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August 16, 2015 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Feminist Fandom

In February the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that only 12 per cent of clearly identifiable protagonists in film and television were women, and that women made up only 30 per cent of all speaking characters.

Unfortunately the same trends are found on and off the camera, and representation is even worse when it comes to people of colour and the LGBTIA community. There remain a myriad of problematic areas in Hollywood film production from the lack of female directors, “chick flicks” being made by men (Bridesmaids, The Devil Wears Prada, Dirty Dancing etc.)

Sci-fi and fantasy films, series and books are no exception, and many of our favourite fandoms have problems. Women and people of colour are constantly underrepresented and stereotyped, and queer characters are rarely given importance. Whether it’s depictions of the gay best friend or the racial stereotypes that underpin representations of “backwards peoples”, minorities and other disadvantaged groups continue to suffer from warped understandings of sexuality, masculinity, femininity and race.

While there are other important tests being developed to focus on the lacking representation of race and LGBTIA characters in films (e.g. the Racial Bechdel test and the Russo test), these tests are, of course, not enough by themselves.

Below is just one take, and uses the established Bechdel and Mako Mori tests to assess whether a work is feminist/representative. While these measures are subjective, and hardly all-pervasive, they can give us a basic indication. They can give us a starting point.

The tests:

The Bechdel Test

This test asks if a text has:

  1. Two Female characters
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something else than a man

The Mako Mori Test

This test asks if a text has:

  1. At least one female character
  2. Who has her own narrative arc
  3. That is not about supporting a man’s story

Star Wars: ★½

Bechdel Test Pass: Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones

Mako Mori Test: Phantom Menace and the Originals

In both the Prequels and the Originals of Star Wars, there is only one main woman character—Padme in the prequels and Leia in the originals. Both are given the damsel treatment: Padme in Phantom Menace and Leia in A New Hope (even if she kind of takes over). Leia is an epic, well-built character who enables the Original films to pass the Mako Mori test. Padme has some character development, but after Phantom Menace, her plotline revolves around Anakin. Both Anakin’s mother and Padme are killed for Anakin’s character development (and because they must be dead for the Originals).

Star Trek (mostly the new movies): ★★

Bechdel Test: Sometimes

Mako Mori Test: Occasionally

Lieutenant Uhura is the only major female character in the 2009 Star Trek reboot and her function is as a love interest for Kirk and Spock. Kirk continuously harasses Uhura in Star Trek after she tells him within a minute of meeting him that she’s not interested. In fact, we have no evidence in either Star Trek, or its sequel, Into Darkness, that Kirk thinks of women as anything other than sex objects. The only other major female character in Into Darkness, Dr. Carol Marcus, undresses in front of Kirk and is rescued by male characters.

Star Trek is one of those series that has actually managed to get more sexist over time (like the Jurassic Park franchise). Kirk was more feminist in the original series, in the 1960s version of the show when one male crew members remarks that “a woman just walked past”, Kirk points out that she’s a crew member. The original series also had more female characters.

A Song of Ice and Fire: ★★★½

Bechdel Test: Pass

Mako Mori Test: Pass

The books of A Song of Ice and Fire are pretty feminist. There are multiple Point of View female characters (Cat, Sansa, Daenerys, etc.) While some do fit into established stereotypes for women characters (e.g. Ayra the tomboy, Cersei the evil queen), the characters all go beyond this two-dimensional level (e.g. the tomboy Arya still has her “songs” of Nymeria the warrior Queen).

Game of Thrones: ½

Bechdel Test: Pass

Mako Mori Test: Pass

The tests may be the same but the TV show is anti-feminist. Female bodies are continuously objectified, often with sexualised rape. Consensual sex scenes (e.g. with Jaime and Cersei in Baelor’s Sept) are changed into rapes for shock value, but fail to be treated like rapes (for instance, there was no long term emotional damage from the rape in Baelor’s Sept). Rape is used for “character development” and “empowerment” for Sansa, who is raped so that she can potentially turn into a revenge-filled “Strong Female Character”. Writers also turned some female characters into two-dimensional stereotypes (e.g. Brienne is changed into a “Strong Female Character”) and used them for male character development (e.g. Ros being killed off to emphasise Joffrey’s madness).

Lord of the Rings: ½ (Movies:★)

Bechdel test: Fail

Mako Mori Test: Pass

The Lord of the Rings is sadly a product of its time. In the books, the only major female character is Eowyn. Now Eowyn is pretty kick-ass, right? In the books, she is constantly objectified as beautifully fragile and her fighting brilliance is portrayed as an unnatural state caused by extraordinary circumstances. In the end, she gives it all up for the more traditionally female roles of wife and healer. And Arwen only appears at the end of the books to marry Aragorn.

The movies do alleviate the sexism of the books by giving Eowyn a greater part (although she still has to be saved by Aragorn at the end), and expanding Arwen’s character, proving that something can be done to update dated books for film or TV.

Doctor Who: ★★★

Bechdel Test Pass: Yes

Mako Mori Test: Fail

Doctor Who has some great female characters, the only problem is that a lot of them are “Strong Female Characters” who director Steven Moffat seems to think are perfect if he gives them a gun. While strong female characters might seem like a good thing, SFCs often all into the category of a love interest who doesn’t like feminine things and who can fight (and does so with completely unsatisfactory armour). Of course, not every sci-fi show has an inter-species lesbian couple! And we finally got a female Master. However, the main problem is that most of the companions are obsessively in love with the Doctor (so this barely passes the Mako Mori test), and will do anything for him at whatever cost. Plus, most of the female sidekicks get unhappy endings.

Harry Potter: ★★★½

Bechdel test: Pass

Mako Mori Test: Pass

Harry Potter lacks most anti-feminist tropes and has many female characters who are not Strong Female Characters such as Hermione, Luna and Ginny. The gender ratio is not equal but higher than most things. Individual problems occur such as Tonks becoming boring when she gets married and Cho Chang fitting into the stereotype of girls crying over guys.

Sherlock: ½

Bechdel Test Pass: Occasionally

Mako Mori Test: Fail

The only very developed female character in Sherlock is Irene Adler, who is a lesbian, but is heterosexualised so that she can fall in love with Sherlock and then be rescued by him. Irene also fits into the stereotype of the femme fatale (as does Kitty Riley). Sherlock’s attitude towards women is degrading and comments regarding the “weaker sex” are rampant . While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is, again, a product of his time, the continuing celebration of Sherlock’s male genius, masculinity and rationality consistently relegates female characters to lesser beings.


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