I’m not really sure why it’s taken me this long to hear about The Bechdel Rule. Maybe it’s because I spend most of my time in a shed, thinking up knob gags, or maybe it’s something to do with the patriarchy. Either way, I suck.
The Bechdel Rule is pretty simple, and is explained in the video below:
1) Have two or more named female characters…
2) …Who have a conversation with each other…
3) …About something other than a man.
Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? And, to tell the truth, I was feeling pretty confident that my scripts would sail through.
After all, Class, the sitcom I wrote for CBBC, would pass easily (although all of the female characters were played by Sam & Mark – still, technically a pass). The Meeting passes, and every episode of In The Gloaming has a woman as a central character, and one is set within a women’s football team. I do night-feeds, I buy my daughter toy cars instead of princess dresses, I’ve read Germaine Greer’s books for fun. This was going to be easy…
I pulled out the spec I finished last month, smugly flicked through it, and… oh. Apart from this one it was going to be easy. It had two women in, but they didn’t meet until the end when they fought over a man.
I pulled out one I wrote years ago that I still use occasionally as a calling card script. Surely, this one would… have no women in at all. Well, one dead one in a flashback montage (In your face, Robert McKee!), but none who were, you know, alive…
What about the short I wrote that won the Nisi Masa Screenwriting Award. That must… not even mention any women. At all.
Out of five feature scripts, one would pass the Bechdel test, and that one was an adaptation of someone else’s story. Of all the shorts I’ve written only one passed because of a brief bit of expository dialogue at the beginning.
Here’s what I find odd. For any other medium – radio, podcast, stage, web series, television – I have no problems on the whole in unconsciously passing the Bechdel Test. But as soon as I start thinking in terms of film, I appear to assume that male characters are more interesting, or more suited to the medium, or something… And I find that a little worrying.
Of the projects I’ve got lined up, only one feature script passes the Test, and that’s a horror film. I have a feeling that horror films probably don’t really count, as they might be filled with women, all of whom are liable to be horribly murdered at any second.
So, I’m going to be doing a little rethinking, a little cross-casting in my head, because no matter what the political considerations, ostensibly ignoring half of the population of the world must necessarily close off a lot of dramatic options. If nothing else, this will help me find more ways into and out of a scene, and more possible interactions between my characters.
I realise some people will think that this is ‘political correctness gone mad’. Those people are dunces, and should be pitied. This is a way for me to add necessary depth and thought and interest to my writing. This might help me write in a way that will produce better things, things that will be less-inclined to the already-seen, the cliche. This might get me through that rough bit of rewriting where I can’t see how you can change anything, but am unhappy with the way it is. This will help me write better scripts.
It’s also only right to do what I can to make sure that a medium I love doesn’t ignore most of the population of the world. The most that includes my daughter.
Thank you, Alison Bechdel. This is going to be fun.