Tagged: Dykes to Watch Out For

Molly Jackson: Pass or Fail?

pass failI went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on opening night. That’s not incredibly impressive because so did almost everyone else. While I was on line for my overpriced movie snacks, I did overhear a very interesting conversation. Three guys in their late twenties, talking about the Bechdel test and if certain movies would pass or fail.

In case you don’t know what the Bechdel test is, here are some details. The Bechdel test (also known as the Bechdel-Wallace test) first appeared in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. In a strip published in 1985 “The Rule”, two women discuss seeing a film and one of them lays out these rules that we have all come to use. The rules are: 1) The movie has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man. After the comic strip’s publication, it has also become common to require that both women have character names.

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)It has been applied to TV shows on a regular basis. I’m fairly certain that every episode of Buffy hasn’t passed this test. Teenage girls do spend a lot of time whining about their undead boyfriends in between saving the world from the bad guy. And my favorite comic book, The Life and Times of Savior 28, definitely doesn’t pass. (You should still read it though.) These examples don’t diminish the fact that this test, while far from perfect, is our only real judge of women in movies or any form of media.

So back to my eavesdropping. Here are three fairly young good looking albeit kinda hipster guys chatting about the Bechdel test and how movies need to change to better represent women. They were talking about the movie The Big Short in the context that women weren’t as involved with the real life events (which I don’t know is true) so that is why it probably won’t pass. They actually got really serious and intense in talking about the gender inequality in movies, especially in relation to the Bechdel test.

So, in overhearing all of this, I started to giggle. One of them caught my eye and we began to chat. I told them that the test had worked perfectly in their case because it made their discussion happen. When this comic was published, this conversation wasn’t happening on a movie concession line or probably anywhere else. When it finally started, it was women forcing the conversation upon men, as they explored the possibilities for equality in movies. Now, men are becoming equal partners in wanting to see change happen.

I’m not saying this change is going to be immediate; in fact it has been going on for longer than anyone’s lifetime who is reading this. Nevertheless, compared to 30 years ago when this was published, the conversation is happening on a public level. Yes, there are still people who deny the conversation exists, and we all know that equality is a hot button issue right now.

The world isn’t perfect and there is still a lot of room to grow. Sometimes the way things are really gets me down. But sometimes, I overhear the very best things and get re-inspired that we can change for the better.

Martha Thomases: Sex and Comics

Necco ValentineTomorrow is Valentine’s Day. If you are in a romantic relationship, this is either a pleasure or a chore. Some of us like the flowers and the candy, the sexy underwear and the romantic dinner. Some of us resent the commercial pressure to act like the leads in a movie instead of one’s authentic self. Whatever your feelings, you are most likely expecting the evening to end with sex. Beautiful, romantic sex… maybe with candlelight.

Not me. Nope. Valentines Day makes me think about comic books.

Specifically, the way love and/or sex has been portrayed in comics. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just as messed up as every other popular medium, except maybe worse.

As a woman in modern America, I’ve been socialized to believe that I must meet certain physical standards to be worthy of attention and love (see The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf for a more detailed analysis). Men, too, are expected to be physically attractive, but the range of options for a man to be called “attractive” (Al Pacino, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy, George Clooney, Vin Diesel, Andy Samburg) is a lot greater than the range available to women.

In mainstream comics, the women are not only long-legged, big-busted, small-waisted and (usually) long-haired, but they all have little noses, nice chins, and can walk in tight skirts or skin-tight pants with high heels. It’s all the pressures of being a woman without the necessity of biological possibility. Amanda Waller, the exception to this rule, has been remade to obey it. If she had a lover, I don’t remember ever seeing that person.

Sex and love in comics (again, as in almost all popular entertainment) is a reward for achieving the right look, or having the right amount of money, power or both. Sex and love in reality is about finding someone with whom you mesh – emotionally, socially and physically.

Monty Python’s John Cleese and shrink Robin Skynner wrote a book  about family dynamics that describes how and why we fall in love with those we do. Usually, there are complementary traits, so that an extrovert pairs off with an introvert, or a Type-A personality with a procrastinator.

These are things we humans are able to pick up from observation. We don’t need conversation. It’s in the way we stand and sit and walk around. It’s attraction, but we aren’t looking at (only) breasts or abs or hair.

We tend to treat sex and love as something separate from the rest of our lives, but just about every adult has sex with someone (even if that person is him or herself). Sex is just as much a part of our normal lives as food and sleep.

When I was a girl and comics were just for kids, I read a lot of stories about Lois Lane trying to be good enough to catch Superman. Either she was a good enough person to be worthy of his love, or a good enough reporter to find his secret identity, or a shrewd enough planner to take down her rivals. We never saw Lois and Superman having a conversation, holding hands, maybe hanging out and watching a movie. No, Superman was the prize Lois had to win.

In comics, the big news a few years ago was Superman and Wonder Woman. We were expected to get all excited about two super-strong, invulnerable people getting it on. It hasn’t been very sexy (to me) because it hasn’t been relatable. What do they see in each other? The scenes of them alone, doing “normal” stuff are stiff and unrealistic, even allowing for the superhero genre.

To my mind, the best, most realistic relationships in comics are often in newspaper strips, especially alternative newspaper strips. Dykes to Watch Out For showed all kinds of people having all kinds of different relationships. So did Wendel. Because these ran weekly (or bi-weekly) for years and years, the relationships had a sense of time passing. People got laid, but they got groceries, and car repairs, and job interviews.

Sex Criminals00The closest thing I see to this in the books I read is in my new fave, Sex Criminals. The characters are attractive but not impossibly so. They have sex, but they have coffee, too. I believe their relationship, and not just because they get each other off, but because they have conversations and dinners and phone calls.

Thinking of sex and love as a prize is not healthy for us. For one thing, it encourages us to treat sex as a competition and this, in turn, encourages cheating. By that, I don’t mean infidelity, but treating another person as an object to be conquered. This is one of the ways we get date rape and domestic violence and a slew of other social ills.

A lot of our problem with the depiction of sex in popular media is the poor quality of sex education in this country. We tend to teach the biology (if anything) but not the way that sexuality fits into a healthy life.

Comics can contribute to this problem, or offer a solution. I was very interested to read about this project, aimed at straight adolescent boys, which encourages them to think about girls as if they are actually (gasp!) people. If you think that’s a good idea, you can help make it happen here.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I desperately need some chocolate.