Thursday, July 11, 2013

On Writers, Women, and the Sexy Lamp Test

Back when Joss Whedon was writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly and Dollhouse, he was repeatedly asked questions about why he wrote such strong female characters.  His answer, finally, was given in a speech he presented on equality, when he simply stated "Because you're still asking me this question."*

George R.R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones books, was asked where his inspiration for complex, well-written female characters came from, and he responded that he "always considered women to be people."**

Most feminists and female readers know about the concept of the Bechdel test, developed by Allison Bechdel to determine whether a work gives a fair or even remotely non-sexist depiction of women.  The test has three parts: (1) Does this work include at least two female characters?; (2) Do these characters talk to one another?; (3) Is the conversation about something other than men?  If you can successfully answer "yes" to all three of those questions, congratulations, there is a chance you have written a remotely non-sexist piece.

However, Kelly Sue Deconnick, a writer and artist for Marvel comics, stated that the Bechdel Test may be expecting too much from us, and has proposed a test wherein "if you can take out a female character and replace her with a sexy lamp, you're a hack."***  My question, then, is when a large number of female characters fail both Bechdel's test and are replacable by a sexy lamp, why are we asking those few writers who write women who actually resemble people why they write them that way?

What does it say about the status quo for female characters when the noteworthy and novel thing is that they're written in three dimensions instead of just as a plot device?

I've often advocated for the need for strong female role models, and those are often hard to find in the real world.  But it's worrisome that they are nearly as scarce in the world of fantasy and fiction, and that those writers who create them are often questioned or criticized.

Isn't it time that, instead, we start asking, "I've noticed you've written a hollow shell of a human being and slapped a pair of breasts on her.  Why did you do that?" instead?

Curiously Yours,
Rachel Leigh


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