Quick hit: xkcd “Phobia” passes Bechdel Test

Today’s xkcd comic strip, Phobia, passes the Bechdel Test.

  1. Contains two women
  2. Having a conversation
  3. About something other than a man

Last time this happened, as far as I can tell, was over 400 comics ago, where the two women in question ended up being rescued from the RIAA and MPAA enforcers by Richard Stallman. Or has there been one more recently?

One thing I like about “Phobia” is that the two characters just happen to be women. They’re not there to tell us a very special message about women or to be part of someone’s romantic fantasy. They just… are. People. With fears and motivations and ideas and dreams.

So, thanks, Randall! More like this please!

14 thoughts on “Quick hit: xkcd “Phobia” passes Bechdel Test

  1. Fafner

    What about “Worst-case Scenario”, four comics ago, where the female journalist is apparently interviewing the female scientist about the oil spill?

    1. Skud Post author

      Hmm, I’d give it a pass but only on a technicality — a journalist (from amongst a mixed group) asking a question at a press conference doesn’t quite count as “a conversation” to me.

  2. Addie

    A friend of mine is doing a blog experiment for the entire month of June in which every tv show or movie she watches and comic book she reads is subjected to the Bechdel test. She’s also applying the Bechdel test for men and the Bechdel test for race (as described at Racialicious). The posts are not filed under a single name, but the blog itself is http://tinyheroes.wordpress.com/ and might make for a good linkspam entry or two. So far, some media passes the test for women, everything passes the test for men, and only the Avatar: the Last Airbender cartoons have passed the test for race.

  3. FlorisV

    How useful is the Bechdel test when pretty much every lesbian porn flic passes it?
    As well as exploitation flics such as The Bikini Bandits?
    Feminists have to come up with something better.

    What I personally find the most offensive and boring are the humorless “kick ass chicks” in many action films. They are often also a one dimensional, juvenile sexual fantasy to serve a mostly male desire to see both sex and violence at once.

    Stereotypes can be offensive, but so can be a female character that not a single woman in the theatre can truly identify with. Reality is that most women prefer non-violent films.

    When those kind of films draw more of an audience, Hollywood will change.
    But will it ever happen? It needs creative scriptwriting and original thinking, the very opposite of a dime a dozen.

    1. Mary

      The Bechdel test is meant to be a cheap tool for illustrating a problem. It’s not Bechdel-failing anti-feminist media over here and Bechdel-passing feminist media over there, for sure. But at the moment it’s mountains of Bechdel-failing media over here, much of which is anti-women and much of which is just purely extremely men-centric, and a molehill of Bechdel-passing media over there, and as you say much of that is also anti-women or men-centric (not commenting specifically on lesbian porn films, which presumably range from anti-women through to, well, women-loving).

      So the Bechdel test is largely a tool to point out the mountain versus the molehill here, with a dash of “and see, even though this is in the molehill, it hasn’t suddenly become boring, unfunny, or incomprehensible to men viewers/readers!” I’m pretty sure almost everyone using it understands its limits already.

      We have wiki articles at http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Bechdel_test and http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Strong_female_characters that go into some of the issues you raise. (Editing welcome, it’s a wiki.)

    2. Mary

      Or, to put it another way, “Feminists need to come up with something better” seems to me to be equating the (enormous) field of feminist critique of cultural works to the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test makes a really low bar kind of feminist point, and we do know that, but the number of things that don’t get above the bar is rather telling.

    3. Jayn

      AIUI, the Bechdel test isn’t meant to measure whether it’s feminist-friendly, or even female-oriented–just that there are [i]women in the film[/i]. Often, the default character description seems to be white, male, straight, etc. This makes women (and POC, and non-straight people, etc…) abnormal, because they’re an exception in the cast, rather than a given.

      It’s not about trying to make media feminist, or woman-friendly, it’s about treating women as being normal rather that ‘other’. I guess one way of putting it is that we’d like to see fewer Justice Leagues and more X-Men.

  4. FlorisV

    Oh and this goes for comics as well….even more because most readers are male.

    1. Leigh Honeywell

      {citation needed}

      for this comment and your “most women prefer non-violent movies” comment, as well. The composition of horror fandom alone gives me pause about that comment.

      1. Katherine

        This exactly. I’m not sure what you think geek women are into, but I’ll give you a hint. There are women here who like action movies, horror movies, thrillers, comics (both violent and non) and so on, and we’d like a hell of a lot more of it if it wasn’t all about *yawn* men only.

        1. Katherine

          “this” refers to Leigh’s comment and all the references to “you” refer to FlorisV’s comment. Just wanted to be clear.

  5. Emily

    Kim makes an excellent point. In xkcd, there are stick figures with hairstyles. Unless they are named, what indicates gender?

    1. Skud Post author

      Um, pronouns, generally. While it’s possible that Randall is occasionally drawing male characters with ponytails/female characters with no hair, there’s been no evidence to support that AFAIK.

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