Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

Does Your Writing Pass the Bechdel Test?

Collage by J. Outram

Since the Oscars in February the video about the Bechdel Test has been passed around on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. A couple days ago I told a friend of mine about the test. He teaches film but does not have Facebook.  Since then the Bechdel Test has been on my mind.

To pass the Bechdel Test a story needs to have at least two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man.

Last night I watched one of my all time favourite television shows, The Good Wife. The show features strong female characters. It essentially tells Alicia Florick’s story. Her interactions with women impact the plot as much as her interactions with men. A major theme of the show is implied by the title: who is the good wife today? The Good Wife passes the Bechdel Test.

On the weekend I researched my family tree, continuing to search for interesting links to the life stories of Joseph Normandin, William Solomon, and Ezekiel Solomon. For months my research has focused on the stories of my grandfathers. The search felt worthwhile because every few hours I find a gem, a fascinating detail, or connection to the grander history of Canada. But what about herstory?

Representation of women’s stories in ourstory are lacking despite the efforts of Canadian feminists and researchers to note them. I decided to search for my grandmothers’ stories. I found the Metis National Council of Women. I was disappointed to find little information about Metis women other than HIV/AIDS, violence, and youth are the most pressing issues today. In fairness it looks like the site is under construction. Unfortunately, as it is the site does not help me to understand my great-grandmothers or her culture. After an hour of online searching I gave up for the day. There is an obvious inbalance of information available.

This week I plan to spend time in Ottawa at Archives Canada with my aunt. A few years ago she wrote a beautiful biography of her mother-in-law. From pictures to life events to historical references to the cost of shoes, the work documented the full life of a strong, loving, hard-working woman. My aunt shared the story with family. Now I think my aunt will work on her mother’s story, my grandmother. I am inspired by my aunt’s dedication to share with us the stories of amazing women in our family.

After doing a mental review of my writing, I am thrilled to share that almost all of it passes the Bechdel Test. Unfortunately, it is not enough for me because it was just a fluke. We need to write with intention. Whose stories are you writing? Would your work pass the Bechdel Test? How can we write to support diversity in Canada’s literary landscape?

With this in mind I began my new project yesterday. The working titles are Leilah’s Story OR Leilah and the Moccasin Spirits. I do not want there to be any confusion in my mind about what I am writing. It is primarily a woman’s story exploring women’s issues.

Write with intention–that is today’s writing mantra.

 

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2 Comments

  • Sharon Overend

    Thanks Jessica for sharing this video. I had never heard of the Bechdel Test and had never wondered whether my female characters were stepping up to the plate and were true representation of the vast number of strong, articulate women that surround my real life. Happily, I can say my major project (a novel) does have a number of strong women, but alas my short stories seem to be about 50/50 and wouldn’t all pass the test. You have certainly given me a lot to think about. Thanks again.

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