The Big Idea: Adrienne Kress

Hey! My pal Adrienne Kress has released her new novel The Friday Society, and in doing so, she’s not only put together a kickass YA adventure tale, but she’s also checked off some personal goals as a writer. Find out what they are right now.

ADRIENNE KRESS:

My Big Idea shouldn’t really be a Big Idea. It should be a really Boring Idea.  A common-as-muck idea.  An “Are-you-sure-you-want-this-to-be-the-subject-of-your-Big- Idea, Adrienne? sincerely-John” idea.

Alas, it is not.

Yet.

My big idea for my new YA Steampunk mystery adventure The Friday Society was “Write a story about girls in which they are strong and smart, but, more importantly, well-rounded individuals who are more than just token females (even as the leads of their own work), and, you know, likable characters.”

Which ought to be a given. But alas, again, is not.

A lot is made of strong female characters. To the point where panels are created at conventions to discuss the topic. Yet it is most rare to see a panel on strong male characters. And by “rare” I mean, well, I’ve never seen one. The reason? We are still working hard to promote female characters as characters and not as female characters. Look at Soderberg’s Ocean’s 11. No seriously, look at it. It’s a really fun movie. I’ll wait two hours . . . Okay, you back?  Notice anything? Each man in the film is a type. The sexy type, the nerdy type, the funny type – you get my drift. And then there is the woman type. A single solitary female. A bit like you tend to have a single solitary person of colour (POC). But that’s a whole other contentious issue.

Men are seen as people first, gender second. They are considered gender-neutral. They are the waiting forms into which you can pour your types. Women, on the other hand, tend to be seen as their gender first, people second. They are not a ready form for a dozen different types. They are all, inclusively, already a type.

If you make a film about eleven men robbing a casino, the story is about eleven people putting together a cool heist first and foremost. But switch the genders around. Do you see now how the film becomes first and foremost about women robbing a casino, not about a cool heist? The surprised audience questions why women would do such a thing. Why has the filmmaker chosen to cast all women? We don’t ask these same questions when a filmmaker casts all men. Men are seen as the default setting. The norm.

And until we can see female characters the same way, until we can see them as people first, gender second, this idea of writing female characters who are entirely their own people will remain rather Big.

So how did I attempt to address in The Friday Society the problem of not only making my girls people first, female second, but correcting some sexist tropes that have become so common in books that they aren’t all that necessarily noticeable?

Well, like this:

1. I made my female characters strong, yes, but, more importantly, fallible.

We’ve spent the last several decades attempting to compensate for years of representing women as being completely vulnerable and helpless (i.e.: the damsel in distress). But the problem is that instead of creating three-dimensional, interesting characters, we wound up going too far in the other direction and created characters of another type, characters who have no weaknesses, who never lose a fight (i.e.: the kick-butt girls). That’s not human. Because (here’s a secret:) humans have flaws.

And so I created smart, strong, kick-butt characters, yes, but people who also on occasion screw up. Who have fears and foibles. This is important for two reasons. One, it shows that women are just people too. And two, it also shows girls that – you know what? ­– you can screw up and get over it. I think a lot of girls these days have so much pressure put on them to be perfect that it’s nice to see that sometimes you can make a mistake and move past it. More importantly, that you can learn from it.

2. I wanted to show was that my girls got along.

This is something sorely lacking in most media today. Even when you have a strong, positive, three-dimensional female main character, she is often the exception rather than the rule. Other female characters with lousy character traits are put around her to demonstrate just how amazing our lead character is, and often our FMC has contempt for most women in the story. The characters the FMC does relate to tend to be male.

On the off-chance that the FMC does have female friends, they are often represented as frenemies (I really hate that word). Relationships between women are evidently supposed to be catty, manipulative, and just all-around unpleasant. By contrast, there is a beauty to men’s bromance. It is held up as an important and wonderful thing, whether it be a Fellowship surrounding, say, a piece of jewelry, or someone to whom you can say I Love You, Man. But the female bond is derided, considered a necessary evil. Something to mock. It’s actually why I believe so many women love bromance books and films. We so rarely see our own friend relationships represented as high-quality and fulfilling, that we relate better to watching the way male relationships are represented.

That’s not good.

So. In THE FRIDAY SOCIETY my goal was to create female friendships that I relate to. Similar to the bromance. Relationships based on trust, support, loyalty and congruency of interests. On having fun with each other and making each other laugh.  Of good communication and not letting misunderstandings fester. Relationships between reasonable and kind human beings.

