Bechdel Test: College Edition

I want to create a Bechdel Test for my classes.

What the fuck is the Bechdel Test?

The Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel, author of the comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Here’s how it works:

You take a movie – ANY MOVIE – and you ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does the movie have two named, women characters?
  2. Do they have a conversation with each other?
  3. Is the conversation about something other than men?

If you’ve answered yes to all three – congratulations! It passes the Bechdel Test.

Most movies don’t pass the Bechdel Test. This is why I haven’t seen most movies.  I’ve done this with other media, too – I got really fed up with most books when I was in high school because they all only had straight people, and my young lesbian soul was bored with it… but then I found lesbian fiction, and books that weren’t just about high school romance.

Most movies, most books, most everything are about men.

Many of my classes are about men/straight people.  I’m a Women’s Studies major, now, so they’re better than they could be.

But not all of my classes are WMST classes, and some are particularly frustrating.

I call one of my professors – to not-his-face (though he might eventually see this) – “Bro”fessor.  He calls male students “bro” and female students “girl.” He’s trying to be friendly. Instead I want to vomit.  He’s teaching “new new journalism,” and still, on a 13-week syllabus, we’re reading 3 women – and one of those women is interviewing a man.  If you ask me, a HUGE part of the new new journalism (and when we talk about NNJ, we mean journalism in the age of the internet, more or less), is the diversity of voices that can be heard if you’re looking for them.

Here’s my Bechdel Test for a syllabus and classroom:

  1. Are AT LEAST 40% of the readings by women or queer people? Are at least some of those readings from non-male-dominated sources?  (I say 40% here because we have to be honest with ourselves about the fact that women haven’t been prominent in academia for nearly as long as men, and there is just less out there by women at this point. This can change, though, and this 40% would ideally be with the vision for larger numbers in the future.)
  2. Are those women/queer writers, and the subjects they discuss, included as valid voices and topics, not just as asides saying, “This is what the women are talking about” ?
  3. Does the professor treat the women and gender-non-conforming students in the class with the same respect and attention as s/he does the men?

Oppression by omission is common throughout curricula.  Inclusion of female voices, queer voices, voices of color, disabled people’s voices, and the voices of other historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups is too often about tokenizing and including “diverse perspectives” to complement white male voices.

What do you think of my Bechdel Test for Syllabus and Classroom? Brofessor, do you want to talk?


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