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Bechdel test round-up

I've just finished the signing tour and I'm holed up in a hotel in Denver, recovering. (Seven flights in eight days; two readings, two public interviews, a live radio session and a podcast, and five cities. Phew.)

Meanwhile, here's some supplementary stuff that fetched up in my inbox after the last blog entry.

Here's the original blog article by Jennifer Kesler over at The Hathor Legacy that tipped me onto the Bechdel test. Go read it. (Joe-Bob Stross says: Recommended.)

Meanwhile Jed Hartman, one of the editors over at Strange Horizons also has a grab-bag of related links, including an amusing cartoon comment by Karen Ellis before diving into the darker question of the Frank Miller test, which looks at "how much male sci-fi writers are obsessed with whores; if the proportion of female sex workers to neutrally presented female people in his story is above 1:1, he fails." Go read this one, too. (Then have a shower.)

Jed points to a checklist of story tropes that turn up too damned often in the slushpile at Strange Horizons.

Finally, Karen Healy provides a checklist for How To Write An Original Female Lead Character In A Fashion That Doesn’t Drive Karen Crazy. (Works for me, too.)

Sorry to keep banging on about this, but as the comment thread on my last blog entry richly demonstrates, there are still quite a lot of men out there (and reading this blog) who Don't Get It with respect to their own privileged status — fish who aren't aware of the water they swim through.

(And besides, I currently feel a strong need to demonstrate that not all SF writers are reading from the same hymn book as Orson Scott Card.)

Finally, on a lighter note, the truth about the paranormal romance genre.

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137 Comments

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1:
not all SF writers are reading from the same hymn book as Orson Scott Card
Hm... would a scene with two women, discussing their pending wedding (to each other, of course), count?
2:

Sean: I figure that one fails the letter of the Bechdel test, but not the spirit.

3:

Charlie, thank you so much for the mention. What you're doing is awesome. :)

4:

"Go read this one, too" links to the same post as the previous link.

Good posts, these. I was mentioning the other day that Sin City, oddly, passed the DTWOF test. I'm glad there's a different test for it to fail instead.

5:

Heh. Nice test, not worried about my writing. Heidi, Geek Girl Detective passes flying colors. And for the record, she doesn't like being called a "Geek girl detective", but a man gave her that title. She prefers to call herself a "security consultant".

6:

Graham: "go read this one too" deliberately repeats the link.

PlanetHeidi: give us a URL, please? (Just one, or the blog software will arrest your comment and hold it until I bail it from spam jail).

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7:

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman? (Well, that's this evening's reading sorted out.)

8:

Great FSM! I haven't followed comics much recently (i.e. in the last 20 years aside from occasional PB collections). I read the "Girls Read Comics" piece (very interesting() and then I followed the link at the bottom of the page. I looked at the Frank Miller contest and literally didn't recognise them as quotations. I thought they were some sort of D^2 "shorter" thingies (I assume you are aware of all Internet traditions) and was puzzled that they weren't linkified. And then I realised . . .

9:

Charlie, some good references, and one bad.

Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test: It would be really nice to have some data to show that the studio execs are incorrect about their offerings. Anecdotes about life don't cut it. If your audience is mostly white, if women actually do talk a lot about men, then it just might make sense to have white male leads and female supporting roles. That might indeed be the best money-making formula. I'm not saying it is right, or healthy, just an expected outcome.

Aaru Tuesday: 1958. Anyone can pick examples of something distasteful and claim it is somehow universal. I don't buy it.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: I get so tired of identity politics. It so gets in the way of actually changing anything, because protagonists require the target to confess to their sins and that they can never be OK as they remain part of the group that does X. Rather a religious viewpoint. (Catholicism - we're all sinners from birth and only constant praying for guidance and obeying the rules will given you any hope of salvation. A few lucky individuals get to be saints in their lifetimes). It really takes only half a brain to parody the knapsack list and apply it to jocks, the physically attractive, the tall..well you get the point.

So how do you feel about "Saturn's Children" after the Aaru Tuesday:1958 rant? Are you hiding adolescent rape fantasies too?

However, I do want to see how you resolve the Wallace-Bechtel test in your next novel. It would be an interesting exercise to revisit this topic again on it's release.

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10:

The "Heidi: Geek Girl Detective" series is at the planetheidi.com address in the author's.sig (for lack of a better term). By my reading, book one passes the Bechdel test in Chapter 1, Scene 5. If not there, definitely further on.

It's good stuff; I quite enjoyed book one and am happy to see book two progressing mysteriously.

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11:

Thank you.

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12:

Sometimes stuff that is sexist is AWESOME.

13:

TheBaron @12: and your point is ...?

14:

I hate the characterizations of men's privilege and white privilege. People that try to discuss these things typically tend to discount the fact that discrimination is human nature. If it weren't woman or people of color then it would be someone else. The traveler coming to a small town or the member of a minority religion. It's just that women and people of color(how is that less offensive than colored people btw?) have the most visible differences that you can point to and say: "They're/we're being discriminated against."

Being white, going to Japan or China will get you discrimination as well. The methods of discrimination there will not be the same as in the US because they have different cultures, but it's still discrimination. Same thing with Africa, but I haven't been or known someone who has gone, and there are other things going on there that aren't going on in China and Japan.

Mainly it's not just sexism or racism against people that aren't white, but discrimination against the "other" that is the problem. Asian, black, extraterrestrial, middle eastern, or white.

15:

"(And besides, I currently feel a strong need to demonstrate that not all SF writers are reading from the same hymn book as Orson Scott Card.)"

Card's stuff passes the Bechdel test at a high rate. His casts are pretty evenly balanced between men and women (except if there's a good reason to have it otherwise -- Ender's Game has few women for the same reason Singularity Sky does). Every named female character that he does have is a real, interesting, plot-advancing, person. And he almost never uses the easy SF female stereotypes (I say "almost" because I haven't read all his books, but I can't recall any instances). I think he'd also do well on a modified Bechdel test with "minorities" and "white people" put in place of "women" and "men."

Yeah, he opposes gay marriage and supports the Iraq War, and that's not good. But on this topic, he's better than the average SF writer.

16:

I say that up there ^ @ number 14, because taking a class on this stuff (specifically on Mexicans because of the high population in the area) some of the people in the class that were minorities were discriminatory/angry towards me personally because I was white or male. I would say that was more of a personality problem on their part; needing to learn to separate the person from the race/sex.

As well as directly experiencing it in Japan and being a minority there. You will never be entirely part of the "IN" group.

17:

Alex Tolley, what numbers would you like? As we talk about a lot on my site, the numbers are right there, but numbers can be interpreted, and the industry pros always insisted they meant something else. William Goldman talked about this as the "non-recurring phenomenon": the success of a movie that breaks the mold must be explained away. If movie makers admit they don't know why a movie that broke the mold (he used "First Wives Club" as a prime example) succeeded, it becomes clear they don't know everything they claim to know... and people funding movies get nervous.

In my follow-up article, "Why discriminate if it doesn't profit?" I mentioned some well-known successes with female leads (Alien, Terminator and Silence of the Lambs), the success of which routinely got chalked up to anything but the female lead.

But if you want numbers, here's a good example, brought on by Warner's declaration last year they'd be doing no more female-helmed movies because they just don't do well: The Movie Blog breaks down Warner's assertion that The Brave One didn't do well.

It’s funny that one of the examples used was “The Brave One? (with Jodi Foster), which only made about $34 million. Ok, that’s not a good number. HOWEVER, when you look at a MALE lead film with a comparable theme, the Kevin Bacon film “Death Sentence?, both films on the surface about innocent people out for revenge for the taking of a loved one, you see that the FEMALE lead film more than tripled the performance of the male lead film. Death Sentence made just $9 million.

Hope that helps.

18:

kino @14: saying that "discrimination is human nature" comes dangerously close to (a) biological determinism and (b) an apologia for racism (not to mention sexism). Consider me unhappy. (Clue: I'm a member of an ethnic minority which has been on the receiving end of some rather drastic discrimination within living memory. And I tend to take that kind of assertion personally.) Your clarification @16 is, however, noted.

Matt @15: I take it you haven't been reading Card's newspaper columns, then? In my opinion he's gone completely off the rails in the past few years. Remember, authors (like all human beings) are free to repudiate opinions they held in their youth. It's just a shame that in Card's case he's turned into a flaming homophobic shit-head.

19:

Jennifer@17. So I don't have to dig through your site, can you post a couple of links to get me started.

It's almost axiomatic that $20 bills don't lay in gutters to be picked up. In this context, if the audiences were demanding different fare (and Deus knows we could do with more original, less formulaic and "safe" movies) one might expect the movie industry to have exploited it already. As Mencken said: "Nobody went broke underestimating the tastes of the American public". We see that in spades on US broadcast television. If better, more realistic fare was demanded, doesn't it seem likely that one or two runaway hits would have spawned much better writing and plots and changed the face of this very competitive business? As an example, "Thelma & Louise" was a very successful movie. It spawned a few imitators, but I don't see that success as having that much effect. Is that because the studio execs deliberately ignored its success or interpreted its success incorrectly, or that audiences spent their money on other fare and the execs followed the money? I don't know the answer as I am not in that business. But I would assume that the "follow the money" principle dominates in that business as well.

So the numbers I would like to see are about what audiences actually spend their money on when given choices. Do they race to the action movie, or watch that "chic flick". Do they follow the critics (Ebert in particular recommends more highbrow, interesting movies with good dialogue) or do they plunk down their cash for really dumb fare playing at the same theater? Perhaps a better source of data might be Netflix or DVD sales - what do people watch as home when the choice is infinite and there are no other side variables to confound the data.

In the wider context, we know that video games are mostly targeted at boys and young men. Despite some inroads for girls, this trend has continued and I doubt this industry willfully throws away potential revenue. Perhaps girls are turned off by the existing offerings, or maybe they just don't want to play any video games that much.

So please point me at the data you have so that I can understand this issue better. Thanks.

20:

Does the currently strong need to demonstrate that not all SF writers are reading from the same hymn book as Orson Scott Card perhaps originate from that Mormon Times Article? Just stumbled across it and, just ...wow. I knew that he was against gay marriage, but here he really seems like a rabid homophobe. It just makes me so angry because I really liked Enders Game. Take this one quote:

"Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary."