3. Allowing one of my kick-butt girls to be girly.

It took me a very long time to realize that my having disdain for girly things did not make me a better person. In my early youth, anything that was associated with what a stereotypical girl liked was clearly bad (e.g. makeup). And anything that I liked that was liked by a stereotypical boy was good (e.g. action movies). You can imagine my shock when one day it occurred to me that my considering typically feminine things less important meant that I was perpetuating a pretty darned sexist attitude very common in our society. There is a notion that things that interest men are more worthy than things that interest women.

I decided to embrace the part of me that was more feminine. And doing so meant also embracing it in my book. Nellie loves being girly, loves playing dress-up, loves sparkles. None of this takes away from her ability to be strong, intelligent and get the job done. In fact, I truly believe her more girly qualities enhance these three powerful ones. Quite frankly I think she’s an utter delight.  If I do say so myself.

4. Writing a book that has girls as the main characters where romance is so secondary as to be almost non-existent.

There is nothing wrong with romance, and I love a quality romance book/film (see! I’m embracing my girly side – though I think men are just as romantic as women, so . . . I’m embracing my human side). But often the only reason a female character is introduced into a story is so that she can be the object of desire for a man, or, if she is the lead, her story is all about her search for a man. There are, of course, exceptions, and I very much enjoy those exceptions. But right now they really remain exceptions.  Not the rule.

I wanted to write a book about girls saving the day. In fact, no. I wanted to write a book about people who save the day. People who just happen to be girls. Now, there is a little romance in my book, because it made sense. Heck even The Lord of the Rings, which is about saving the world, had a couple romantic subplots in it. But mostly my girls are focused on solving a series of crimes.  And you better believe this means they therefore pass the Bechdel Test in spades. (For those not in the know, the Bechdel Test goes like this, according to Wiki: The Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man).

I could go on. I could discuss my disdain for the girls-choosing-the-bad-boys trope, and how I attempted to subvert that. I could also discuss how I made my girls attractive, yes, but confident about that fact, as opposed to “What, me? I’m just so plain . . . why are these guys paying attention to me?” (which I won’t dismiss as just absurd, despite my disapproval of it – there is so much baggage that comes with women and how we view ourselves when it comes to appearance, is it any wonder we get confused?) But I won’t.

All I will say is that, in a way, it’s a pity I needed to be so focused on how I wanted to represent my girls in order to make them strong characters that were more than just their gender. But at the same time I think it’s a necessary thing to do. I hope that some day I won’t have to be so dogmatic. That female characters will be seen as gender-neutral in print as much as male characters (for that matter I hope the same for POCs as well – heck really for anyone who isn’t a straight white male), that stories about women will be stories everyone can enjoy that just happen to have women as protagonists. And I truly do think we will get to that day. But until we do, I’m going to put in the extra effort.  Because it’s really that important to me.

—-

The Friday Society: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.

53 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Adrienne Kress

  1. Sounds great. The cover art is awesome. And I think it passes the Hawkeye test. (Well, the poses do. And at least 2/3 of the outfits.)

  2. I think this book just moved from my “definitely want to read this soon” list to my “I’m going to have to read this TONIGHT” list. Good luck to you, Adrienne, I love reading about awesome characters, female or male and I look forward to reading about yours!

  3. Read this, and immediately went to Amazon.com to buy it for my twelve-year-old daughter, who’s a steampunk fan and has complained bitterly about the extent to which YA=ROMANCE. I’d thought I was done with my Christmas shopping, but clearly I was not.

  4. Sounds similar to what Lauren Faust was shooting for when she created My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
    I shall have to check it out.

  5. Tossed off as almost a throwaway comment: “you know, likable characters.”

    Which is, in large part, why I’ve been reading so much more YA in recent years. Now, I wonder, if I buy this book for my steampunk-fan wife, or my tired-of-depressing-assigned-reading early-teenage son, how long will it take before I get a chance to read it?

  6. I’m pleased all over again that I preordered this and it came this week. Now I just need to make time to READ it.

  7. How sad is it that the only other work I could think of off the top of my head that embodies these qualities is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic?

  8. I will be totally buying this for my kids (and I always have to read it first…for safety reasons… :). Actually, a similar attitude is in this e-book I bought due to a librarian referral. Ladies of Devices by Shelley Adinia is also a book about an awesome but realistic girl in a steam punk world. I totally agree with you that male is the default setting in stories and every girl character is amazingly perfect but still thinks she is ugly. I have turned to lots of animal as main character books for my 8 year old to lessen the amount of stories with that bias. Thanks for more options!

