Shane and I went to see "Prometheus" last night. When we got home Shane started this conversation:
"So, I think horror movies are totally sexist. I mean, when's the last time a guy made it to the end of a horror movie, alive?"
Me: "Like, all of the Freddie Kruger movies."
Shane: "Doesn't count. I mean a good guy."
Me: "True, they usually die. But when's the last time a horror movie passed the Brechdel test, either?"
Then I had to explain the Brechdel test. It's simply a test of whether or not a movie has two named female characters who speak to each other on-screen about something other than men. And once you start to think about it, very few movies live up. Shane Googled it and started laughing at the list of movies that didn't make it: None of the original Star Wars trilogy (for which most people can only think of 2-3 female characters at all), the first three Indiana Jones movies don't make it (I never saw the 4th one, so I don't know about that one), "The Avengers" doesn't make it, "Ghostbusters" doesn't make it, "Cowboys and Aliens" doesn't make it.... "Prometheus" made it.
It's interesting sometimes to talk to a man about sexism. Yes, I absolutely agree that there is sexism against men. And probably, the fact that men never make it out of horror movie situations alive (that either of us could remember) is a form of gender discrimination. But taken in the overall context of discrimination in movies, it's nothing compared to the movies that fail the Brechdel test. Most of them are supposedly aimed at men, but which many girls and women will also see because those are the summer blockbusters. Sadly, many movies that don't make it are also children's movies. ("Rango" didn't make it.) When roughly half of all movies produced don't have enough female characters that they talk to each other, or have female characters who only talk to each other about men, it's just sad.
Applying the Brechdel test to books also leads to some interesting thoughts and discussions. Admittedly, most books include female characters who talk to each other about something other than men. And they get to have more interesting and subtle gender roles that play out. I loved Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible", and one of my favorite things about it is that the father character doesn't narrate at all. In the family dynamics, he's the "strong father" type, the head of the household and what he says rules. His wife and daughters don't get to make decisions, don't get to speak against him. But he never gets a voice in the book itself, because it's completely narrated by the women around him. And it's such a subtle thing that it took me over half the book to realize what Kingsolver had done. It was simply beautiful.
Despite books like that, the fact remains that most books are written by and about men. Even young adult books are mostly written about boy characters. Pretty much the only category of book I can think of which goes against the trend are romance novels, and while those can be empowering there's still an aura of defining a woman by her relationship to men in romances--that is, after all, what the genre is about. (Which isn't to say that I've never enjoyed a good--or even a bad--romance novel on occasion.) I want to know--where are all the female characters? Where are the female authors?
If you have a daughter (or even a son) and have wondered the same thing, I suggest checking out www.amightygirl.com. All of the books they suggest have strong females as their lead characters. It's fantastic. I hope that in the future more and more books will be added to their list.