Overthrow the government because the gays destroy marriage?

I'm really glad that I don't have any of his books in my posession right now, or I would be tempted to go against my principles and throw them in the trash.

Good links up there, by the way. One can spend a lot of time browsing through the blog archives of Aaru Tuseday and Girl Wonder.

21:

In a round-about way, I have to agree with one point of kino @ 14, discrimination is human nature because it's easy. It's easier to blame the Other than focus on real issues and try to solve them, as so many incidents of the 20th century demonstrate. To my mind though, this highlights the importance of education and doing something because it's something which needs to be consciously addressed and is not acceptable in a rational society.

22:

#20 posted before reading #18, sorry.

Maybe I shouldn't have linked to the article directly here? In hindsight, it doesn't deserve the page rank.

23:

ubik @20: that's just the most recent effusion from Card. Trust me, he's being heading down this road for quite a long time now.

I fixed your link; don't worry about it, it's got a nofollow tag so Google won't pagerank it.

24:

Url is the same as the name... www.planetheidi.com

25:

Charlie @18: I've read some. And I don't like at all Card's extreme views on many social issues. On the other hand, as an author of books, he does do female characters really well.

I know you were mentioning him as an example of a Bad Socially Conservative Guy in general. But this is a discussion of Bechdel's Test, so the impression was that Card's a misogynist as well as a homophobe. Which isn't true at all.

But this blog post was not about Orson Scott Card, so, a general comment:

Your posts and the articles you linked to were really thought-provoking. I realized as I was reading that this idea is going to make some SF unreadable. But you know what else does that? Learning physics. But I don't regret that (or I do, but for unrelated reasons...)

26:

I mentioned I was ordering your books a little while ago and i just wanted to follow up by telling you how much I'm enjoying them. I couldn't put down The Atrocity Archives but I didn't want it to end. Amazing stuff.

27:

Alex Tolley @19 -- I can't speak from experience about the film industry, but I wouldn't be too quick to give credit to movie-industry insiders for actually knowing everything they should about where to make the most money.

I've been covering business for a long time, and from what I've seen across multiple industries -- e.g. financial houses during the subprime bubble, Detroit auto makers for the past 30+ years -- it can be *very* easy for insiders to mistake genuine features of the landscape for self-fulfilling prophecies centered around their own preconceptions.

In other words: in some industries, at least some of the time, the big shots *do* leave $20 bills sitting in the gutter.

28:

Following up the female movie lead issue, the 3 Resident Evil movies did very well (although I don't think they passed the test) as did "Ghosts of Mars" (which did).

Tim@27. I would agree that unexpected hits, especially from independents are picking up $20 bills from gutters occasionally. But I think you would agree, they aren't doing that consistently enough to support a large business.

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ubik @ 20:

By Card's argument that you quote, gay marriage advocates would have even more reason for justified rebellion against a hostile government. :)

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30:

Prompted by the new trailer for the movie, I just re-read Watchmen, between your last post and this one. I was amused to notice that, for all ts other good qualities, it fails the Bechdel test dismally -- the only conversation between two women is Laurie and her mother arguing about Eddie Blake.

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Ross @ 30: Isn't there an argument/fight between two lesbians by the newsstand?

32:

Alex, I can only put one link through without it getting caught in a spam filter. Fortunately, we just finished this page, which is designer for newcomers.

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33:

Kino: The thing about prejudice is that it's not just a matter of what you do, but what others do because of what they think you are. White men, for instance, will on the average get much better bank loan and mortage terms than black men with identical credit histories. And that's not something a white man has control over - if you insist "I won't take any better terms than you'd give me if I were black", you're not going to accomplish much. Likewise, as a man you have very little say over the assessment your employer may give you and your wages when compared to an equally qualified woman. And so on.

And the thing is, the black man, the white woman, and all the rest...they can't control it either. There are limits to how white a non-white person can seem, how male a woman can seem, and so on. We are all helped or hindered by other people's prejudices. And this is the essence of any kind of privilege.

34:

While I'm sure racism still exists aplenty in America, as someone of color I can tell you if you so desire you can easily carve out whatever life you want without feeling the least bit oppressed. In my 36 years I have never been called the n-word, been turned down for a job, been harassed by police because of the color of my skin, or been looked at rudely because my wife is white. I also don't dress like a gangbanger, or talk like an ignorant rap artist, because it's not how I was brought up. In reading Barack Obama's memoir, I was kind of surprised and saddened that he struggled so much with his racial identity while growing up, obsessed with his blackness, not an experience I shared. Like I'm sure most whites growing up in America don't really think about how "white" they are, I have never given much thought to my race. I'm just me, a brown, nappy headed kid who loves the sci-fi of Charles Stross, listens to music as varied as Led Zepplin, Johnny Cash and the Black Eyed Peas, with many white, black, brown and yellow friends. Mine is a very common experience among my middle-class suburban friends, so I don't just think I'm lucky. What racism still exists in this country I think is found mainly at the very high (rich) and the very low (poor) ends of the social spectrum.

35:

Whether or not it's biologically determined, prejudice might have some selective advantages. Assuming you have one group which works for its own advantage in every encounter, and another group which works for the advantage of everyone they meet, the first would seem to accrue long-term benefit- they get the benefit of their own members' actions and those of the second group as well. Over time, they grow more wealthy and powerful, cementing the situation.

In short, fair and just people may take it in the neck when dealing with the unfair and unjust. Fixable?

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Yes, it is fixable because we can both train ourselves and each other to think differently, and we can make laws and other policies to enforce a proper decision whatever people may feel about it. This is what society is all about. Discriminatory impulses don't have to overwhelm our ability to do the right thing any more than impulses to steal do.

37:

@36- Ultimately, what you _want_ to do isn't relevant-- some people will disagree, and if their strategy is more successful than yours is, you'll just be outcompeted.
Relying on people to "do the right thing" is a weak strategy indeed. What makes it materially beneficial to not privilege your own group?

38:

Tim Walker @ 27

That's consistent with my almost 40 years experience in the computer / hi-tech industry (with a little crossover into finance and brand-obsessive* industries. In fact, I can think of at least 3 cases I know of from my own experience where business decisions involving millions or tens of millions of dollars (in one case, even more) were spent for reasons that had very little, if anything, to do with the success of the company, and often didn't even involve the success of the decision-maker. In one case, somewhere between USD 80 and 100 million was spent by a Fortune 500 company (which isn't anymore) as a part of a feud between 2 vice-presidents. Of course, a division of the company, an entire market segment, and 300 employee's careers were trashed in the bargain.

* 4 years at Nike, whose entire product, at least from their point of view, is brand.

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39:

I reread "Agent of Vega" last night. It passes the test with no problem. But - here's the thing - the fact that some of the main characters were female didn't really have a lot to do with any of the stories. Males could have been swapped for females and vice versa. I got no problems with that. As I noted in the other thread, as long as Stuff Gets Broken, I'm happy, and I think I can safely say that most people don't care what the sex of the actioneer is in these matters.

But - here's the thing - _don't_ morph this into some obligation to write stories about Girl Stuff. Realistic characterization details, fine. Realistic (sorta) motivations, ditto. But please please please: No Steel Magnolia's In Space.

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40:

Charlie @ 18: On the other hand, posit discrimination as an essential human nature. Then the form it takes could at least be interesting in science fiction. (The blind spots that keep the participants from seeing it sound like a great author toy.) Either way, the slush pile gets culled.

I dunno. Theft is seen as part of human nature to the point where when we see petty thieves in the cardboard shacks next to the spaceport, mainstream thought is "energy budget mismatch", not "how did humans make it out here with no cultural vaccine for misdemeanors?"

...well, OK, that was covered pretty thoroughly back in the Libertarians-in-Space entry...

Diamond claims that there was serious selective pressure exerted on city-dwellers. So even if you're a sociobiological hard-liner and you see discrimination in human nature around you now, circumstance could change that.

Still looking for a good photo to write "I CAN HAS KITTIN BRAINZ?" on.

41:

C @37: Well, right, that's the is-ought problem. We should do good, whether it pays or not, no matter how many other people do bad. So what should you do? Don't discriminate, try to correct effects of discrimination, and try to stop further acts of discrimination. This is like any other moral problem, really. It's hard to actually do, but that's not unusual; almost everything worth doing is hard.

42:

@41 Not quite my point, actually-- how would you make a situation where it'd be more worthwhile to avoid seizing personal privilege for your group than it would be to grab it as soon and as hard as possible?

Otherwise you just get a situation where the moral people wind up in relative squalor/powerlessness while the immoral ones wind up holding the majority of things of material value.

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C: It's true. And in fact all of us who hope to do something about discrimination already realize that we face not just the questions raised by the honestly misinformed, but also the willfully blind like yourself. This isn't news. It was a problem for the abolition of slavery, and is an ongoing problem for the equal treatment of all races. It was a problem for the enfranchisement of women, and is an ongoing problem for equal treatment of all sexes and sexual orientation. And so forth and so on. The long-term prognosis is good - your brand of complacency is losing, even though the process is rocky.

The motivation for abandoning discrimination is simple: I want free lunches.

People who aren't shackled by social or legal discrimination have the chance to develop their potential more fully. We can see this starkly illustrated in a very simple way with the performance of female athletes from the late 19th century through now: when they're allowed and then encouraged to train or compete, they do, and the high end keeps rising. We see this in the sciences, with women going from screwed-over backroom status (as with, perhaps most notoriously, Rosalind Franklin) to Nobel laureates, and to solid, worthwhile careers at every level below. We see it in the ongoing practical enfranchisement of women and minorities in politics.

People who aren't held down enrich not only themselves but the whole society. By throwing my weight on the side of opportunity, I reap the benefits along with the rest of the nation and the world. Since I would like tomorrow to be better than today, this advances my desire for a better life in the most practical of ways. I never know where the next thing that will actually help me will come from, but I'm increasing the pool of opportunity. This is fun stuff.

