The Bechdel Test and Beyond – part II

Here are some more try outs of the new Rounded Representation test that I have devised. In explaining the results below it should hopefully make it clearer to readers how the test is supposed to work. This time, I have chosen three modern mainstream stories that are targeted at an audience of girls: the recent feature film based on My Little Pony, “Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks“; one sample episode of the Barbie webcast show “Life In The Dreamhouse“; and the 2010 Disney feature film “Tangled“.

Rounded Representation 2

Range of emotions shown:

  • The “My Little Pony” film (hereafter MLP) certainly covers all the bases on my test.
  • Barbie is a generally happy character and the short episode in question includes friends who collaborate with each other; I wouldn’t say there’s much depiction of anger or fear in that episode though I am being a bit unfair as I don’t like the show much and so haven’t watched much of it. In other clips, Barbie’s rival probably does show anger and the characters probably do show some fear at points, but this is not a series that has a lot of emotional highs & lows.
  • “Tangled” again has a pretty happy main character and a female villain who is quite angry at times; Rapunzel also has a lot to learn about the world so she has moments of fear and doubt but eventually wins through to the love of her family and to romantic love too.

Range of abilities shown:

  • In MLP, the main female characters play musical instruments (showing physical abilities that are things that real people might do), and they solve problems and therefore display mental abilities that match things that real people might do. They also can do astounding leaps into the air (showing physical powers that are more superhuman than realistic) and can do magic (thus mental superhuman abilities).
  • Barbie and her friends show realistic and more-than-realistic physical prowess but don’t really solve any intellectual challenges or show mental powers beyond the norm.
  • Rapunzel does quite a lot of physical stuff – running, jumping, hitting people with frying pans – and some of it is more-than-human (tying people up with her hair). Both she and her female antagonist can do magic, and they both have to think hard in order to solve problems too.

Range of challenges faced:

  • In MLP, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the one film. One character has to redeem herself in the eyes of her friends and her school (individual challenge), but the group as a whole have to save the world from the three magical sirens who are threatening it (societal challenge). There are threats to the well-being of the main characters but also goals that they are trying to reach (playing together really well as a rock band, having their song-writing skills appreciated). Some of these challenges are real-world ones that any viewer might also face, but saving the world from mystical forces definitely comes under the category of the fantastical.
  • Barbie and friends have a fairly fantastical (not to mention silly) challenge to face but it only affects them as individuals, and it’s more of a personal goal than a threat to them
  • Rapunzel doesn’t need to save the world but she does have both personal goals to fulfill and a very real threat to defeat. Arguably some of her challenges are ones that a real viewer might face – finding friends, finding love, getting back to her family – but it’s a bit tenuous and I would say the story is fairly firmly based in the fantastical challenges of defeating her magical enemy.

Range of ages shown:

  • MLP is set in a high school and it does have a restricted group of ages as a result. The characters are young, perhaps teenagers rather than tweens, but you don’t really see any female babies or children, or any old women. (You do in the TV series of MLP, however.) There are some female grownups (teachers) who have a minor role in the film but are present. (NB I am counting ‘young adult’ as being around the 18 – 25 range – treated as an adult for many purposes in society, but not expected to have a family of their own or necessarily to have embarked on a career.)
  • Barbie only really seems to include young adults and grownups (I am categorizing Barbie as a grownup because the episode I watched had her talking about her many careers, and referring to Ken as her boyfriend of many years). Other episodes in the series do include Barbie’s younger sisters so would score slightly more widely.
  • Tangled does show a pretty wide range of female characters at different ages.

Range of roles shown:

  • MLP – the many female characters cover the wide range of possibilities, as heroes, villains, sidekicks, and background cast.
  • Barbie doesn’t really seem to have any antagonists in this episode (in others she does have a rival, Raquelle) but nor are any background characters shown, whether female or male.
  • And in Tangled there is a notable gap in that there are no female sidekicks (something that has been noticed recently elsewhere).

I will get back to British comics in the next post, promise ! Hopefully the above gives an easy-to-follow explanation of what the various categories meant in my test, and why they might be ticked or left blank. I think it also shows that just because something is targetted at a female audience, it does not necessarily cover a diverse range of representation possibilities.

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3 thoughts on “The Bechdel Test and Beyond – part II

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