Turning inner space into outer space

November 22, 2014

Test for promoting gender equality harder than it looks

Beverly Crusher and her alien amour (from Wikipedia).

With video games are already rated for violence, Sweden is looking at taking the next logical step: rating them for sexism.

That country’s gaming industry trade organisation, Dataspelsbranchen, has received a government grant to study how this could be done. Basically, they want to let consumers know ahead of time whether a game they’re thinking of buying promotes gender equality.

One method for doing this would be to apply the Bechdel Test — there has to be at least two female characters with names, and there has to be a scene where they talk to each other about something other than men.

At first, I thought the bar was being set low, especially when my son assured by that the 10-year-old Half-Life 2 does indeed have female characters with names who work together to solve major problems. And he showed me a scene where this does happen.

But then I started applying the test to forms of entertainment that I’m more familiar with. TV and books, for example.

I’ve been binge watching Star Trek The Next Generation on Netflix in the hope of finding an episode that I haven’t seen before. So while viewing an episode where the story centres on the doctor, a female named Beverly Crusher, falling in love with an alien, I kept the Bechdel Test in mind. As it turns out, there are two scenes where she and another female character, a counsellor named Deanna Troi, have long conversations. Unfortunately, they talk almost exclusively about men.

OK, so that show was considered progressive for the time it was made, in the 1980s. Surely we’ve made progress in the intervening 30 years. How about a series that’s being made right now?

I’ve worked in a few newsrooms, and found my female colleagues to be generally feisty and independent, so I figured applying the Bechdel Test to a TV show called The Newsroom would be a cinch.

I watched the latest episode, featuring several strong female characters, going through trials and tribulations associated with the news industry. And while they do all have names, and they do all exhibit fortitude and resilience, not once was there a scene where two or more of them were alone having a conversation.

Could it be that Aaron Sorkin simply can’t imagine what women would talk about if they were by themselves?

So how about books? Authors don’t have to hire actors, so they can create any kind of characters they want.

I’m just about finished reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, which was published in 2005. As it turns out, the main character is a 32-year-old woman. But 90 per cent of the rest of the characters are men. The few female characters seldom talk to each other about anything of substance. The closest thing to any kind of depth is in an email exchange with a female friend, but it’s about — you guessed it — a former boyfriend. She has memories of exchanges with a female psychologist, but those centre on her relationship with her father.

Now that I’m aware of this test, I’m seeing entertainment in a whole new light. Our society has come a long way in accepting, and even celebrating, diversity. But we still have many challenges ahead of us.

Image: Beverly Crusher and her alien amour (from Wikipedia).