Discrimination, on the other hand, has a tangible cost in corrupted information. It takes more bits and more work to, for instance, take note of an applicant's race when considering their loan application than to just look at their income, assets, and so on. And it is more work to set up separate categories in which to put them, rather than just treating them as "folks with these qualifications". Discrimination hurts employers, hurts voters, hurts everyone who misses out on what minority members of the society could have offered. And by closing off options, we don't just deny ourselves the potential fruits of their labors, we set ourselves up for increased social costs - unrest, hostility, poor health, crime, and all the rest.

Discrimination is stupid and self-destructive.

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44:

And as for how we make it work: it's simple, in essence. We persuade enough idea that it's worth treating discrimination as an offense against the public good that they support legislation that bans it. People are free to think what they want, but we manage to do pretty well at denying people the right to exercise their impulses toward theft, rape, and so on - many people have thoughts of these offenses and don't act them out because they know there are laws against them and punishments waiting if they get caught. Banning discriminatory practices is no different. It leaves bigoted bosses, bankers, etc., free to be bigots on their own time, exactly as they are free to fantasize about raping their customers, robbing their rivals, and the like. But if the public rallies in favor of reducing discrimation, then those fantasies need to stay out of the workplace, commerce in general, and so on.

It happens that the public actually does have angels of its better nature and ends up supporting most anti-discriminatory efforts if they're given a chance to learn what the present effects of discrimination are and how a particular bit of official action can help. There are many fewer active bigots of any kind than there are people of basically good will who've been systematically lied to.

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45:

Footnote: It would be worth supporting equal treatment under the law even if there were no practical gains, just as it's worth supporting free speech when people say stupid things, or habeus corpus, burden of proof on the prosecution, exclusionary rules for evidence, and the like even when the defendant actually is guilty.

It's just that this is one of many, many cases where acting to uphold basic human liberties is also rewarding in self-interested terms. The role of the state in enforcing consistent standards is to remove the opportunities for catering to a bigoted audience on the margins, for very much the same kinds of reasons we discourage fences and pimps.

46:

@43-45. I certainly agree with most of that. To a point. Privilege doesn't require that the unprivileged be kept it a state of total sqalor, or be unable to contribute to their fullest, merely that the privileged always get a larger reward than the unprivileged.

The trick here is similar to the notion that it's better to reign in hell than serve in heaven-- the richest members of a slightly poorer, less-egalitarian society are still better off than the richest members of a slightly richer but much more egalitarian society.
It would seem that the most likely balance there is some form of glass ceiling-- the unprivileged are still engaged enough to contribute a great deal, but aren't capable of getting the full reward.

Your Franklin example is an excellent one. If Watson and Crick had insisted she stay out of the lab and suggested a kitchen would be a better place for her, the loss to them is considerable. If Watson and Crick give her an equal share in the work and benefit, they wind up with a third of the credit each, rather than a half. Let history happen as it did, and they each get half credit for the discovery, she gets to be a footnote for decades, but we get knowledge of the structure of DNA all the same.
Privilege is maintained, but even the unprivileged are motivated to contribute. And since Watson and Crick make up a majority of the group, if this is the way they'd prefer it, no democratic leanings would change it.

47:

Charlie,
It was great having you on GeekSpeak. I really enjoyed speaking with you on air and off. Thanks for taking the time to come down to Santa Cruz on your crazy-busy tour.

Everyone else,
You might enjoy the discussion with Charles Stross on GeekSpeak; we talked about Saturn's Children and amazingly didn't cover robot sex.

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48:

Bruce@44: Banning discriminatory practices is no different.

Well, it's a little more invasive of normal commercial activities like hiring people. You're trying to police inactions rather than actions. Lot more potential to piss people off IMO.

49:

Alex Tolley @28 - You might be right: maybe independents aren't making enough from unexpected hits to challenge the big studios vis-a-vis the Bechdel Test.

BUT: my point was that the big, mainstream studios very likely are ignoring certain types of work -- could be Bechdel-friendly movies, could be something else entirely -- that *would* make them a good return on investment, IF they could see past their own preconceptions.

To put it another way: I used to credit big companies for being so profit-focused that they would automatically pursue whatever was profit-maximizing, more or less as soon as they figured out (a) what that was and (b) how to implement it. But, in line with Bruce Cohen @38's point, I've found that my earlier assumption simply doesn't hold -- or at least doesn't hold consistently enough to call it a law of commerce. Uber-smart, highly competitive, profit-focused executives *routinely* miss golden opportunities, throw good money after bad, get involved in elaborate pissing matches with their rivals, etc. ad nauseam.

Yes, of course, there are ALSO the canny ones who set their egos aside and give the market what it wants. But the insights of behavioral economics -- e.g. that people *don't* always pursue profit-maximizing behavior -- apply just as much in the brass-knuckles world of big business as they do in our own personal lives.

Getting back to the original point: ARE the big studios ineptly walking away from $$$ by failing to make Bechdel-friendly movies? I dunno. But they easily COULD be.

50:

Alex@28: The third Resident Evil film was actually the first one I thought of that passes Bechdel. And I believe RE #2 does as well. Sadly, it's been too long since I saw RE #1 for me to say for sure.

And Charlie, it was great to see you in Glendale!

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51:

Adrian: Well, I did say simple "in principle". Practicalities are hard...but practicalities are hard for anything society-wide, and this is never a deeply serious objection when people actually do want something done.

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52:

The first Resident Evil film does pass. There are a bunch of good conversation moments.

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53:

Tim @ 49: Risk aversion is probably to blame there. It's safer for execs of large companies to do what's already been done and proven to show a profit in the past.

Smaller companies are more likely to take risks, since the reward is greater and they have to do something to get an edge on the larger companies.

54:

Since the beginning of films a hundred or so years ago, there's been something like 100,000 (depending on what you count) films made. This is about the same order of magnitude as books published every year. I sometimes think that as a medium, film is still maturing, as there haven't been enough films made for all the easy techniques to have been tested for effectiveness*.

Considered purely artisticly for a moment, there might well be $20 bills lying around for movies, simply because no one has got around to making them yet.

Also, John Rogers touches on the efficency of Hollywood as a market in this post about why the film industry(s) loves adaptions.

* As an example I note Momento (from memory a fail); there's nothing about it that couldn't have been shot in the early 20th Century; the construction is nothing that an Iain Banks fan hasn't seen; yet noone had done it until then.

55:

Tim@49 I agree with you on the general assertion that businesses are not smart enough to be perfectly market savvy. They make mistakes and money losers for a vaiety of reasons. That probably holds as true for Bechdel passing movies as with others.

This is why I was suggesting independent ways to evaluate the assertion that Bechdel-passing movies are preferred. My suggestion was to look at purchasing or rental histories of DVDs where the "full" selection of movies is always available. If the assertion that Bechdel-passing movies are wanted by the audience in preference to non-passing ones, then there should be a bias in rentals or purchase. Thus, rather than arguing from philosophical grounds, we could use data to test the hypothesis. I don't have that data, but I'm guessing someone at Netflix does and we definitely have the "Netflix challenge" data set available for analysis.

56:

Alex, a really good source for numbers is Variety or Hollywood Reporter, the trade mags that are subscribed to by every semi-self-respecting would-be filmmaker, agent or accountant working with film people. Unfortunately, it's hideously expensive. When I had access to it through my work, I'd get into debates with people about the numbers.

For example, one way to measure the success of two films that don't have a lot in common is to compare the per seat capita: how many seats in theaters did each film air in front of, and what percentage of the seats were full? If a blockbuster filled up eleventy billion huge theaters halfway, it'll have huge numbers. But if a smaller film filled up many smaller theaters all the way, this may actually signal a new trend in what the audience is looking for. "The Usual Suspects" was an example I remember getting discussed. Traditional wisdom said you couldn't make a film that featured 0 sympathetic characters. They did; it filled a lot more theaters than distributors had planned, and they had to open it more broadly after the fact.

But when First Wives Club did much better than expected (violating the "who wants to watch middle-aged women" rule), its success wasn't examined for a potential new trend like it should've been: it was rationalized away.

BoxOfficeMojo used to show the per capita seats number, which is a really great one for the kind of discussion you're after. Unfortunately, no one online seems to provide those numbers for free anymore.

57:

C: I really think you need to read up on iterated prisoner's dilemma scenarios and recent findings in social psychology -- especially with respect to monkeys and fairness. Primates seem to be hard-wired at a very deep level indeed to prefer "fair" outcomes; suggesting that there's an evolutionary biology basis for altruism.

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58:
In the wider context, we know that video games are mostly targeted at boys and young men. Despite some inroads for girls, this trend has continued and I doubt this industry willfully throws away potential revenue. Perhaps girls are turned off by the existing offerings, or maybe they just don't want to play any video games that much.

The irony is that I have a much easier time coming up with story-driven video games that pass the Bechdel test. Maybe it is just an accident of what I've been playing recently.

Speaking as someone in the game industry, I'd point out that in the last couple years the industry discovered the "casual gamer", which is an industry codeword for "someone other that a testosterone driven twenty-something".

59:

Andrew G @53: Amen re risk-aversion. Michael Lewis talks about this a lot in his book Moneyball. You'd *think* that baseball managers and general managers would keep winning (or winning on a certain budget) firmly at the top of their priority list, but in fact big-league baseball is a very conservative, risk-averse business, in which "the way it's always been done" is prized as though it's necessarily the one and only way to do a thing. To complicate the picture, *certain* new pieces of wisdom, e.g. the modern use of relief pitchers, are adopted wholesale . . . and immediately taken to be as ineffably true as the by-the-book methods from 100 years ago.

Alex Tolley @55: Amen -- data trumps all.

60:

Alex@19:

This (big profits for Nintendo, big losses for Sony and Microsoft) suggests that selling videogames to demographics outside "boys of all ages" is a highly successful move and the entire industry really has been willfully throwing away revenue for years, decades in fact.

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61:

fmackay@60: At this point, all three manufacturers are making profits. Microsoft has made up the expected initial losses and most likely Sony will to. (Caveat: I'm an employee of the latter.) It's just that Nintendo is by far the market leader with its casual gamer strategy and was able to sell their console at a profit initially, something that is mostly unheard of in the industry.

An even better indicator is the rise of Popcap games, and things like it. They are often derided and ignored, yet they make money hand over fist and last I heard are strongest in the middle-aged "I don't play video games" woman market.

