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26 February 2010

The Pitfalls Of Fiction In light of this Meta Post (and this MeCha thread) I was thinking about The Bechdel Test and Deggan's Rule and wondering, how do you address these when you're writing a story in a period and place where women are under wraps and minorities are largely nonexistant?

Part of it is Our Hero is in an all male world and everything, by nature of the genre, should be from his point of view, so it's a little harder to get two women talking together that's not Important Background Gossip.
and everything, by nature of the genre, should be from his point of view

Well, that's kind of the issue right there, isn't it? Why does the genre have to be from his point of view exclusively?
posted by occhiblu 26 February | 23:09
Doing a Noir Raymond Chandler riff which, for a bunch of reasons, kinda depends on the protag being the viewer's eyes and ears without much outside narrative.
posted by The Whelk 26 February | 23:10
I'm afraid you've set yourself for a situation where you can't meet the criteria you want to meet buddy. Either accept it or write a different story I guess?
posted by serazin 26 February | 23:28
Well it takes place at the Royal French Court in 1690, which did have women in it, but said women would have to be in the presence of the male lead, and historical norms and codes would mean they wouldn't speak freely - even if he was investigating something.

Then again, he doesn't have to talk to JUST the nobles. So there is that.
posted by The Whelk 26 February | 23:37
I'm afraid you've set yourself for a situation where you can't meet the criteria you want to meet buddy.


The thing with those tests, is that they measure how much an author/director is willing to veer away from the "standard" in which white male perspectives are privileged. So, as serazin says, if you're not willing to veer from that standard, then you're not going to pass those tests. The whole point of the critiques is that the standard excludes certain viewpoints.
posted by occhiblu 27 February | 01:24
I think the point of the Bechdel Test is that it's just that, a rough and ready test. It's not that a film is any better if it passes it, it's just that passing it is an incidental indicator that there are female characters with a significant role.

So from an author's point of view, I think the things you can do in general are:

1. Think more about the women in your plot: do they have their own needs and goals, or are they just providing services to the men?

2. Do more research and see if women were really absent/passive, or if history and other dramas just ignore them.

But if you've thought about it, and done your research, and you really can't see a way to pass the Bechdel test with say, your claustrophobic WW2 submarine drama, then it's better to not bother than force token women into your plot.

I've been watching a bit of Shakespeare, which is a century before your period. But there the female nobles sometimes take part in court politics. I just watched Henry VI's wife Queen Margaret conspire against him, have an affair with a duke, pre-empt Henry's speeches and speak for him, then decide he's a useless wimp and order him to stay put while she goes off and leads his army. It's obviously somewhat satirical and supposed to indicate that Henry's a ridiculous weakling. But if men could worry about women having too much power at court, they must have had some kind of influence.
posted by TheophileEscargot 27 February | 02:33
For starters there are the marquises de Sévigné, de Montespan & de Maintenon, not to mention the Dauphine, the Duchess of Orléans, the princesses of Conti & Condé, etc.
posted by misteraitch 27 February | 05:17
It's something I've been thinking about more, and giving more pause too. It's not hard to have powerful women at court (indeed, the plot turns on a de Montespan-sian character) but more how to have them express themselves within the context of the time - which is, one might say, the whole challenge of the damned thing.
posted by The Whelk 27 February | 10:17
PLX4032 || Rawr! Algebra is hard!