Many MoonsToday's Tune:
If you've followed my blog for a while (or any blog that occasionally/often talks about feminism and pop culture), you've probably heard of the Bechdel Test. If you have not, here's the gist: the representation of women in film is generally lacking, and this phenomenon can be observed through a three-step "test" for any film. 1) Does the film have at least two NAMED female characters? 2) Do the female characters talk TO EACH OTHER for more than a few seconds? 3) About something OTHER THAN A MAN/BOY?
The Bechdel Test is not a foolproof way to determine whether a film is good or feminist, but it is a way to observe a noticeable pattern in the way women are portrayed in film. Similar tests can be conducted around race and sexuality.
Books are, thankfully, somewhat different, as they often rely more heavily on dialogue and character building than a 90-minute film. Even so, we can still witness a similar pattern emerging, particularly in romance. And yes, a romance is primarily about THE ROMANCE, but even so, female characters can still be seen talking about something other than their angst over whether Super Hot Boy likes them or not.
My point in all this is leading up to the fact that I saw Disney's Brave this weekend, and I found it to be generally beautifully animated and entertaining. However, my favorite part of the film was Disney's divergence from their usually romance-centric Disney Princess films and bringing a female-centric relationship (mother-daughter) to the forefront.
It's unfortunate that it feels so rare to see a real, genuine relationship between mothers and daughters or sisters and female friends without a film or book being relegated to the eye-rollingly othered "women's fiction" or "chick flicks." It seems men are allowed films where they bond and get to be bros without dissecting their relationships with women to death, and this is accepted as normal and interesting. But if there aren't any penises involved? OMG women's issues.
I would love to see more relationships between women and girls explored in a larger variety of ways. I would also love a romance between two women. Given the wide breadth of YA fiction with female protagonists, it's amazing how often the female relationships are relegated to such tired tropes as Emotionally Absent Mother, Prissy Holier-Than-Thou Sister, Blonde Cheerleader Bitch Who Hates Protagonist, "Quirky" Best Friend Who Protagonist Forgets About Almost Immediately, etc.
Women and girls spend so much of their lives being taught that femaleness is boring, inferior, and silly. This is so engrained in them that many, myself included, go through a phase of "girls are so totally stupid and I just can't relate to them AT ALL despite being one myself and I just get along with dudes waaaaaay better because they are less catty/vapid/high-maintenance/insert stereotype about femininity here." We're taught to relate to one another in the context of men. Is this woman going to get in my way of male validation? Are men going to prefer her because she's pretty or funny or whatever? Is she single or taken, and should I help her find a man or be glad she won't get in the way of finding mine?
This comes across in the way we write female characters. Our protagonist is the preferred character, so she's a "down to earth," sweet, unhateable girl. Maybe she has a best friend, but that best friend is boy-crazy or selfish or just doesn't get what the protagonist is going through. She can't talk to her mom because her mom is never around. Her sister's a giant jerkface. There's some asshole girl at school who is SO JEALOUS OF HOW AWESOME THE PROTAGONIST IS and always has to take her down a peg or flirt with her love interest. They're empty filler relationships.
Maybe we could aim to round out these female relationships a little more. I'm not suggesting that we make all the women perfect and the best of friends at all times. I'm suggesting that we examine the relationships in our own lives a little more closely. It's likely that we all have women in our lives for whom we care a great deal. Why do women like that so rarely make it into our stories? Cute boys are all well and good (and fun to read about), but our mothers have been there since before we were born. Our sisters grew up beside us. Our friends are the ones who remember our birthday and sing us songs about rocket dogs to cheer us up on bad days.
What's your favorite female relationship from a book you've read?