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62:

Alex@19: The "doesn't leave $20 bills lying around" bit is really part of the comfortable mythology of American-style capitalism. It's not true, though. Within the field of computing, for instance, there's the rise of PCs, Apple's success off to one side and Dell's off to another, the triumph of the iPod, Popcap and Gamehouse, and on and on on. (I see fmackay and Steve Burnap have hit on some of the same points. There are lots more, though.) It's like that in every field. Conventional wisdom always ends up costing money, sometimes a lot of it, and in some fields doing a lot of social harm, too. Whether insisting that Wal-Mart style employee abuse is necessary even as Best Buy has lower training costs and other complications because of reduced turn-around, insisting in the face of Whole Foods' success that nobody cares enough about food quality to make it worth selling to them, or whatever...business wisdom screws up routinely.

The sensible approach to understanding business is not to fall for fables about efficient utilization, but to see whether the benefits from the successes are enough to offset the costs of the failures and mistakes.

63:

I don't think numbers from video rentals would be valid: there is a big difference between what you choose to watch personally, or with a partner, and the typically much more group-based decision to watch a film in a cinema.

There can be lots of apparent paradoxes with that kind of collective decision making, like how if ~70% of people polled prefer a smoke-free pub, but there are no anti-smoking laws, few pubs will find it commercially viable to ban smokers.

A lot of the gangs of friends who go together to see a film will be 80%+ single-sex: a strong marketing signal that this is a masculine/feminine film will help them pick yours. Of course, this is self-reinforcing: the film-going friendship groups will tend more towards single-sex the less the films they see offer the gender they are not marketed at.

Whether or not all that is valid, what you definitely don't want to do is have assumptions like that about what is commercially optimal for a film bleed across into other art forms where they are demonstrably wrong.

Let alone into real life...

64:

Charlie @ 18 "(a) biological determinism and (b) an apologia for racism (not to mention sexism)."

What I said was not meant to be either of these, just that we should not automatically assume that if white males/white people were not privileged that the US would be some kind of Utopia filled with brotherly love and equality for all like some people seem to think would happen. Also, there are specific individuals and groups that believe that white men/people should be punished in the present for what happens now and what has happened in the past. Which would be the exact same thing that happened only with the roles reversed.

I think, personally, that in any country with clearly defined ethnic/religious/political groups there would be clear discrimination at some level. At least at this point in time and a fair distance into the future. There will have to be a large shift in some manner to change this. I don't know if it would have to be gradual or if it could be sudden though.

65:

And whether the nature of discrimination is learned or biological doesn't really matter. I'm more saying that because it has happened in the past and happens in the present, concentrating on a specific instance of discrimination while it seems to be either inherent in human nature, whether biologically or some sort of viral social meme, will be chasing the problem when it appears instead of directly addressing it.

So in case that was incoherent since I'm feeling a bit muddled at the moment, I think that we need to look at discrimination as a whole and work against that while looking at specific instances, instead of looking at those specific instances while ignoring the tendency at a large scale. Sorta like not seeing the forest because of the trees.

66:

soru@63: "I don't think numbers from video rentals would be valid: there is a big difference between what you choose to watch personally, or with a partner, and the typically much more group-based decision to watch a film in a cinema."

That's fine. Just propose an experiment to test the assertion and what would falsify the hypothesis that the existing market is fairly efficient at meeting demand. Jennifer@56 proposed another experiment for which data is available, albeit not to the casual person.

67:

I keep being dissatisfied after thinking about how I've put this, and maybe it's because it's such a complicated issue.

Because discrimination seems to have been and seems to be practiced in some form in all human societies, only addressing specific instances of discrimination when they become apparent and the social/political landscape becomes such that they can be addressed is counterproductive because large scale discrimination has a tendency to develop when clear boundaries between groups are evident. It is only when this tendency is addressed as the set of all discrimination that discrimination as a practice will be abolished.

In addition, either the tendency will be abolished or there will be another distinction that will pull humanity as a whole together at which time discrimination between humans will become essentially trivial. (World wide natural disaster, aliens, etc. Not that events like these are guaranteed to decrease discrimination, but they could.)

I also wonder if there is a maximum number of members a single group can have where membership above that level will see discrimination between subgroups form. And whether institutionalized discrimination can exist while the members of the institution personally do not discriminate or if the institutionalized discrimination is an extension of the mores and beliefs of its members.

68:

Jennifer@32. I read through the links from the home page. I think that you do make an interesting case that women's tastes are too little regarded, although I am not convinced of this regarding the Bechdel test, in fact you even suggest that women might want to see "boys movies" for the leading man (Titanic, The Matrix) as part of the reason. Let me suggest another hypothesis, one that I have my own personal beef about. Movies that are unexpectedly successful have really good scripts, and ones that do less well than expected have crappy ones.

This line of thought started with the first of the new Lucas Star Wars movies, where the scripts were frankly idiotic. The special effects couldn't overcome the scrips' failings. Armeggedon, Independence day were similarly daft. Yet "Deep Impact", a successful movie was not, IMO, successful because of the strong lead played by Leoni, but because the story was well scripted and characters believable. (I really liked the poignant ending were she and her father reunited on the beach to die). I would say, as a generalization, that the more the movie emphasizes interpersonal relationships, the better the script writing has to be, which makes the movie more engaging and thus becomes more memorable and recommendable. I watch some "chick flicks" and find I am totally sucked into the movie, simply because the writing makes me care about the protagonists. Conversely, some of the blockbuster action movies leave me cold because I really don't care about the hero that much. I also really liked the "Firefly" series because each of the main characters was interesting and you cared about them. I think "Gilmore Girls" was similar, "Bones" is a standout too (it passes the test easily with 3 strong female leads) and the UK crime series "Wire in the Blood" is similar, because it is so well written. Having said that, my extensive DVD collection (850+ and counting) contains much fluff, including early James Bond with Sean Connery.

69:

what would falsify the hypothesis that the existing market is fairly efficient at meeting demand

I don't regard that as needing falsification: it's more the kind of idea that you sort of point and laugh at.

My guess about how things work is as follows:

1. the Bechdel test is significant and useful, correctly spotting those films with lowest cross-gender appeal.

2. Hollywood films are much more likely to fail the test than other products of the same society, like TV shows and novels.

3. the reason for #2 is not entirely the specific stupidity of studio executives (at least in comparison with TV execs), but cinema-specific group decision-making effects.

If #2 is true, you could find out easily enough by comparing 100 random tv shows/movies (maybe adjusting for length and cast size).

If #3 is true, you would expect Bechtel-passing films to do relatively better at DVD sales than box office.

And if both of those are true, then #1 is true.

Unfortunately, looking at:

http://www.the-numbers.com/dvd/charts/annual/2007.php
http://www.the-numbers.com/market/movies2007.php

The stand-out for DVD sales vs box office, is the Departed (#9 and #148), which I haven't seen but has a 10 person cast with one woman. So that's probably more down to people wanting to own an Oscar-winning Scorsese film than anything else.

More research required, I guess.

70:

Charlie@57: iterated prisoner's dilemma scenarios and recent findings in social psychology -- especially with respect to monkeys and fairness.

capuchin monkeys, to be specific. And the trap to watch out for here is that while we may be wired to be fair, we are able, via conceptualizations, to scale the inputs before they hit our hardwired "fairness detector".

We said "all men are created equal", but we implemented "white land owning males are equal". And we conceptualized to ourselves why that was "fair". And we generally do so in a way that we don't see it as something we are doing, but something that is. (i.e. that's just the way life is)

What I see as the power of Bechdel's test is that it challenges the person to look at their conceptualizations as their own, rather than as an outcome of "that's just the way life is". And this is fuck-all hard to do. People don't want to introspect. They're not wired for it. Worldviews aren't something we are wired to see, but something we eventually see as part of our conceptualizations.

And if I were to point to one thing, and one thing only, that makes Bechdel's test actually work (actually cause a reader to suddenly become aware of their conceptualization that essentially justified some gender-biased view of the world, and say to themselves, "oh shit") I would say it boils down to one important thing:

Bechdel's cartoon describing the test contains no moral judgement for failing.

Bechdel's cartoon that actually explains the test doesn't load the test with any negative subjective meaning. The cartoon says "This is the measure *I*, Bechdel, use to decide whether to watch a movie or not". The cartoon makes no mention of any moral assessment or judgement of anyone who writes a movie that passes or fails the test. The cartoon does not say you are "good" if your story passes or you are "bad" if your story fails. It is presented almost entirely in objective terms of defining the test, with the only subjective consequence of "pass" or "fail" being whether or not Bechdel will watch the movie.

This is all purely my opinion, and I've got zero evidence to prove the assertion. But I can point to anecdotal evidence of people "resisting" the test when they seem to interpret failing the test as coming packed with some large negative connotation about them.

I think the benefit of the test is to get the reader to see whatever conceptualization they have that would allow them to judge a gender-biased story as "fair". if the test comes preloaded with "those who fail shall be cast into the pit to burn for all eternity" then people who fail may end up working vigorously to find some way to invalidate the test in some way.

If they view "fail" as an unforgivable, mortal sin, and if they can't "unwrite" the failing stories they've already written, then admitting a fail and admitting a gender bias may cause the "self preservation" circuit to override any decisions the "fairness detector" might have made.

And I think it really comes down to there being one of two possible uses for the test, and they are mutually exclusive uses. A person can either use the test non-judgementally as a way to get others to see their own gender bias. Or a person can use the test in a judgemental way to make someone who fails the test "wrong".

If the test is used to make the failing screenwriter "wrong", then then using the test that way will likely not make the failing screenwriter see their internal bias as something they control.

If the test is presented relatively free of any universal judgements for failing (or passing), then I think the test as presented has a far better chance of getting hte person to see their internal gender bias. But that means giving up judging them for previously failing the test, and let them judge themselves.

71:

@57- At least in human history and culture, the notion of hardwired fairness seems to apply within the person's own culture/group/peer circle, etc. There's no reason why a person couldn't be perfectly satisfied applying high standards of behavior only to members of his own privileged circle and lower ones to everyone outside his own caste or group.

