Passing the Bechdel Test

Have you given anything a Bechdel test? Have you ever heard of the Bechdel Test?
I’d never heard of it either (and I went to a women’s college!) until it popped up on an internet group I belong to, and I had to look it up.

The Bechdel test (or Bechdel-Wallace test) is a measure of representation of women in fiction. It first appeared in Allison Bechdel’s 1985 cartoon strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (I didn’t name it) commenting on films, brought on by a quote from Virginia Woolf, in that women in fiction might sometimes be mother and daughter, but rarely are two women friends in literature. Almost always, women were viewed by their relationship to men – wanting a man, chasing a man, depending on a man, chasing off a man, etc. (Hence Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”). Real women in real life talk to other women about more than just men (even if it’s only about their cat or dog).

Therefore, Bechdel gave three commandments for films to be considered women-friendly (and by default, TV and books):

  1. It must have at least two women in it (preferably with names)
  2. Who talk to each other (preferably for at least 60 seconds)
  3. About something besides a man

And the off-hand comment in a sarcastic lesbian cartoon strip surged until it’s become an almost a standard metric for the industry.

Seems pretty simple, right?

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Various groups have researched more than 8000 films, and concluded that 42-50% of films cannot pass the test, and half of those that do pass do so only because two women are discussing marriage or babies. Being a female-oriented show about women does not mean the film or program can pass the test. Even female-cast TV shows such as Sex in the City don’t pass, because almost all the discussion is about men. Big-budget female-lead action films such as Lucy or Atomic Blonde or Salt fail, because the secondary characters are almost always men – there are no other women. Star Trek, which broke many TV taboos, can’t pass the test – there are many women, and they talk quite a bit, but almost never to each other. Lost in Space had three women trapped in a tin can together, and they almost never spoke to each other for more than one or two lines, occasionally. Firefly, for its very brief run, hits the mark more often than not. Okay, I Love Lucy wins for most realistic female friends ever, as does Gone With the Wind, thanks to Miss Melly, so time period is not a decisive factor. We haven’t necessarily gotten better with age, despite feminism.

Not passing the Bechdel test does NOT make a film bad, nor does it make it not worth watching. Not every movie is going to center around women – Dunkirk, for example, a splendid movie about a specific battle in World War II. Women were just not involved in that. Stand By Me – a magnificent story of four young boys on a quest. Girls aren’t in the story, and if you skip this movie because of that, then you’re missing one of the best American movies. Nor is every film required to pass the Bechdel test. Casino passes two of the three qualifications, but women are mistreated throughout the film. Inclusion is just that – inclusion, not a judgment of how women are treated by the story, not a judgment of female competence, not a judgment of feminism (Gravity, with a female astronaut who saves the day, can’t pass the test, though The Martian, with a male lead, does). A woman may love a movie that can’t pass the test, and a man can certainly love a film that does. Movies of every genre pass or fail; there is no specific type of film to look for.

All the Bechdel test does, really, is point out films in which women – a full 50% of the population – are a larger focus of the story, and even if they aren’t, they’re portrayed as real, well-rounded people who speak to each other about real subjects, even if it’s about burning a roast, not just love-starved buttercups who are nothing without a man. So, if you’re on the lookout for films that show women – important or background characters – in a more realistic light, here are 15 various films that do pass the Bechdel test:

The Finest Hours

Little Miss Sunshine

Wonder Woman

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Last Jedi

Girl, Interrupted

Hidden Figures

Kill Bill

Thelma and Louise

The Exorcist

Chicago

Frozen

Birds of Prey

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Knives Out

May is Mental Health Month

One in every five people in the US carry some sort of “mental Illness” diagnosis – 20% – making it almost twice as common as killer heart disease, yet people hear the term “mental illness” and pictures of unshaven, alcohol-soaked homeless men and babbling old women with uncombed hair and too many cats come to mind (Don’t judge me!).

In reality, that’s far from the common truth. The umbrella term of “mental illness” includes everyone from your depressed cousin, your churning anxiety over political situations, and Uncle Louie, who served in Iraq and spends most days with his friend Jack Daniels. It includes the teen with autism who works down at the laundromat (don’t jump on me; a strong majority of autism includes OCD and anxiety, with phobias topping the list at 30%), the hoarder you drive past on your way to work, that girl on the cheerleading team who wears a baggy size 0, and that guy at work who stays four hours later than anyone else and talks so fast you can’t follow him. It includes celebrities, like Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Robert Downey Jr, Brittney Spears, Carrie Fisher, Brooke Shields, and so many more.

“Mental Illness” is more common than COVID.

While some introverts have fared well through the pandemic and quarantines, many people have not. Rates of depression in adults went from 8% pre-pandemic to 28% – almost one in three – after. For those who lived alone, the rates approach 40%. Isolation, job loss, poverty, loss of loved ones, anxiety, and long-haul COVID symptoms all play their part in feeling crushed by a microbe. Among children, who can’t always understand the details of what’s going on, rates of depression and anxiety straddled 40%.

Unfortunately, our image of “mental illness” is tainted by historic images of schizophrenia, the king of all mental illnesses, and often the most resistant to treatment. We watch movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while not remembering that these movies depict mental illness treatment from as much as 70 years ago, when diagnoses were vague, medications were ineffective and dangerous, people believed in insulin comas and the disaster of lobotomies, and there were no PET or MRI scans to show exactly what the problem was. There was a time not very long ago when the number one treatment for syphilis was mercury. Times have changed, and chances are there’s actual help for that now.

