The Bechdel Test is Toxic Feminism – Writers Beware!

بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Bechdel Test is Toxic Feminism - Do Not Use It For Your Writing

A few years ago, I came across a video talking about something called the Bechdel Test and how it’s used to measure the quality of a movie. I was curious to see why someone who reviews books on her YouTube channel would care about this particular test and use it to review the books she reads.

I didn’t think much of it at the time (I didn’t think of having my books traditionally published to be concerned with such a topic as this test), but now that I am, I realize how awful this test is, especially if you want to write stories from your own experiences and you don’t come from a white, Western, eurocentric background.

To understand why this test is that despicable, let’s first learn what it is:

According to Dictionary.com, the Bechdel Test is “an informal way to evaluate bias against women in films and other media.” But there’s more to it than that.

The test is named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who wrote a comic about the three “rules” a media has to follow in order to “pass” to be consumed (i.e., viewed, read, listened to). The rules are: (1) The work needs to feature two female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man.

You might see the problem here, as many critics already have, but if you don’t, I’ll explain. The first rule says the work needs to have (at least) two women. Many works do not have two women nor do they need to because of the way the story is written, and/or the audience for those works isn’t for women. The second rule is that (at least) two women must talk to each other in a particular work, which doesn’t need to happen–you shouldn’t force such interactions. And the third rule is that when the two women talk to each other, it shouldn’t be about a man at all.

In order to get a better understanding of the last rule, consider that a woman is an adult female, who most likely is married or is going to marry, and topics with her female friends will no doubt be about her family, which–guess what–includes men. Women, in general, are more empathetic than men, which mean they’ll ask about their friend’s family and lives. To dismiss this is to dismiss the essence of womanhood and femininity.

This brings me to my next point, and it’s in the title of this post, which is feminism. To understand what feminism is and the toxic, demoralizing, dehumanizing ideologies it brings, we’ll need to under the rudimentary basics of where it began.

Feminism began in the United States roughly in the 1920s and has evolved since then, but the ideas it brings are rooted in arrogance, hatred of men, and Eurocentricism. This ideology makes one group superior to the other, throwing out the values of love, family, relationships with parents and elders, and even faith (feminism began with the belief that Christianity is to largely blame for the problems in society and the “patriarchy” in which they want to destroy), just for the sake of individual desires and feelings until it becomes their sole identity. Essentially, it’s another form of hate, and we don’t need that. (And as a Muslim, this ideology is contrary to Islam and the very nature of who I am as a woman.)

Now, why does a thing like this matter when it’s just “informal”? Because this “test” unconsciously tells people that women must be portrayed in a certain way. The majority of Western media’s portrayal of women has been terrible, as they’ve been reduced to objects of desire, accessories to the leading male roles with no brains, or more recently, taking the place of men and doing what men do (i.e., favoring masculinity and shunning femininity). And there are more “tests” like this out there, which want women to “be” men in media. Various works are pushing forth “feminist” retellings and reimaginings of older works because they either lack female presence or the women were portrayed in a way the feminists didn’t like. Instead of creating wholesome, original works to show that womanhood and femininity aren’t something ugly and have to be changed, feminists are doing the opposite.

Alison Bechdel, as you might have guessed, is a feminist. She uses her art form to spread this demeaning ideology, and any works that don’t pass this test, are not “fit” for consumption. In other words, if your book is about two young women who’ve been best friends since they were children and now they plan to take the next steps in life by finding husbands and starting families, then you’ve failed. You’re writing, your story, is a failure according to this “test.”

To put it lightly, the Bechdel Test is a Karen telling me to stop speaking my language and go back to my country (and which country is that, Karen? I was born in the same country you claim to be a “native” of, yet YOU are not from the Indigenous peoples). (And did you know this terrible ideology is being forced in non-Western countries to erase our beliefs and family structures so we’re more “civilized” and “independent”?)

And this is exactly what traditional publishing is doing. If your works don’t “fit” their litmus tests, they won’t accept it because it’s not conforming to their ways. White women (and the West) romanticize and fetishize non-Western culture and publish it. Whereas the people from those cultures, who tell their stories in their authentic ways, are shunned because they don’t follow the “rules” of the industry, never mind, that they know more about craft, various story structures, and language (multiple languages!) than those white women.

I thought about self-publishing my books, but after learning more about how the Western publishing industry is created to gatekeep and filter OUR stories through their lens, I decided I wanted to change that. I, as a practicing, visibly Muslim who wears the face veil, will enter this industry (as an agent and an author) with an unapologetic stance on my beliefs, because they can’t change who I am and all the Muslims (and future Muslims) I write for, in sha Allah.

Another post that might interest you on this topic is about why we need better representation of Muslims in media, which is here.

Update: I came across a literary agent who only accepts manuscripts that “pass” the Bechdel Test. In other words, she’s gatekeeping the vast majority of stories just to fit her narrow-minded mold. Writers beware!

have Muslim characters in your story and need a sensitivity reader? Click here.

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