Given the really small number of societies in history that _don't_ work this way, it looks like genetic tendencies toward altruism aren't the strongest factors at work. Otherwise we'd all wander around being purely helpful and never harmful to each other and such, and clearly we don't, no?

72:

Come to think of it, most of this seems to come from one thought: "Men and women are dissimilar enough to form two different groups. Men are alien to women. Women are alien to men." versus "Men and women have some differences, but are basically similar enough to be highly mutually understandable."

I do wonder if this is true for some people and untrue for others-- if men and women who are prone to more (for lack of a better term) androgynous or less stereotypically masculine and feminine patterns of thought find other genders more intelligible than those following highly rigid masculine or feminine patterns.
Leading to a situation where a male author trying to write a female character actually does have a difficult time understanding what is going on well enough to describe it decently.

73:

soru @49

"1. the Bechdel test is significant and useful, correctly spotting those films with lowest cross-gender appeal.

2. Hollywood films are much more likely to fail the test than other products of the same society, like TV shows and novels."

Then show the data that proves either of these 2 cases. As you could see from your quick basic research, making "self evident" assertions about reality is harder to prove than you think. That's why data and statistical tests of hypotheses is important.

74:

C@35: Evolution doesn't work like this, it's actually much worse. Go re-read The Selfish Gene. What evolution predicts is that we should all act only in the interests of ourselves and closely related kin. Your selfish group would itself be destroyed from within by selfish individuals.


There is no reason for there to be a "rational society" which we deviate from only by accident. Rather, we should exist in a society of rational self-interested individuals. The collective behaviour of these individuals will not be in the best interests of society, except by accident.

It's easy to say how members of society *should* behave for the betterment of all, but you can't therefore conclude that this is how members of society *will* behave.


From this viewpoint, discrimination occurs more as a self-fulfilling prophesy. Race and gender, in the absence of other information, do have some predictive power (simply as a result of past discrimination). While it might mean a great deal to the person being discriminated against, the discriminator may not have enough interest in the matter to go and get proper information.


CS@57: Evolutionary game theory is one of the most beautiful theories science has produced, and you come along and ruin it all with your damnable facts!

It's very odd, humans are Too Nice.

75:

Matt Ridley's book 'The Origins of Virtue' discusses how evolutionary game theory can explain the rise of altruism from a population of individually selfish agents.
A key point of the book is that in the long run it is a successful strategy to treat fairly anyone that you are likely to deal with in the future. 'Fairly' here means 'by default cooperate, unless the other party has betrayed you in the past'.
This does not preclude a bias towards racism however, since the argument of 'The Selfish Gene' is that anything that helps your genes reproduce at the expense of others is 'good'. If you have a population consisting of small independent groups with a high degree of consanguinity within groups but a low degree between groups then the argument could be made that preferential treatment for people within your group at the expense of people outside your group makes sense. The properties of the particular population distribution and transportation network will have a large influence here. It would be interesting to simulate some different situations, does anyone here know of any references to such?

76:

@alex: you only need statistics to find the subtle stuff. Some things are sufficiently obvious maths is redundant.

The difference between TV and film is one of them. The last #1 TV show that routinely failed the Bechtel test was Bonanza from 1967. The only #1 US movie from the same period that clearly passed it was Grease from 1978.

The TV show The Unit, based on a fictionalised version of US special forces, has the military main characters, realistically, all-male (Delta Force doesn't even accept female candidates).

Nevertheless, half the cast is female, and, while they are the WAGS of the military side of the cast, a lot of screen time shows them interacting with each other, and getting into female-led plots and story-lines.

Any difference between DVD sales and box office would defined need proper statistics to tease it out, though. Anecdotally, the difference in sales rank between Spider Man 3 (sole male protagonist) and PoTC 3 (female co-protagonist) may indicate something: people clearly went to see SpiderMan, waited to see PoTC at home.

But, unlike movies versus TV, it's not clear-cut, and it would require more work than can reasonably be spent on a comment post to be sure.

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77:

Are there any subjects or plots treated in movies or books that overwhelmingly appeal to women but not to men? But are _not_ that 'girly relationship stuff'? Because I personally can't think of any.

This is in regard to the theme men and women are actually aliens from different planets, as opposed to being almost identical except for upbringing.

78:

I think two separate questions are getting mixed up here:

1) what goals and capacities do we have? In particular, are we egoists or altruists?
2) why do we have those particular goals and capacities?

(2) raises all sorts of interesting evolutionary questions (our host mentioned iterated prisoner's dilemmas - the classic work here is Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation). But what's important for the issue Charlie raised, and for the question 'why do the right thing?' in general, is question (1).

C is arguing, if I understand him/her, that people are generally selfish, and therefore that we need a selfish reason to do the right thing. But this is very obviously false. People have a huge range of other-directed goals (relating to their families, friends, heroes, ideologies, religions, visions of utopia, etc); and what's more, those goals are extremely modifiable by education and circumstance. People also have important other-directed capacities: imaginative sympathy is an obvious one. And again, these capacities are extremely modifiable - they can be trained and sharpened, or stifled and stunted, by education and circumstance. One only has to read some history - or some novels - to see this.

So, the demand for a self-interested reason to do the right thing is wrong-headed. We already have such reasons in our actual, human goals and capacities, which are partly directed at others, and which can be expanded and sharpened towards vital abstractions like justice.

79:

San C: "We already have such reasons in our actual, human goals and capacities, which are partly directed at others, and which can be expanded and sharpened towards vital abstractions like justice."

Unfortunately the "right thing" may be different to different observers. Thus abstractions like "justice" are defined very differently by different people.

80:

soru@76: But, unlike movies versus TV, it's not clear-cut, and it would require more work than can reasonably be spent on a comment post to be sure."

I'm not convinced that the movie vs tv case has been made. I agree that doing the stats warrants more effort that it is worth for this comment thread, but that doesn't mean that assertions shouldn't be tested or that opinions go unchallenged. All I want to do is raise the point that we can test the assertions being made for Bechdel passing entertainment, whether movies, tv or books. The commentators on this thread lean fairly heavily in favor of fare passing this test, but that may be for various reasons including self-selection.

81:

In our discussion with with C we seem to be avoiding the C word. Our phenotypes are shaped just as much by our culture as by our biology. And how culture is modified is one of those Big Questions that make your ears bleed. I think probably fear is an important feature of this discussion too, and fear can be so visceral and so powerful. Control of both the fear of the known, and the unknown is a powerful tool in a culture.
c @42 grabbing at power over others is stupid in the long run, because you have to invest so much energy in stopping the more powerful (real or perceived) grabbing your power way from you. That's the selfish reason to be generous - you get back on the way down what you put out on the way up. You can get more all round and more robustly if you are nice about it. (People with a thing about gold_taps have big problems.)
c@72 Evolutionary stable strategies can often sustain a low percentage of non-altruists in the iterative prisoner dilemma as individuals can spot the unhelpful types. But once the percentage of selfish bastards in the population rises, or if the population itself increases its more difficult to know who to trust, and difficult to break out of the negative path. That's why we have laws I guess to keep that percentage down in big populations
[I know I'm repeating points here.]
Alex @ 68 + 80 I think that your point about high quality, intelligent scripts is important for interesting characters and their interactions. So a writer that thinks about their work, is more likely to pass this test and others (FMT) or what ever we think up, because they are interested in their work/world and not just their bank balance (Cruel cut.) That is why comments have been calling judgement on the the works in question. The test is an indication of other stuff going down rather than an end in its self.
Mat @ 75 new guinea is a population for studies like that, lots of close but different societies that interact

82:

Alex Tolley said:

Unfortunately the "right thing" may be different to different observers. Thus abstractions like "justice" are defined very differently by different people.

The right thing to do may appear different to different observers. That doesn't entail that it is different. But actually, all I was arguing was that there is no need to answer C's demand to give wholly self-interested people a reason to have some consideration for others, because ordinary humans aren't wholly self-interested. That point is independent of the very difficult question about the objectivity of ought (although I'll happily discuss the latter if you fancy it...).

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83:

Greg @ 70: I disagree with your view of the original strip as strictly value-neutral. There's no explicit statement of value, but to be that literal in our reading, shouldn't we then go on to attribute the rule to the character?

(Some people did, since the rule does seem a bit Mo-like. This led to the "the character here drawn like Mo is not Mo because it predated continuity; Mo didn't join the storyline until way later" remarks. I think I last sighted my DTWOF books in like 1992 and am depending on Wikipedia as a reminder, so apologies in advance if I'm misrepresenting.)

Sam @ 78: I've become increasingly testy with the folk version of Axelrod. I was talking with someone who was (benignly) perplexed by the existence of cooperation; I proceeded to rattle off the received cogsci wisdom. In the process of retelling it, my truthiness meter pegged. (It's been difficult to keep such a delicate instrument in proper adjustment this decade.) The folk version of Axelrod is something that I'd so much like to believe. But the simple form has huge holes, notably noisy channels, and the relevance of the ecosystem modeling. So I don't think I can tell it again to someone without going back and hitting the recent literature.

maggie: I forgot to thank you for the Gethenians/mix-and-match pointer last thread.

84:

Jay Carlson: I'd be interested to know what the received cogsci wisdom is - I'm a philosopher, and therefore coming at things from a fairly different angle, I suspect.

85:

Jay@83: I disagree with your view of the original strip as strictly value-neutral. There's no explicit statement of value

If there is no explicit statement of moral value, then strictly speaking it is value neutral.

I have my own little fiction testing scale about my own little pet project. And what I ran into was interesting. People would agree it's an interesting concept and might measure something useful. But then when used to point out something "war handwavium" in a story they liked, they would often become hostile to the whole scoring system.

I've gone through a couple of iterations and changes to try and make sure that no moral judgements are explicitely mentioned in my score card. I see Bechdel's test as showing when fiction fails to represent reality (as Charlie pointed out, the fiction universe is only 25% female). I view the war handwavium scale as doing sort of the same thing, just on a different topic.

And, really, when it comes down to it, I'm not interested in making people wrong for failing the test. I'm not interested in using the test as a weapon to attack people who fail it. I'm interested in reading fiction that is more realistic when it comes to certain topics. And if not loading the test with explicit moral judgements helps get realistic fiction, then I'll be sure to avoid making explicit moral judgements.

