The other day beth_bernobich was talking on her blog about the Bechdel Test
This is a simple test of a movie, show, or book for the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
This particular test, and this discussion, has popped up now and then on LiveJournal and other places I visit. I always think it's a good thing. I'm also glad to see lists of books that readers feel pass the test, though in the last year or so, I have noticed that such lists too often contain comments by writers who feel that their names should be added, and little discussion thereafter.
This made me feel like such posts are kind of noticed by the choir, but lost in the noise of everyday life going on outside the walls built by the believers.
And yet it was pointed out that not
discussing these things doesn't help the long uphill battle to get our culture to cease regarding the male gaze as the general gaze. And yet it is still the general gaze. When we see males and females in action movies, for example, it is almost guaranteed that the female is going to be wearing fewer clothes than the male. The man is more likely to be in comfortable shoes when running from villains, while the woman is going to be dealing with high heels because those make her legs look sexier.
This observation is nothing new. I think that was the problem, I felt that in discussing the test, and naming the same names, I would not be contributing anything new.
The other alternative was to wave the flag about my own work. While it is true that the very deepest impulse behind my writing, clear back at age eight, was to explore the adventures of a gang of girls because all the I read were about boys, I don't want to take such a large topic and make it All About Me. Then the discourse shrinks to friends loyally saying rah rah, and everyone else moving on in indifference.
What interests me more is the discovery of women finding their gaze—that is, their perspective, their goals, their limitations, the details of their daily lives as well as the extraordinary circumstances of remarkable and heroic women—of primary importance in a given work, and not always in relation to their acceptability as mates for men. Especially as sexually attractive mates, rather than, say, work mates, or spiritual mates, or friends.
This is something I noticed about Jane Austen a number of years ago. I remember a critic once saying that she never wrote from the male point of view. This is, in fact, quite wrong. Her books are written in omniscient point of view. She slipped quite frequently into the minds of her male characters, however most of the time--with exceptions, such as Henry Crawford wishing that he might have been put to the test the way William Price was in Mansfield Park
– she gets into the minds of men when they are thinking about the women in their lives.
Without ever writing on the grand scale – that is, about violent passions, abduction, highwaymen, or war — Austen focused on the complexities of daily life primarily from the female point of view, and she made it important. Men have read and loved these books for two centuries, though they are written squarely from the female gaze. Their irony and satire is universal. The funny scenes cracked up mixed audiences when read aloud. But the gaze is female to the larger degree, even if men are still in the positions of power.
I have noticed in the past few years in particular that it is easier for me to put down the book, however well-written, when it is sold exclusively focused on the male gaze there is no room for women except as objects. Even as heroic objects, they are still objects.
I also have trouble with books aimed at young readers that are proportionately about active young female protagonists whose choices seem to be limited (between battles with demons, vampires, and wicked fae) to a couple of guys, their emotions and all their mental energy focused pretty much on them. It could be my age showing here, but I don't remember being interested in that kind of story even when I was young.
So I thought I'd throw these thoughts out there, see what others think.