Pondering gender in my writing

As much as admitting this is likely to earn me some flak, I really dislike the Bechdel test. Before I say anything else, I want to mention that I get the purpose behind it and wholeheartedly agree that there needs to be more interesting, developed, and awesome female characters out there. I think the problem I have with it is that it's too limiting. I keep seeing the Disney cartoon "Mulan" used as an example of something that fails while also being a female-driven story. This kind of example is a good reason for something failing: it takes place in a culture, group, world, etc where there aren't many women characters for the female main character(s) to interact with.

I realized this morning that there are two other reasons something would fail the test besides the Mulan example. 1.) It doesn't take nearly enough into account about LGBT characters and the fact that gender isn't black and white. 2.) Connected to this, it also fails to take into account diverse male characters who don't fall under the default "straight, white, cis male" standard.

This is going to get into a long ramble, but it's something I feel I need to get off my chest because I've been fretting for well over a year that the first book in my series probably fails the test miserably. How can this be, I wonder, when I so adamantly support equality of any kind? How can it be when my series takes place in a culture where gender has no bearing on occupation, success, or rights, and men and women have held equal power since the beginning of the country's founding? Yet here I am with one female main character for most of the first book who spends most of it interacting with only a few other characters on their adventure. It isn't until about halfway- or possibly closer to two-thirds- through that I introduce a secondary female character. BUT. Don't go shoving this book into the "fail" category despite only having one female character in a cast of five (six counting the secondary who comes in later). See those numbered reasons I gave above? That's why.

One of the five characters would "normally" be another female character. They aren't. Instead that character is agender. Would it have been better to make this character female just so I could pass the test? No, because the series prominently features LGBT characters and I feel it's important to include some who don't fall under the gender binary. This character is one of my three point-of-view characters (my main-mains, as I call this trio), along with the woman and one of the males. I have an FMC, a MMC, and an AMC. ...Ya know, that's what I should call them by since writers often have a "female main character" along with a "male main character". There needs to be more than just "F" and "M" to start those abbreviations.

Anyway, this takes me to the second numbered reason I gave above. Just because there are more male characters in a book, it doesn't mean that the story is nothing but testosterone and manly-men. Male characters need to be just as diverse and this is something I feel just as strongly about as I do with female characters. Book 1's MMC, the point-of-view male character, is the most classically "maternal" of my entire cast. He's an artist who is gentle, pacifistic, sweet, affectionate, and somewhat naïve. He's the one who generally looks out for the well-being of the rest of the cast- usually by being the only one who is any good at cooking. His solution to any kind of problem is to get on someone's good side with food and a smile. He's not a traditional hero and is only able to succeed on his adventure because of the loyalty of the friends he makes. My two secondary-mains are twins. One is a big, strapping, muscular guy who doesn't know his own strength half the time- but is perpetually cheerful and goofy, more than a little theatrical and flamboyant, and is the team's genius ditz tinkerer whose inventions help the plot throughout the series. Not exactly a typical male character, either. His twin is the most typically masculine of the bunch- tall, dark, and handsome, I'd suppose- but he's also intensely socially phobic to the point of it being a weakness he has to learn to work-around (he never entirely overcomes it). And as a side note, none of the three fall under the "straight white cis male" standard. While all three are cis and the last two are pale (which is actually uncommon- the culture's population and the rest of my cast are darker complexioned), none are straight. The first is bi, the second is gay, and the third is demi/ace. This comes up in the series, but their sexuality is not their defining feature. Could I have made one of these three characters female? Possibly, and I did think about it, but I felt that it was more poignant to flip typical masculine stereotypes on their head by making these three male, the way they told me they wanted to be.

I purposely write characters who are diverse. I purposely don't judge or fill out a cast based on what may or may not be between their legs, which is why this test drives me crazy. I slide in characters where they belong based on personality, talents, and magic. Yes, gender can be an important thing and yes, there need to be more good female representation in entertainment, but this is not a black and white issue. It's not just "make these characters female to meet a quota". (As another side note, while the first book has more male characters, book two gets a larger cast- the majority of whom are women. It didn't happen that way to meet a required amount of one gender, but because those were the characters that book needed.)

I'm honestly not sure where I was going with this. I guess it's just to say that there needs to be a better way of judging equality in entertainment. Or, that failing, just add more equality in entertainment overall. It's really not that difficult to write outside the narrow confines of "male" and "female". Writing a character falling in love with the same gender isn't really any different from writing a hetero relationship- love is love. I'm going to be over here sticking my tongue out at this darn test and how I failed. I never was very good at following the majority and doing things the way everyone else does. I’m an artist, dangit. ;)




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