I've said about Bechdel's test, for me, whatever morality I see in the test is a personal morality, not something that I impose on the world. Passing Bechdel's test makes me a better writer. Passing the warhw test makes me a better writer. Reading stuff that passes both tests makes for one less thing to make me roll my eyes about when I'm reading a novel or watching a movie.

And different people can make the test mean different things for them, and all those things can be simultaneously different and true. Different people can get different benefits from thinking about the test, and that becomes an example of a win-win scenario.

86:

C @72, I don't think it's even that complicated. When I first started online, I joined AOL because I liked their SF section best. I found that men ignored what women said and women ignored what men said, so I made what I thought was an androgynous name: Patterner. When I came clean a year later, I found they all assumed I was a guy. Because of my writing, sure, but also because my screenname didn't have an "a" at the end or a "Lady" at the beginning.

This happened in my jobs before I retired on disability, too, because I frequently used mjlayman for travel (people have a lot of trouble spelling and saying my first name) -- I'd arrive somewhere and the receptionist would be sure I couldn't be M.J. Layman. In fact, one receptionist (LockMart -- the worst I ever had to deal with regarding sexism), insisted on talking to my assistant even though he kept stepping further back and waving to me.

There's a massive assumption that people in certain circumstances who write certain ways must be male. You have to break through that assumption before you can even consider that people who are more androgynous might write multi-gender stories better.

87:

soru @76, I don't go to theatres, I see all movies on DVD at home. I'm sure there are other people like me.

88:

GregLondon, if you really didn't want to impose your morality on the world, you wouldn't have a website. That goes for everyone else here too. You might be reading this simply because you want to be a better person, without having any effect on others, but if you are actively commenting, it's because you think that you have something of value to say about how people should behave.

It's not just about fiction being a realistic depiction. Fiction is also about how the world should be (or sometimes how it should not be).

There is nothing wrong with this. It's how culture works. It's how we collectively pull ourselves out of the muck.

89:

GregLondon, if you really didn't want to impose your morality on the world, you wouldn't have a website.

saying "this is how I decide what movie to go to" isn't the same as "you are a bad person if you make a movie like this". I can be in a conversation and report what is true for me without imposing it as a truth that everyone else must submit to. Conversation isn't solely limited to imposing on the listener.

90:

@various-- Even fairly absolute self-interest doesn't necessarily preclude degrees of altruistic-looking behavior. Let's say we're loading people into a lifeboat- a self-interested person could see a good reason for helping to load people into the boat (they help row, after all), right up until the last seat is about to be full...then knock children and old women out of the way to hop in and shout "Devil take the hindmost-- cast off, skipper!" Similarly, a person who made sure that everyone in a group got a share of anything divided among the group...but made sure that the "privileged" group got slightly more than the rest do.

That's the essence of having a privileged group-- you are altruistic within your group, and self-interested outside of it. If your group can hold enough resources, it becomes self-sustaining for a very, very long time. See Sparta for examples, Rome for others.

For current examples, see most first-world countries now-- national healthcare plans don't give money to the sickest people on earth, or to the people who would benefit most for each marginal bit of spending, they spend large sums of money on their own citizens and then perhaps export small bits of assistance funding to poor countries. Trade policies work much the same way-- the poorer countries can benefit some, but the richer ones will be sure to engineer a greater advantage for themselves. "This deal will generate an additional euro of value. We'll get sixty percent of that euro, you can have the other forty".

91:

@86- I guess that leads right back to the question of whether men and women do communicate differently. Beyond simple discussion of fact, is there a different body of connotation and different heirarchy of important topics and understanding? Certainly some men and women expect this to be, which I suppose was the problem you ran into.

92:

Good radio interview Charlie
jay @ 83 Thank you. The essay she discusses how she wrote the Genthians is "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" in Dancing at the Edge of the World.
I was trying to find a nice pithy example for C in my text book to hand, 'Culture and the evolutionary process' Boyd and Richerson, [full of sums] but that is too much like hard work. Marilee's comment @88 suggests what we have been skirting around. If you are lazy and ill educated you're not going to have the tools to cope with something out of your usual scope of recognised behaviours. (and when I say ill educated I don't mean not being able to talk at length about Henry James or Quantum Tunnelling.)
I've always thought education should be learning how to learn. But I guess that's a result of realising that the world is too big and complex to rest on your laurels; or that the more obvious brain washing didn't take. Reading/watching good quality fiction should help with ¿the_world? otherwise what's the point of wasting your life on it. It might well sneak up on your 'lazy and ill educated' view of the world and smash it in to little bits. Even if you take to slagging it off decades later. But that's the whole point of changing_your_mind. (But your know this already, Bob.)
And can I recommend adding Richard Morgan's latest to your reading lists in view of this.

93:

whether men and women do communicate differently

I don't think Bechdel's test requires that the answer is one way or another. Two women talking to each other about something besides a man, in a work of fiction.

Whether a particular work of fiction passes or fails the test has nothing to do with whether "fair and just people may take it in the neck when dealing with the unfair and unjust".

94:

Re: Finally, on a lighter note, the truth about the paranormal romance genre.

That comic actually references a specific book, rather than the genre as a whole: It's the setup for Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer.

95:

Only crap writers use stock lame women characters. This is the 21st century, I don't even think about gender when writing. Some women are laudable and pathetic, some men are too. Some people are strong and natural leaders, some are idiots. If you're thinking in terms of gender then chances are you were born too early.

Big up the 1987 children.

Anyhow, I'd just like to say that gender, race, nationality - these are all imaginary labels we give each other. They have consensus meanings, while really they mean nothing. I don't want to sound like a stoner hippy shit, but distinctions are more product of a compartmentalised society than anything else.

Theres some interesting writing on Queer Theory by Judith Butler.
She writes gender cannot be a foundation for identity. Looking at men against women in terms of a fundamental binary opposition is reductive and socially excluding.

Gender is a performative role, continuous and repetitious, that naturalises and reproduces itself.

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96:

Big up the 1987 children.

So many of them, so little time?

I don't want to sound like a stoner hippy shit

Do not struggle against your destiny.

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97:

Here's mine: trolling was more fun when it was new. A pity they missed that.

Perhaps a commemorative release of "Right Here, Right Now"? Tempting fate, that was.

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98:

Dang, I got down to the bottom of the comments thinking that nobody had spotted it, and then saw Lis Riba made the comment three posts above.

That particular comic is not so much a send-up of the "fang-fucker" sub-genre as the "fang-let's-be-virtuously-chaste-friends-until-marriage" sub-sub-sub-genre.

99:

Alex@68,

It's true that the Bechdel test is less valuable as advice for writing screenplays than it is as a gauge of subtle sexism that's so pervasive in our society we don't even notice it. That said, making an effort to give all your characters some development is good advice for writers, period. Some pros in HW will tell you it's not, but that's because they're thinking character development means long drawn out scenes with serious conversations. Smarter pros will point out that tiny touches - 3 seconds of dialog, a gesture, an expression - can imply a great deal about each character, and audiences respond whether they realize it or not. They care about the characters more, which makes the plot even more absorbing.

So passing the Bechdel test is never a bad idea for writers to aspire to, but it's not the only consideration, and it is possible to have a movie that fails it and is still pretty awesome from a feminist perspective.

Re: your comment that I've pointed out that women can want to watch movies because they find the male actors in them attractive. This is true and fine, but... why don't men want to watch women in movies? Or do they? Why wouldn't men prefer a gorgeous woman for their butt-kicking action hero to a gorgeous man? Men are supposed to want to identify with the lead in a movie, while women are supposed to want to sleep with him, and I've seen people express complete surprise when a woman talks about identifying with male leads and their stories. That assumption in and of itself goes a long way toward explaining why the Bechdel test is so rarely passed - movies come from a culture that defaults to SUCH a narcissistic male perspective that it can't even see women except as how we relate to men.

100:

Paul Harrison @88 if you really didn't want to impose your morality on the world, you wouldn't have a website. That goes for everyone else here too

Really?

C @91, I think this depends on the individual and how well they take on their environment/culture. People clearly thought I wrote like a man, but I've always written like this, and I've always been female. I just never bought into the idea that I had to act like a lot of the women I knew. (hierarchy, btw -- hierarchies have people who are higher (hier) up)

101:

Jennifer@99: "This is true and fine, but... why don't men want to watch women in movies? Or do they? Why wouldn't men prefer a gorgeous woman for their butt-kicking action hero to a gorgeous man?"

Of course we like watching women in movies. We even like strong women in leading roles. I've grown out of the sex-object fetishism that one sometimes sees and I really prefer women (or men) who show that they can resolve the plot issue with intelligence and the ability to fight the forces that prevent resolution. Those women don't have to pass the Bechtel test, most don't, or pass it barely. Of the most recent, Jolie in "Wanted" is the perfect ass-kicker, but I don't recall her talking with any other women in the movie. I prefer the more cerebral woman, Joan Allen as a co-star in The Bourne Ultimatum", Blanchett as Elizabeth I, Mirren in tv drama series "Prime Suspect", Deschanel in tv's "Bones" and of course Major Kusagi in the anime version of "Ghost in the Shell". Historically, Katie Hepburn always epitomized the "strong woman" in movies, a role for which she was standout in "The African Queen", where Bogart was cast against type as a much weaker man.

So I'm more than happy to see women in leading roles in movies, and even older women, like Mirren, who historically had to fight the early career end of actresses as they lost their youthful looks. All I ask is that the movie is well scripted with an engaging plot and characters. Even better if it makes me think.

102:

Jennifer@99: why don't men want to watch women in movies? Or do they? Why wouldn't men prefer a gorgeous woman for their butt-kicking action hero

Ugh. I have a problem with butt-kicking action heroes in general, the more the story as a whole handwaves the violence, the more I tend to actively dislike it.

That said, there are movies that get a high war handwavium score that I really like anyway. One of them that really stands out had a female lead and easily passes the Bechdel test: "Kill Bill".

And one of the reasons I liked it was because the main character wasn't gorgeous.

There seems to be a subgenre of female warrior stories that tend along the lines of "Heavy Metal" (the magazine or the movie, not the music genre). A woman warrior running around in a chain mail bikini (maybe even a thong) while all the men are heavily armored in full coverage plate mail. It's hard for me to watch it without chuckling at the silliness of it.