  9. Cool “Big Idea”.

    I think fiction is getting better at showing women more 3D. The show “Bones” has some issues with it, but its got women geeks, women bosses, earthy-crunchy women, techy women, i.e. women as different “types” rather than just a reward for a male character. The male characters are a bit more limited on that show, but it is, for the most part, balanced.

    I think the cover has the woman holding the sword backwards though. Or at least awkwardly.

    Bearpaw: I think it passes the Hawkeye test.

    What’s a hawkeye test?

  10. Hawkeye test: Replace the female characters on the cover of a book/comic/movie etc. with the (male) character Hawkeye. It’s a measure of how absurd female poses get.

  11. @ Greg:

    Replace the woman/women on a book cover, on movie poster, in a comic book, etc with a man in the same pose and possibly a similar outfit. If the result looks good, it passes. It’s meant to illustrate the sexist idiocy of much of what’s out there.

    I don’t think there’s a standard term for it yet, and the idea pre-dates the Hawkeye Initiative (see below, possibly NSFW), but that’s what I’ve been calling it in my head.

    http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/

    Also see our host’s post here:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/12/05/dear-whateverians-choose-my-pose/

  12. @ aczarnowski :

    I am not sure what you mean about the trigger finger.
    (Not a gun-guy, so I really have no clue.)

    It’s not an illustration, it’s a photo.

    For more information take a look at this:
    http://rudyfaber.com/?p=550

    Rudy-Jan Faber designed the original cover concept, and it’s shown there.
    According to him :
    “The creative team eventually decided to go with a photo cover based on this illustration instead.”

    Does that change your view of this?

    Also – Thanks for letting me know about this, John!
    Purchased!

    (And thanks to Adrienne, also. . . )

  13. Fabulous post.

    As a female SF writer I am utterly sick of my gender being thought noteworthy. (My usual response to the old, ‘So what’s it like being a FEMALE Science Fiction writer, then?’ question is usually: ‘Like being a male one, only I happen to wear my genitals internally.’) However, you raise points I hadn’t thought of myself! Would you have any objection to me linking to (and possibly quoting from) this piece?

    And I’ll certainly look out for a copy of The Friday Society, though as the MadLogician says above, it’s annoying that the e-book isn’t available here in the UK.

  14. I like the sound of it. I wince, though, at “I could also discuss how I made my girls attractive, yes, but confident about that fact…” because why do they always have to be attractive? How about plain and confident because it doesn’t matter what they look like? Or is this too unrealistic? It seems to me that attractive is always a given part of the “woman type” and that this does not help readers who do think they’re plain (and goodness knows there’s plenty of reinforcement that you’re never pretty enough, like every ad aimed at women ever) and therefore invisible or seen as less competent, less worthy, etc.

    But of course I don’t know how “attractive” is actually presented in the book, and the author may not have been referring only to appearance. It’s just something that stuck out to me as discordant in this post about cliches of how females are presented.

  15. This is on to read list for sure. It’s a shame I can’t make it to the launch party tonight up in Toronto and pick up a signed copy. Oh well, will have to put this on my AdAstra purchase list.

    If you’re anywhere near Toronto I recommend going. It’s at the Gladstone Hotel. There’s an event on Facebook for it.

  16. Getting it for me and my girl! When I was her age, there weren’t “women heroes” — women were heroines (who needed to be rescued) so….I wrote my own! The girl (based on me) rescues a whole group of guys in every book in the series! Obviously, the series was only read by my peers at the time — eighth grade gal pals — but they loved them! Now I realize I was empowering a whole group of girls without even knowing what the word “empower” meant! :)
    It’s great that my girl is growing up in a new generation. Still, I can’t wait until we are all just HUMAN first. After my lifetime, I’m afraid.

  17. Bearpaw: I don’t think there’s a standard term for it yet, and the idea pre-dates the Hawkeye Initiative (see below,

    That link was good for a chuckle. ;)

    geekdad42: I am not sure what you mean about the trigger finger

    generally speaking, you don’t put your finger on the trigger of a firearm until you’re ready to fire said firearm. Until you’re ready to fire, you keep your finger outside the trigger guard. The safety mechanism of a firearm isn’t something you want to trust as the only thing stopping you from accidentally killing someone. This is pretty much drilled, drilled, drilled, into anyone when they’re taught to handle firearms.

    keep the weapon unloaded at all times unless you’re about to fire.
    keep the safety on at all times unless you’re about to fire
    keep you’re finger off the trigger unless you’re about to fire
    keep the weapon pointed in a safe direction at all times
    (I consider “down” a better direction than “up”,
    because “down” means you know what the bullet is going to hit)

    If I were shooting with someone and they broke one of these rules, I would point it out to them and expect them to correct and follow the guidelines. If they consistently violated even one of these rules, I probably wouldn’t want to be on the range with them. Hence, seeing the finger on the trigger would probably raise a flag among anyone who knows how to shoot.

