Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Talking to little girls without talking about looks

Some good advice and thoughts. "Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It's surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I'm stubborn."


Beth said...

Interesting. A sort of corollary to the Bechdel Test.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I've always found that test to be somewhat arbitrary. The Bechdel Test is whether a movie has a scene in which two women talk to each other about something that doesn't have anything to do with a man. Why is it somehow considered insufficient for a woman to talk with a man, or to talk about something involving a man? Many scenes in which men are supposedly dominant involve them talking about a woman.

I recently watched a DVD that compiled lots of trailers for some of the most successful science fiction movies from the '80s to the present, and I noticed that many of them showed women talking about important decisions with no romantic element. I'm not sure if any of them were talking to women, but so what? (Many of the scenes did have multiple women in them, and again, I only watched the trailers, not the whole movies.)

As another example, take two of my favorites movies: Ghost World and Run Lola Run (called Lola Rennt in the original German). Ghost World satisfies the test, and I believe Run Lola Run fails it. Ghost World does focus on two women, but they're fecklessly, aimlessly stumbling through life. Run Lola Run is almost entirely driven by a strong, determined woman. I'd invite anyone to watch the two movies and decide which is more empowering to women. While the Bechdel test is an interesting thought-experiment, it's hardly the be-all-and-end-all of whether a movie presents women as autonomous individuals.

Beth said...

"Ghost World does focus on two women, but they're fecklessly, aimlessly stumbling through life." And that makes them interesting. Flawed characters are a good source for conflict. I love "Run Lola Run," but I don't need movies to be empowering, or about exceptional women. I don't think the Bechdel test is about whether a movie is a good one or whether there are good female characters in it. It serves to highlight a really common shortcut with poorly written female characters, that they exist to reflect something about the male lead, or if they are the female lead, then they stand alone, exceptional, apart from other women. Bechdel's test reminds us that good female characters have more dimensions.

I like a lot of movies that fail the Bechdel test, but it's still a useful tool and a fun one.