Foz Meadows proposes a new women-in-film test, which a piece of media will pass if:
- it shows a female character alone
- in a scene that neither begins with a man leaving nor ends with a man arriving, and
- that doesn’t focus primarily or exclusively on her physical attractiveness.
Thinking off the top of my head, this test is really, really difficult to pass unless you have a female protagonist (and Meadows acknowledges this, proposing an alternate “Sidekick Test” for these situations). It’s even hard to pass if you have female protagonists who interact with male characters in any way, purely because of how narrative structure works.
Thinking of my own stuff, for example, Liesmith has the Sigyn-at-Ragnarok flashback, which is both, a) narrated by a man, b) starts with… not a man leaving, exactly, but rather Sigyn leaving a man (knocking out Loki and leaving him in the cave), and c) technically ends with another man arriving (the fight-to-the-death with Heimdallr). There’s also the scene later in the book with Em and Wayne entering the Bleed. Which isn’t “a female character alone”, but is “two female characters alone”. This one passes Bechdel–the girls talk to each other about videogames and the Bleed itself1–but the scene ends with Lain arriving, so there’s that. Em and Wayne spend most of the rest of the book in the company of first Lain, then Sigmund, so those are out.
Stormbringer has Em and Wayne as major characters again, this time joined by Hel and Þruðr (the daughter of Thor). Most of the former’s scenes involve Sigmund in some way, even if it’s only as the narrator, or Munin. Admittedly Munin’s gender isn’t given (it’s always referred to as “it”), so some of these… might count? IDK. And Þruðr is almost always interacting with either her brothers, Lain, or a fourth character whose sex is ambiguous but who’s gendered as male by the narrative.
Meanwhile, BAD MEME has hardly any male characters of note in it at all… but Lain is still the primary narrator. Admittedly, “he’s” a “she” for most of that, but… still.
Maybe I’m overthinking this a little, but I guess my point is that–as with all of these tests–it’s much easier to fail them than it is to pass, particularly if a narrative contains any male characters at all. Which, let’s be honest: plenty of narratives contain no female characters (or no female characters of particular plot importance, ref. the Sexy Lamp Test), so “no male characters” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, it shows how deeply ingrained the whole “men are actors, women are acted upon” thing really is, even for those of us who try and divert from it.
Oh, and, for the record: I have my own one of these Impossible Media Tests, called the Snowpiercer Test. Something fails the test if it contains any scene, with multiple characters, all of whom are white. Basically nothing passes the Snowpiercer Test, including Snowpiercer, which is the point of the name; it kind of boggled me that, in a film that seemed to have a higher-than-usual number of characters-of-colour, almost all of the film’s major narrative moments still involved two white guys (and it was, mostly, two white guys) talking to one another.
- Although they also talk about men, a.k.a. Sigmund and Lain, in the sense of “holy shit what’s going on let’s go find our friends”. [↩]