It's like the comic book stuff and the whole "styrofoam tits" thing. It's just too silly for me to watch it or read it. (comic books tend to have way-high war-handwavium scores, so I avoid them for more than one reason).

I liked "Fifth Element" which had a butt-kicking woman character that told Bruce Willis "Not without my permission". But the scene with her in the "bandages" made me roll my eyes.

I liked "Alien" but the "underwear" scene made me chuckle and groan at the same time.

I even liked "Gilmore Girls". The women there were strong but didn't need to swing a sword to prove it. And the dialogue was always fascinating to watch when two characters would start rapid fire back and forth.

But while I watched "Aeon Flux" when it was the little video shorts on MTV, I passed on seeing the movie. And I didn't bother with something like "Barb Wire" either.

So, this one man's opinion on butt-kicking action heroes is don't make them gorgeous, don't make them into some kind of soft porn, chain mail bikini, Heavy Metal, thing.

103:

I'm surprised -- and a little disappointed -- in all these comments to have seen only one oblique reference to James H Schmitz, he of the canonical "neutral heroine" (back in @39). Alas, someone who seems to have been less influential than he ought to have been in terms of more writers following in his footsteps, rather than just having had significant effect on my own tastes (yeah, I don't get to read that much SF these days).

It is sad that, 35 years after Kagan's essay and Schmitz' own hey-day that we are still having to have this sort of conversation about the SF genre, even if the wider popular culture might be slower to change. It's particularly sad that even after so many years the state of the art is such that the Strange Horizon's checklist still has to omit an explicit "What is this 'male protagonist' of which you speak?" option, simply bundling it into "Other".

104:

I get it. I just don't give a shit. I'm not interested in proselytizing and moralizing. I just want to read the story.

105:

Re: #19, #28, #62:

"It's almost axiomatic that $20 bills don't lay in gutters to be picked up."

While delivering papers on Mathematical Economics, I've more than once been told that an Economist is someone who won't pick up a $20 bill from the sidewalk, on the basis that if it were genuine, some rational person would already have picked it up.

Hence I consider Hollywood as infested with that sort of strawman economist.

This is not the same as the intentional "creative accounting" which is standard practice in Hollywood (the Tolkien Estate is still being told that the Lord of the Rings trilogy has not yet shown any profit), but it does suggest that Hollywood may be overlooking low-hanging fruit, in their refusal to shoot good movies about real people of all genders, where those people have actual ideas. As is the case for Science Fiction, as opposed to Sci-Fi.

Nor is "identity politics" a viable artistic solution in and of itself.

"The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with 'identity.'"

How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science
By PETER WOOD
Chronlicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated August 8, 2008

106:

I have really enjoyed these posts on the Bechdel Test. A friend of mine has been analyzing the new Doctor Who seasons using the Bechdel Test here:
http://lefaym.livejournal.com/18414.html

I'm planning my curriculum for this year, and I am thinking that I might have my students run this analysis on the works that we read just to see what will happen.

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107:

For what it's worth, there's been an
active debate
about the Bechdel test on rpg.net. It's been somewhat depressing to see how many people deny that there's a problem, or that if there is a problem, it's just due to endemic sexism in society, and there's nothing that can (or rather should) be done.

108:

@107 There's also always the chance that many people actually prefer to have sexism in some form in society-- or at least to have defined gender roles.

109:

C @108, we have to hope they die out.

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110:

Yes, lets all hope that they die. Then only right-thinking people will be left.

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111:

Has anyone mentioned David Weber yet?

His "Honor Harrington" universe (Hornblower with spaceships) defineirely passes the Bechtel test

112:

@109- You think groups which likely consider the primary purpose of women to be childbearing are going to be outbred by groups which don't?

113:

@112 They will if women won't have sex with them.

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114:

C@112,
Depending on whom you ask, the goal is to one day implement technology to allow breeding without needing, or producing, men. Then war and prejudice will be stamped out. Of course if we can find the gene for gayness, then we can produce women and gay men only, which will also improve the world greatly.

115:

C @112: it's much commoner for the children of religious conservatives with large families to become urban secular atheist types than for the children of urban secular atheist types to go the other way. It's almost a ratchet effect. The boundaries of "groups which likely consider the primary purpose of women to be childbearing" are porous.

Human groups are in general transient enough that talking of one group "out-breeding" another is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that (insofar as it panders to the more knuckle-headed variety of racism).

116:

@115 It might make for an interesting math exercise to determine exactly how fast the conversion rate would have to go to outdo the effect of having more children sooner.

Admittedly, we're not talking of memes as anywhere near as rigid as genes are, but if we presume that children tend to be somewhat more likely to take their parents' views than someone in the population to convert, and note that parents get a headstart indoctrinating their own kids, then having more kids is an excellent way of increasing the chances of spreading your dogma.

@114- Have you ever seen two women in a fistfight? Have you ever seen one hold a grudge? Neither sex has a monopoly on violence or prejudice.

@113- You're presuming it's only men who hold this view. What about women who consider a woman's chief role in life to produce children and care for them, and all other potential roles to be secondary and inferior?

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117:

C@116: Have you ever seen two women in a fistfight? Have you ever seen one hold a grudge? Neither sex has a monopoly on violence or prejudice.

It is symptomatic of what a farce these arguments always become that you can't tell that I'm being sarcastic when I suggest eugenics as a "solution" to people who disagree about the best way to increase fairness in our society.

People who think their cause is just will excuse any type of behavior in defense of their cause while condemning the same tactics and actions take by their opponents. I think it's a symptom of only conversing with those that agree with you and demonizing anyone who doesn't, which is our new national sport here in the U.S. and now apparently in the U.K. too.

It's also symptomatic of a world-saving attitude that says that the masses are too stupid to decide what is good for them and must be given guidelines for their betterment. It's not that people don't mean well, it's that they are locked into a mindset where they can't have an opinion without declaring it to be natural law and trying to mandate it to everyone. It's a form of megalomania really. If you disagree you "just don't get it", you're "ignorant and un(or over) educated", or you're part of a vast conspiracy. It doesn't matter if your opinion is well reasoned and articulate, the fact that you don't agree makes you fair game to be wedged into your opponents' straw man.

Free will and personal volition are on the ropes. Polarization and hyperbole are the new paradigm.

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118:

C@116: You're presuming it's only men who hold this view. What about women who consider a woman's chief role in life to produce children and care for them, and all other potential roles to be secondary and inferior?

The party line is that those women have been brainwashed and need helpful reprogramming. They're just ignorant and "don't get it" either.

119:

"As you could see from your quick basic research, making "self evident" assertions about reality is harder to prove than you think. That's why data and statistical tests of hypotheses is important."

Posted by: Alex Tolley


Project much?

120:

C @112, I think a lot of that view correlates with age.

ThoughtPolice @117, I think that's immediately projected at me. I don't excuse any reason to get people to believe the way I do. I do think letting them die naturally is reasonable. Ghu knows, I've already outlived the last estimate by 15 years. I don't avoid people who believe otherwise, either. There are three sets of people I see most often (ignoring clerks and doctors -- I'm disabled, I spend most of my time at home): my upstairs neighbor* who leans toward the conservative viewpoints (and since he's 87 and legally blind, I've voted for him the way he wants for years), my library bookgroup, of which I'm the only non-religious person (although they go from more liberal to rather strict), and my brother and his family (they used to be fundamentalist missionaries).

*No, I don't want him to die. But he's a nice man -- he'll just shake his head when we have disagreements about things -- and his daughter here personally does all the repairs in his condo. I'm afraid he's going to have to move to assisted living soon, though.

121:

Alex@101: right. And unlike the film industry, *I* don't think you're a hopeless minority.

Greg@102, did you watch Farscape? Aeryn Sun didn't run around in scanty clothes or pander to any of the other typical "action heroine" tropes. She was a soldier through and through, and to this day a lot of men find her incredibly sexy. There's a lot of proof out there that men are fully interested in women characters who are as complex as the men in their stories.

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122:

Marilee,

Although I did use your statement about "dying out" as a catalyst for an earlier comment, I was not thinking of your comments when I wrote #117. I do however think it makes any dialog with those who disagree almost impossible when you speak in terms of waiting for people who disagree to die naturally. It assumes that those who disagree are throwbacks and that natural process will get rid of them.

I see that as wrong in two ways. First, it effectively prevents any possible dialog or compromise with those you disagree with. I think it plays directly into the stereotype that liberals believe themselves superior to others and want to tell them how to live their lives. It's hard to convince someone to be tolerant if you've made it clear that you cannot tolerate their opinion. The second problem is that the forward arrow of progress is largely a myth. The western world has made great advances in increasing the value of human life but at the same time there are areas where there has been little or negative progress. For example, the U.S. still has a death penalty, Guantanamo Bay is still in operation, and patriotism and "supporting" the "troops" are still necessary to avoid being villified by your neighbors. Suggesting that "troops" are people and the best way to support them is to keep them from getting killed will still get you called unpatriotic, even by the troops, whom you would like to see live.

The rest of what I have to say is not directed at you, but toward those with entrenched positions who want to stand on a soap box rather than have a discussion.

Most people really do want the best for humanity, but they often disagree as to what is necessary and what the priorities should be. Tolerance has to go both ways (except in matters of physical violence or mental abuse, among others). Whether it's a Conservative grouping all Liberals together as over-educated, naive, and condescending, or a Liberal assuming that someone who disagrees with one position must be a fundamentalist who is filled with hate, there is no room for discussion. That makes for good speeches, but cannot lead to any mutual understanding, or true tolerance.

I could not help noticing that the few dissenters in these threads were immediately compared to racists and homophobes. Even the language is loaded. For example, anyone who disagrees with a statement on gay rights must be a homophobe, meaning that they fear homosexuals, with the implication that they fear their own homosexual tendencies. It's pretty hard to have any meaningful dialog with someone you've just wedged into a predetermined mold. In a similar vein is to accuse one's opponent of bearing "invisible priviledge". The message is that anyone who disagrees, to whatever degree, with any liberal stance on gender, race, or orientation is barely conscious and incapable of seeing themself in relation to those with different experiences. The idea that someone could be self-aware and yet not completely agree is unfathomable.

