The Bechdel Test, Female Presence in Film, and Buffy’s Abortion
Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency revisits the Bechdel Test, a simple gauge of female presence in film. For a film to pass the test, it must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. You might think feature films of the supposedly progressive film industry would overwhelmingly pass the test, but you’d be wrong. In the video below, Sarkeesian looks at this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture, putting each to the test. I’ll let you watch the video to see how they do.
The Bechdel Test isn’t a measure of a film’s quality, of course. A truly great film can fail the test. Conceivably even a film with a predominantly female presence could fail it. As Sarkessian notes, the test is a useful tool for bringing to light a widespread problem: the failure of the film industry to tell women’s stories. Hollywood is male-centric, whether we’re talking about its testosterone flicks or its Oscar contenders. Only now, for example, are we getting a Pixar movie with a female lead.
Speaking of women’s stories, Joss Whedon, a writer known to take women’s issues very seriously in his work, has his famous heroine Buffy the Vampire Slayer getting an abortion. Catholic blogger Mark Shea is appalled, saying that Whedon has made “his act of obeisance to the iron and immutable pieties of his class by prostrating himself to Moloch and giving us Buffy the Baby Slayer.” According to Shea, abortion is the one sacred thing to the “Pelvic Left.”
I’m sorry, I have moral objections to abortion too, but this is plainly absurd. Women have abortions. No figurative libations are poured before an ancient Ammonite god because a pro-choice writer has a fictional character procure one. Sheesh. And if abortion is so sacred to the Left, why is Buffy’s decision to have an abortion actually rare for women in recent popular fiction? In the films Juno, Knocked Up, and Blue Valentine, for example, the choices are made against abortion.
Women choose abortion, whether legal or no, and they do so for a variety of reasons and in a variety of circumstances. Some regret the decision. Some are happy with it. Some stand by their decision but wish the choice could have been otherwise. If fiction, as Flannery O’Connor said, ought to give an honest representation of life, then abortion is a worthwhile subject for the fiction writer’s craft, whether that writer is pro-life or pro-choice.
The fiction writer may be concerned with truth, but the truth of fiction is not the truth of argument or proposition; it’s the truth that emerges from disclosure. I don’t look to fiction for an affirmation of my worldview; I look to it for an honest incarnation of the human condition.