How can something affecting 30% of the population be abnormal? Here’s a fact: it’s not, but our refusal to admit it keeps people feeling ashamed and afraid to seek treatment. If you feel down, if the social distancing and anxieties are getting to you, if your child is fearful and withdrawn and having trouble sleeping, reach out! Help is just a phone call away. No insurance? No worries. There are places to help you get medical coverage, and places that work on a sliding scale. There IS help, for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you feel like life is overwhelming you, if you are worried about a loved one, if you are struggling with just getting through your day, CALL the CT ACTION line (Adult Crisis Telephone Intervention and Options Network). It’s available 24 hours a day, because the worst thoughts usually happen during the night.  1-800-467-3135,  or just call 211, which is the general help line for state services.

Don’t want to feel like you’re the only one on the planet feeling down? Check out these popular books and films on people having difficulties. Chances are, yours aren’t that bad.

British Mysteries from Book to Screen

Today’s post comes to us from our Deputy Director Deb, who loves a good mystery!

Many devoted mystery readers began with Agatha Christie’s classic golden age mysteries featuring Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. I certainly did! These distinctly British offerings are a perfect gateway into the world of mysteries. And like so many other British mysteries, they have been made into marvelous television series, which you can watch using the library’s new streaming video service, Acorn TV. Or you can download the books in e-book or e-audio from the library’s website.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both well represented on Acorn TV and in our e-book and e-audiobook collections. Consider reading or listening to Murder on the Orient Express, The ABC Murders or The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Check out Acorn TV and watch Marple, Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, The Agatha Christie Hour and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Also try Christie’s classic locked-room mystery, And Then There Were None, considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, available in e-book and e-audio and on Acorn.

The Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton features a middle-aged woman who sells her London PR firm and moves to the country (the Cotswolds, to be precise), where, in true amateur detective fashion, she encounters—and solves– murders galore! Try the first book in the series, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, available in both audio and ebook. Or read any of the others—like so many long-running mystery series, it isn’t necessary to read them in order. Then watch Agatha Raisin on Acorn, a top pick for fans of cozy British mysteries.

One of my favorite village cozy series, also by M.C. Beaton, features the unambitious and charming policeman Hamish Macbeth who patrols the village of Lochdubh in the Scottish Highlands. I have listened to all of them on audio. The reader, Graeme Malcolm, imbues the audiobooks with such charm and personality that I’m betting you, too, will be hooked! We have more than a dozen titles available on e-audio, including Death of an Honest Man and  Death of a Gossip. Then check out Hamish Macbeth on Acorn.

The Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood, featuring a glamorous private detective in 1920s Melbourne, is actually Australian, but close enough to fit in with our British theme. The supremely independent Miss Fisher has class, sass and the means to pull it all off! Try Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, or The Spotted Dog. The clothes alone make the series worth watching Miss Fisher on Acorn!

Ann Cleeves’ series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope is considerably darker than the other series in this post. DCI Stanhope is a solitary, obsessed, caustic, brilliant investigator near the end of her career working in northern England. Try listening to the first in the series, The Crow Trap, or read The Seagull. And be sure to watch Vera on Acorn TV.

Set in Ireland, the long-running Jack Taylor series by Ken Bruen has been thrilling readers (and now TV fans) for years. Taylor is a classic ex-cop turned seedy private eye prowling the underbelly of Galway. Try e-book or e-audio  Galway Girl or e-audio Purgatory and check out Jack Taylor on Acorn.

The Amazing Short Stories of Ted Chiang

Our sci-fi guy, Harold, has an author recommendation for you:

If I could only recommend one science fiction author to read this year, it would be Ted Chiang. Though Chiang has written only 14 of short stories and one novella, his works have been critically acclaimed. His short story collections are Exhalation and Stories of Your Life.

Chiang has been the recipent  of four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, and won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (for his short story, “Babylon”).  His short story, “Story of Your Life,” was the basis of the film Arrival (2016). Exhalation was a Goodreads Choice Award in 2019. The New York Times named Exhalation one of the 10 Best Books of 2019. That’s a lot of awards that are, in my opinion, well deserved!

Chiang’s works are hard to describe since they are not conventional science fiction, per se. It’s a subtle distinction, but they are more fiction based on science than science fiction. President Obama, via Facebook, said that they are “a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”

These are precisely articulated, well-crafted and thought-provoking stories. There are no rocket ships or cosmic battles. Instead, they expand upon and extend science, and technology that exists today. Two of my favorites from Exhalation are “Babylon”, a re-work of the Tower of Babel story, and “Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”,  about a merchant in ancient Persia who can travel through time to correct past mistakes.

Exhalation  and Stories of Your Life are available at the Cheshire Public Library as printed books.  Exhalation is also available as an ebook, and Stories of Your Life is also available as a downloadable audiobook. They are well worth reading. The film, Arrival, based on Chang’s “Story of Your Life”, is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The big, BIG list of literary adaptions coming to screens in 2020

There are so many outlets for watching movies and series out there nowadays, the amount of content is a bit overwhelming! With the current glut of original content hitting our big and small screens, it can be a bit of a shot in the dark to find something to watch that’s actually good. Which is why literary adaptations are experiencing a bit of a heyday, movies and TV based on popular books have a built-in fan base from people who’ve read and enjoyed the books, and also introduce the source material to new readers.

Several book-based series are continuing with new seasons this year:  season 5 of the Starz series Outlander, (based on The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon), season 3 of BBC series C.B. Strike, (based on Lethal White by Robert Galbraith),  and season 2 of the HBO series His Dark Materials, (based on The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman) are all coming to the small screen in 2020.

Beyond that, the list of new movies and television set to be released in the coming year is  HUGE. Check out all this book-based programming :

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

DECEMBER

There are still more book adaptations expected to premiere in 2020, with release dates yet to be finalized:

This is not a completely comprehensive list, and is subject to change as the year goes on. What literary adaptations are you most excited to see this year?