I may have been overly hard on liberals in this post, but that is due to the fact that this is a mostly liberal forum. Were I addressing mainly conservatives I would skew toward more criticism of the well-documented rhetorical tactics of that crowd.

I guess it's really a question of intent. If the goal is to be understood by those who are assumed to be well intentioned people discussing their opinions in good faith, then straw man arguments and rhetorical tactics have no place. If the goal is to preach to the misinformed and enlighten them to one's superior views, then no mutual understanding is possible.

One approach works toward understanding an opposing view (as many have pointed out should be the goal of U.S. diplomacy) while the other attempts to win an argument while alienating those you say you want to sway (as is often the practice in U.S. diplomacy).

I apologize for the length of this post, as I did not have time to write a shorter one.

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123:

ThoughtPolice, you owe me a new irony meter. Mine just shorted out.

You've gotten on your soapbox to address things you dislike, such as people who get on soapboxes rather than participate in discussions, while completely failing to show any understanding of the arguments of the people on this thread -and- specifically telling Marilee you weren't addressing her.

Have you considered the idea of setting your chip aside and participating in this thread? If you disagree with Charlie's point that racists have embraced the meme "group X is a menace because they outbreed us right-thinking people", then disagree with it on its merits. Labeling racist tropes as "racist" is an aspect of discussion (subcategories 'definition', 'stick of correction').

Going back to the point of the thread, I'd argue that any movie, play, or story that featured women having a fistfight, subjunctive wives who believe that childcare is woman's primary priority, or radical Dworkineticists trying to eliminate heterosexual mankind, would each be a better story if they passed the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test is a low bar for treating female characters as human beings, and I think it's so appealing because it's so easy to apply and so obviously a low bar. It's a self-contained and self-sustaining "a-ha!" moment.

Not, I hasten to add, that I'm arguing that any story that passes the test is better than one who doesn't. It seems that the first Matrix movie fails the test, and the *-forsaken second two pass.

124:

Jennifer: did you watch Farscape?

I caught a couple of random episodes, could never seem to sync up with the series, and was completely lost. (I confess that I'm horrible at watching any series regularly) I probably wouldn't be interested in it just to see a good female soldier character, but if the whole series was good, maybe I'll go buy the first season on DVD.

125:

Tolerance has to go both ways (except in matters of physical violence or mental abuse, among others).

No. Tolerance doesn't HAVE to do anything. And the definition of what is "right" isn't limited to physical violence and various forms of abuse.

There is an extreme libertarian view that the only thing that is "wrong" is physical violence and that government doesn't have the "right" to enforce anything but laws prohibiting physical violence, physical theft, and so on. And that everything else should be left to personal agreements between individuals.

No thanks. Not interested.

It's hard to convince someone to be tolerant if you've made it clear that you cannot tolerate their opinion.

I do not tolerate racism. I do not tolerate sexism. Telling a lynch mob that I tolerate their opinions isn't going to get them to be more tolerant of minorities. It's going to allow more lynchings.

And that same argument works whether they're lynching someone or whether they're trying to obstruct minorities from getting equal employment and equal opportunities.

Tolerating intolerance won't make the intolerant suddenly more tolerant.

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126:

GregLondon: "There is an extreme libertarian view..."
Yes, there is, but I never advocated it. That's part of the straw man definition that I refuse to have applied to me.

GregLondon: "No. Tolerance doesn't HAVE to do anything."
Nope. It does have to conform to the definition of the word. Otherwise all you're doing is taking whatever you think and using a positive sounding word to refer to it.

GregLondon: "Telling a lynch mob that I tolerate their opinions..."
That would be an example of physical violence, which I already covered. Not sure who you're arguing with here.

So if you don't have to tolerate opinions you disagree with, and the government should not be limited to preventing violence, theft, "and so on", who is to decide which thoughts are allowed and which ones are not? I think that you assume that if the government enforces "right thinking" it will coincide with your own opinions.

I have some unfortunate news for you: It is very likely that your opinions are not shared by the majority, no matter how right they are or how much I probably agree with you. Once you get the government involved in moral rather than ethical issues, there's no telling what morals you will find being enforced upon you.

127:

ThoughPolice @122: For example, the U.S. still has a death penalty, Guantanamo Bay is still in operation, and patriotism and "supporting" the "troops" are still necessary to avoid being villified by your neighbors. Suggesting that "troops" are people and the best way to support them is to keep them from getting killed will still get you called unpatriotic, even by the troops, whom you would like to see live.

Nope. They disagree with me, but they don't call me unpatriotic. I have history.

But more importantly, here you are telling me that the conservatives are entirely vile, when I haven't said that. I was talking about sexism, which is when people are forced into gender roles. If people take those roles because they find them attractive, I'm not arguing. It's when people get cut and tucked to fit into a slot they don't want that I think it's wrong. And most of the people who believe that should happen are older and I do expect them to largely die out and their heirs (both physical and visionary) to become less hateful. Have you read Melissa Scott's Shadow Man?

128:

who is to decide which thoughts are allowed and which ones are not?

Let us review at which point, this thread became about who decides which thoughts are allowed, shall we?

C@108: people actually prefer to have sexism

Marilee@109: we have to hope they die out.

ThoughtPolice@110: Yes, lets all hope that they die. Then only right-thinking people will be left.

In case you missed it, 109 is part snark. Also, passively hoping people with certain thoughts die out isn't the same as taking on the title of ThoughtPolice and arresting people for not having "right thinking".

At which point you show up with the "ThoughtPolice" as your nom de guere, and start waging holy war against a non-existent enemy.

If anyone is trying to erradicate certain thoughts, it is you, Mister ThoughtPolice. People here are having a conversation about gender inequality in fiction, and what they think that means about themselves and society. And for whatever reason, you won't tolerate that. (do a seach on this thread for the word "toleran" and see who turned the conversation from gender issues to "tolerance")

You seemed to have taken one comment, missed it's snarkiness, reinterpreted its passive hope into some sort of active thought elimination principle, and now see demons in every shadow.

I suggest you start with a pseudonym that isn't quite so righteous and accusatory as "ThoughtPolice". And then maybe try and join the conversation that people are actually having, rather than trying to turn it into the conversation you think it's about.

129:

@127- It's when people get cut and tucked to fit into a slot they don't want that I think it's wrong. And most of the people who believe that should happen are older and I do expect them to largely die out and their heirs (both physical and visionary) to become less hateful.

Unfortunately, they may be replaced by a generation of women who react with immediate pity/contempt/revulsion to women who do just stay at home, raise the kids, etc. Same degree of tucking, just a different expected role for women.

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130:

"ThoughtPolice"@117:

> Neither sex has a monopoly on violence or prejudice.

This is true.

> People who think their cause is just will excuse any
> type of behavior in defense of their cause while
> condemning the same tactics and actions take by their
> opponents.

This is true for many such people. And equally untrue for just as many such people.


> It's also symptomatic of a world-saving attitude that
> says that the masses are too stupid to decide what is
> good for them and must be given guidelines for their
> betterment

In my country, the majority of your "masses" support a policy of institutionalised discrimination against anyone (like me) who is not a member of their religion.

I do not think that disapproval of what the "masses" think is necessarily bad. It depends. (Even when I finish my PhD, if I go home, I will still find it very difficult to get the sort of job I could easily get here or in the States. Or any worthwhile job at all. For no reason other than institutionalised prejudice. I would submit that "my" masses are, if not too stupid, then too mendacious to admit what would be good for them*.

(*: I am a highly trained molecular biologist and quite capable of contributing in a beneficial fashion to the population of any country that will let me do research, and, incidentally, to the rest of the world too. Maybe my contribution will not be much by itself, but then, nobody's is.)

I leave it up to you to deduce where I'm from, if you care to.

131:

they may be replaced by

Your hypotheticals are turning into boogeymen. If you're arguing that people can't do something about gender discrimination until they have a perfect plan, then you're arguing for the status quo.

Otherwise, I think reality says there is no perfect solution, it's simply a matter of whether you're walking in the general direction towards the light or away from it.

132:

C @129, there are business women who do that now, but it's not a wide stereotype. They're wrong. Women who want to stay home and take care of the kids and the house have made their own choice, frequently with at least as much work as being in an office and coming home to take care of kids and the house.

133:

Most people really do want the best for humanity, but they often disagree as to what is necessary and what the priorities should be.

This is not the anecdotal conclusion I've reached in my life. Got any backup for the assumption that most people "want the best for humanity?"

As far as I can tell, people want what it pleases them to want and usually aren't happy with it when/if they get it. It pleases a lot of us to believe we know and want what's best for the world, but we rarely even know what's best for ourselves.

134:

@131- Not what I'm saying- I'm pointing out the tendency to replace one set of prejudices with another. Making the leap to saying "There is no iconic role for a woman. Or man." is bigger than just saying "Women can do this, too."

@132- True, but the stereotype I most frequently run into (so take with grain of salt as to local demographics) is the expectation that women will be doing both-- full career, and also mainly responsible for childrearing and domestic chores, and any woman who can't manage both is somehow failing an essential duty.

135:

C, here in the DC area, whether women stay home with the kids or not is largely class-based. Women who stay home are frequently at the top and bottom of the range while the middle-class usually work as well. And as you imply, if both spouses are working, then both spouses should be taking care of the kids and the house, giving leave for abilities. But as long as they're doing it because they truly want to, I'm fine with it. We can't all have the lives we want, but we should be able to find something that makes us content.

136:

mjlayman@86: I've seen something more or less symmetrical to your story, from a male perspective. In my first Real Job, one of my co-workers (also male) took a phone call for our boss (shockingly, in 1979, also male). The person on the other end refused to talk to him, asking for "his girl." He had to get another female co-worker, to whom the caller was willing to speak and leave a message. Our group (of about 30) shared four phone numbers, one of which was our boss's. We would routinely answer nearby phones, and that included our boss's phone when his secretary wasn't there. This was before voice mail, so we had all figured out the complex secrets of taking a message.

The consensus was that the caller was a buffoon.

137:

LOL Ed C. Yes, apparently your caller figured you guys couldn't use pen and paper!