Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Does Paranormal Romance Pass the Bechdel Test?
I read a lot of m/m paranormal, because that’s what I like. But often in m/m—both paranormal and contemporary—there are almost no women, and those women who do appear tend to be one-dimensional. Even though I’m there for the m/m romance, I like to see my gender fairly represented in the fiction I read, even if it isn’t the focus of the story.
I’ve had reviews of my m/m books warn readers that boy/girl touching occurs in a tiny scene, presumably because readers will be turned off by it. But even for my f/f-focused series, one reviewer warned readers of “girly bits.” Looking Glass Gods isn’t m/m and doesn’t claim to be. But the f/f-centric romance is between genderqueer, agendered, transgender, and bisexual characters, so I found it odd that this warning was deemed necessary on a same-sex book reviews site.
The same thing, however, seems to occur in m/f paranormal romance. (I can’t speak for contemporary, since it isn’t a genre I read much.) I recently read one—a very popular one—in which there were literally no other women besides the heroine. None.
You’ve probably heard of the Bechdel Test. Taken from a Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip by Alison Bechdel, it posits a minimum requirement for movies that the woman in the comic is willing to watch. It has to have at least two (named) women in it who have at least one conversation with each other—that isn’t about a man. This is not by any means a standard of gender equality in film (or fiction). It’s the barest minimum criteria for women being depicted as real human beings in a global entertainment medium. And a huge number of movies fail it. But the target audience for those movies is generally men (at least, that’s the excuse that’s given by male-dominated Hollywood). The target audience for romance, even m/m romance, is largely women, and the majority of romance writers (as far as I'm aware) are female.
If women writing fiction for women don’t meet the minimum criteria for depicting our own sex as full members of the world we live in, and if the women reading it don’t want to see other women besides one they can put themselves into as protagonist while enjoying the hot alpha males, what does that say about us? I find it disheartening, depressing, and a little frightening.
Is this a trend anyone else has noticed or is it just that I’m reading too small of a sample? If you've noticed it, do you think it’s more prevalent in m/m or m/f? And what do you think it means?
Jane Kindred is the author of epic fantasy series The House of Arkhangel’sk, Demons of Elysium, and Looking Glass Gods. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.