The Bechdel Test and The Byrd Test
November 21, 2014
So every Thursday night my husband and I have a date. Whiskey is poured, we sit together in our famous “hot tub chair” and watch our favorite show, Parenthood. Last night Matt was busy grading papers and my brain was expired for the night. So I turned the TV on to the channel of our anticipated show and (not so) patiently snuggled in the chair by myself, waiting for him to finish.
Well, I learned something. There’s a sitcom that comes on before Parenthood (with a hilarious supporting actor who IS the show) that I ended up watching the second half of and I learned about the Bechdel Test. Apparently I am way behind, because lesbian feminist Allison Bechdel wrote a cartoon depicting this challenge in 1985. For a movie to pass “the test,” it has to feature two females in a conversation about something other than a man. That’s it. Anytime in the whole movie. Are all my women readers depressed now?! It’s like my whole life flashed before my eyes, and I was trying to find SOMEthing to make this test look stupid.
I mean, a bunch of feminists came up with this, right?!?
And don’t get me wrong. A movie absolutely can be good and still not pass the Bechdel test. It’s not so much the test of one movie, but an indicator of a stereotypical pattern of token women characters.
I like guys. I think they can be clever, insightful, and hilarious. I don’t have some sort of power-need to watch films that are anti-man and filled with independant women. But I began thinking this characterization of women is why I’ve preferred just following a couple shows on television over films lately.
More than that, it got me thinking about the evangelical parallel. How often do you see the token woman thrown in to discuss, wait for it….women’s issues. Whether it’s about purity, mothering, homeschooling, submission, or anti-feminism in general, women seem to be invited to speak about the second chapter in Titus or the 31st chapter of Proverbs more than anything else. Hannah Anderson likes to refer to this realm as the pink verses of Scripture. But the women that encounter Jesus do not seem to be very pink. Sure, these are important issues that we should spill plenty of ink and converse over, but there is more to a woman than women's issues.
In a Facebook thread, the discussion came up about how few women attend ETS and whether they should. It was an interesting thread because there are good, valid reasons why few women do. It is a more academic environment. Not many conservative women go to seminary. Not many conservative churches have positions for women, so it isn’t very practical for women to invest time and money in seminary. The thread continued to discuss the situation for women in conservative Christianity in general, and then the tension between the laity and the professional theologians. There was gratitude expressed that women are beginning to be able to write more and participate in theological discussion as informed lay people.
And again, I am humbled because I get to do this. I really do. How many venues do Christian women get a seat at the table for their perspective as a woman, but not necessarily about women’s issues? That’s what I get to do on Mortification of Spin. We joke around and say that I am one of the guys. Why is that? Because it isn’t just about me being a woman, even though I am happy to be one. I want to represent a woman’s perspective, but maybe not every woman’s perspective. But even so, I speak as a fellow human being, even more, a fellow believer in Christ, on all the issues.
It was a particular humbling honor for me to participate in the pastor’s conference at Westminster Theological Seminary recently. MoS was invited to do a panel discussion with Kent Hughes. I thought, "Carl and Todd are pastors, why the heck do they want me there?" And I pretty much said, “Please don’t be polite, you guys can go without me being offended at all…” But they welcomed the perspective of the housewife in the pew, knowing I represented a huge percentage of whom they preach to.
I didn’t have a Byrd test, but if I did, that wins the highest achievement award! A complementarian, conservative seminary was truly complementary. I don’t want to leave men out of the conversation (ahem, Bechdel) anymore than I want to leave women out of the conversation. We both count, whether we are talking about preaching or homemaking. It is a privilege to be able to participate in conversations with men and women in the church that have nothing to do with the world’s base views of sexuality, and everything to do with true, reciprocated contribution about things that actually matter---all things, not just pink or blue things.
The Bechdel Test makes a good point, but the Byrd Test takes it up another notch.