in the adult sci-fi, in the classics, among the 100 everyone “should” read.
Schools and religions know full well that if you’re going to make any headway you have to reach your audience while they’re young, and I propose that the only way future generations of screenwriters and sci-fi novelists are ever going to tilt toward more gender-balanced stories is if we show them alternative narratives and lots of them. We need to reach them before they’ve assimilated the “norm” of a future full of same-as-it-ever-was gender biases.
Now I don’t believe one can truly predict a next big trend, or tailor ones writing to meet potential audience demand, but if I had the kind of mind that could write sci-fi – the kind with girls who talk about things other than boys, aren’t competitive with one another, and were partners with and not sidekicks to boys – I would do it in a heartbeat.
The future is wide open.