Blog: Fail (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

So my Fail. I failed the Bechdel Test. This test was developed in 1995 to measure movies for inclusion. It goes like this:

  1. The movie must have more than one woman in it.
  2. They have to talk to each other.
  3. And their talk has to be about something other than a man (male).

Honestly and Threshold Sanctuary (the short published in WeAreNotThis) both fail at the first step. I tried to console myself with, well, they are romances where the main activity is between the romantic leads thereby limiting the cast. Except for Honestly, I have Dewayne, Fred, and Boulder all talking to each other about something other than the opposite gender, and they are secondary characters!

Further, during my recent sociological studies, I ran into two more terms “The Smurfette Principle” (1991) and “Women in Refrigerators “(1999). In both of my published works I have only one female appearing on screen, Kassandra and the witch. And the only offscreen character to suffer created solely for character development of an onscreen character was a woman for the male’s background (Troy’s mom).

(expletives) I am completely a product of my society. Especially the entertainment biz.

Therefore I am going to do a writing exercise right now to figure out how bad I am doing.

WRITING EXERCISE: Go over your body of work using the Bechdel Test, the Smurfette Principle, and Women in Refrigerators. If you need to understand the Women in Refigerators better, the video from Feminist Frequency explains it well.

READING EXERCISE: Watch two movies which passes the Bechdel Test and Smurfette Principle – one movie using these two tests based on gender and once based on melanin. If you watch movies in theatre, the movie should be in theatre. If you are NetFlicks watcher, then NetFlicks and chill. If part of your mind goes, but “I don’t wanna watch a chick flick” clearly you need to work outside your comfort zone. People always tell writers they need to read outside their genre; approach it with this mindset if it helps. Also who said anything about a chick flick? For example “Hidden Figures” could cover either the gender or melanin portion of the exercise.


Remember, the point of these tests is not if one of your works fails but to study systematic problems over a body of work – a consistency of issues. So really my failing the Bechdel Test and the Smurfette Principle in two publications of romance isn’t bad. I will have a problem if I look at a statistically significant body and still have the issue. So 2016 blogs here I come!

First the 2016 non-fiction blogs related to specific people: 9 book reviews, 12 author spotlights, 18 magical word posts, and 12 other blogs – total of 51. (The book review included three multi-author publications which I am not counting.) Melanin split – one immigrant and one foreigner. No one of color. If going by appropriate ratios for American demographics at least 7 blacks, 2 Asians, and 6 immigrants.  Gender split – 33 to 18 (65% to 35%) favoring women (several of the blogs were by more than one person) with the author spotlight and book reviews by design and conscious choice evenly split between male and female. I had been working to have the magical words and other blogs also being an even split, but women tend to blog more than men about writing so the pool to draw from curtailed my options. So Fail on the Melanin and a “D” on the Gender splits for non-fiction even when actively trying to address the know issues.

For my 2016 flashes I am not including the one appearing in the writing exercises, just the flashes – a total of 52. I am limiting myself to on-screen characters who are more than scenery; they do not need names, but they do need to have a level of agency. Gender Split – In 52 flashes, I had 118 characters – 60 male, 53 female and 5 unspecified – 50%, 45%, 5%. Not perfect but not bad – a “B” grade. For the Melanin split I end up with the clearly defined whites at 57%, blacks at 11%, Asians at 2% and undefined at 30%. I often deliberately choose to not clearly define skin color. In addition I have 2.5% clearly defined as Hispanic and 1.5% defined as immigrants – the immigrant is a gray area since not all the stories are set in America. Melanin is fine. Grade of an A-.

Now the two I am really scared of – the Betchel and Smurfette tests. Since flashes rarely have more than two characters, this limits the options. For the Betchel test I have only included flashes with two people if both are the same gender, otherwise 3 or more people are needed. Twenty-one flashes meet this requirement and only 7 pass the Betchel test. A higher ratio than big entertainment, but less than 50% pass. On the other hand, I should see if we just switch the gender on the Betchel test, how many would pass. Ordinarily it would not be necessary, but because flashes restrict interaction so much, a better comparison in this case is seeing of the 21 flashes the female to male Betchel test passes. How many times do just men talk to each other? In this case 9 pass vs. the 7 for women. In only one case does a flash pass for both the men and woman Betchel test. Again a “B” rating because they are close, but I still am showing an unconscious preference for the dialogue to center on man-to-man. I will need to look over the statistics again next year simply because the statistical pool for the Betchel test was low.

Now smurfette. With only 17 flashes with 3 or more people, the pool is even smaller than for the Betchel test. It takes three to create an outnumbered gender. In this case I have 7 times where the story only had one woman and 6 times where the story only had one male. I pass!

Final review – For 2016, I did not do perfect with the flashes and non-fiction, but the larger review does indicate for first fears after the review of my published works are manageable. I do need to work harder. And I should review this next year; this is something I should monitor if only because I love numbers and sociology and the easiest person to “experiment” on is myself. Right now I give myself a C with a “B” for the fiction area and a “D” on the non-fiction.

Your turn – comment below on your Writers and/or Reader’s exercises.