Image credit: © istockphoto.com/brebca
You may have heard of the Bechdel Test, a pop-culture phenomenon that measures gender bias in film, TV, etc. It’s named after Alison Bechdel, who in her 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For featured a character who said she’d only go to movies that had three elements: 1) at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.
Many movies fail this test because, if I may channel my inner Nathan Detroit: Broadly speaking, there ain’t enough broads.
There are movies, of course, where applying the Bechdel Test would be silly, such as Saving Private Ryan. Movies featuring World War II battle scenes would obviously involve a dearth of women. Or a movie like Gravity, where there’s a dearth of earth itself. (Sorry but this juxtaposition was unlikely to be available to me again.)
However, there are other movies that fail which really make you wonder, for example, Avatar or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The latter is especially disturbing since it’s aimed at kids. Some of whom are girls! Girls like my daughter! Who may herself be sexist!
If a camera followed my daughter around all day, the film that resulted would almost certainly fail the Bechdel Test. Since she learned to speak, she’s been telling me about the boys in her class. When I ask who her friends are, ten out of ten times she gives me a boy’s name. If I ask about a girl, she’ll maybe acknowledge her, but only if pressed, much like a Hollywood producer.
Right now her favorite cartoon is Paw Patrol. This show fails the Canine Bechdel Test. Six rescue pups and only one is female. When my daughter plays pretend, she is never Skye (the female). Often she claims to be Ryder, the human male in charge of the pups.
There are two main human female characters—Farmer Yumi and Mayor Goodway (note the position of power, undercut by the fact she calls upon a boy and his puppies to help her in any and every emergency)—and they do interact, but I think these two could easily be male without losing anything. Then again, three-dimensional cartoon characters are sort of oxymoronic.
When my daughter and I went swimming recently, we played Paw Patrol. I pretended to be caught in a whirlpool and called Paw Patrol for help. My daughter pretended she was Zuma, the male chocolate Lab. Each time I called for aid, she would run around the pool and then walk carefully down the stairs in her water wings saying, “Zuma to the wrecks you [rescue].”
After a few rounds I specifically requested Skye to come with her helicopter, but my daughter insisted on being Zuma. Occasionally, maybe, Ryder. I fretted inwardly, which at least lended verisimilitude to my outward displays of distress, as she tugged me to safety.
Later I Googled Paw Patrol. Nick Jr.’s description of Skye did not alleviate my concerns. “Skye tries everything with a back flip, grace, and a smile.” Hmmm. Not how one would describe a male hero like, say, Thor.
I scrolled down to read about Zuma. That’s when I learned he is specifically the “water rescue” dog. Had I been so blinded by the sociopolitical landscape of Paw Patrol that I had overlooked individual character traits?
So maybe my daughter’s not sexist. She’s just accurate. Thus the limits of the Bechdel Test.
However, while on the site I also noted that all the pups are pure breeds except for Rocky, the recycling dog. Allow that to marinate for a bit. Rest assured I will be writing a strongly worded letter to Nick Jr.
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