In a post titled “How Movies Teach Our Kids about Gender” at Everyday Theology, Marc Cortez summarizes a recent TED Talk given by Colin Stokes:
I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test, but it’s a way of gauging how a movie portrays its female characters. And it’s a pretty simple test.
- Are there at least two women who actually have lines?
- Do these women talk to each other at any point in the movie?
- Is there conversation about something other than the guy that they both like?...
[Q]uite a few movies fail to achieve even this low standard. Either the movie has almost no significant female characters, or it fails to show them interacting with other women on issues unrelated to dating and/or marriage.
Although I always notice when a movie fails to have a significant female character, I’d never considered the importance of showing female characters talking meaningfully about important issues. The male characters do it all the time, and thus provide strong reinforcement that men can have those kinds of conversations. Even if it’s becoming more common for female characters to engage in the same conversations, we rarely see them having those conversations with each other, reinforcing the notion that women don’t talk about those things. I certainly don’t want my girls growing up thinking that they have to sit at the guys table if they want to talk about politics, theology, and other important issues (like football).
The problem I have with this analysis is that he’s made an assumption that’s never challenged, and it’s this: the macro issues are what’s really important.
Imagine if someone had created the opposite test in order to bring attention to how rarely Hollywood shows a group of men talking about issues relating to dating and/or marriage, chastising Hollywood for reinforcing the notion that men don't talk about these things. Do you ever hear concern expressed about that? No, because there’s an unspoken assumption that of course everyone should be like men.
I appreciate that this man thinks he’s helping women, but he’s actually devaluing them because here’s what he’s saying: “Men are better than women because we focus on macro issues (politics, nation, etc.—notice how he refers to these as the “important issues”) and they focus on micro issues (relationships, family, etc.). Therefore, to help women, we must encourage them to become more like men.”
If our culture valued micro issues, then women would feel more free to invest themselves in them without feeling guilty they’re not acting like men, and our society would be much better off. Just think how different things would be if our culture valued motherhood as highly as involvement in macro issues. Think of the sacrifices families would make to have and care for more children. Think of how issues like abortion and low marriage and birth rates (with all their accompanying societal problems) might be improved. There’s a macro cost to devaluing micro strengths.
I don’t fit in well in women’s groups because I do tend to focus more on macro issues. I don’t know how to do crafts, or create beauty, or entertain small children, or most anything that women usually excel at, but heaven forbid I should look down on those women and think they should be more like me! On the contrary, I know I’m womandicapped—lacking something truly good. I honor the unique contribution of women, and we should be encouraged to excel in all these micro things.
And I hate to tell him, but we usually do have to “sit at the guys’ table” if we want to talk about macro issues. If more than two women are together, we don’t tend to gravitate towards macro topics. That’s just reality. Why not celebrate what women have to offer rather than turn every table into a “guys’ table”?