  18. I agree with j-grizz that it sounds similar to Lauren Faust’s aim with reviving My Little Pony. We need more humanized female characters. As a male writer and reader, I think only good can come from this, and look forward to reading this book in the near-future.

  19. @Greg,

    Ah. And here I thought the ‘trigger finger’ comment might have been a welcome call for a bit less gun imagery on the covers of YA fiction.

    Ah, well. Still seems like an awesome book.

  20. Thanks, Greg! The trigger finger thing makes me nuts, because I’ve been told I was a little old lady about gun safety. I don’t accept that there is any such thing as a “gun accident.” If somebody got shot it’s either because it was deliberate, or at least one person did something stupid.

  21. Excellent!

    I’ve been re-reading Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce novels a little too much lately… needed some new pro-woman pro-feminine YA novels to add to my docket. =)

  22. Thank you for this! Definitely adding it to my to-read list. I’ve started seeing “strong female character” and having a knee-jerk reaction of “stay away!!” These so-called strong female characters are usually just female characters that happen to have more of a spotlight than usual. I’ve grown to hate most of them. They are always a disappointment.

    I’m looking forward to a book that has a strong female CHARACTER instead of a strong FEMALE character.

  23. Another great thing about THE FRIDAY SOCIETY? All that Big Idea stuff about the sexism, racism, and the complexity of relationships comes courtesy of a REALLY GREAT adventure.

  24. rb: here I thought the ‘trigger finger’ comment might have been a welcome call for a bit less gun imagery on the covers of YA fiction.

    Well, looking at the cover, of the three characters, two of them are brandishing weapons, so, ya know… you’ll have that.

    I think pretty much all fiction can only exist around some sort of character conflict. The thing that Adrienne Kress is doing, upgrading the tropes around female characters? I think we could use a similar upgrade around the kind of “conflict” we see in fiction, so that it isn’t always gun play, sword play, vampires bleeding someone dry play, or kids in a fight-to-the-death contest play, or some sort of story where the basic conflict is someone killing someone else.

    But people are afraid of death, so its easy to plug into that fear. It doesn’t need a back story. So it becomes a bit of a crutch for writers. And I’m more and more getting the impression that some writers really have no clue how people think, so how are they going to write a believable story about how Alice wants to reconcile with Bob, when the author couldn’t reconcile themselves out of a paper bag? Make Alice a vampire and how she wants to feed on Bob, and it plugs into a base emotion of fear, and the writer doesn’t have ot understand advanced human development.

  25. As a father of two ten-year old girls who are voraciously reading I really appreciate this! The books they are reading are great but I really do notice the lack of balance. There are more good female characters out there but they are still the exception. Definitely picking up to check out.

  26. @geekdad42, @Greg has a good explanation. Seeing the basic firearm safety rules broken in pretty much all visual arts pretty much all the time is *frustrating.* It really isn’t that complicated. And getting it right conveys competence which is, you know, generally what the author is going for with their characters.

    See also “clip.” If you are talking about modern firearms you are, almost certainly, looking for the word magazine instead.

  27. I like the whole concept, except… I echo everything Robin said (including the caveat). For me, the “attractiveness” reminds me unhappily of the ubiquitous “beautiful.” Read the synopsis for any book, TV show or movie; in far too many of them, “beautiful” is a code word for female, especially if she’s not in a stereotyped female profession. If there’s a female character, she’s beautiful (unless it’s the rare story where her non-beauty is a major plot point, and that is usually treated far from satisfactorily, either).

    One YA author who got this aspect right in my opinion is John Marsden (a man, to boot!) in his Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles. Teenage main character Ellie’s looks aren’t important to the story, but the few references to her appearance suggest that she has a solid figure and has never had long hair in her life – rather tomboyish, in other words, but it’s no barrier to her having a boyfriend and a satisfying (under the circumstances) relationship.

  28. Is it my imagination, or is YA really YFA these days (nothing wrong with females,I’m quite fond of them). Are young males not reading anymore? I’ll confess my own sons didn’t – they were hopeless jocks.

  29. This is a really damn good algorithm for rooting sexism. I don’t ordinarily read YA novels, but I think I’ll have to put this on my list simply to see the result. Incidentally, the specified age-range makes this a perfect addition to the package of books I’m putting together for the my niece’s solstice gift.

    @ aczarnowski

    Sounds like a great read, but I can’t see the the rest of the cover past the finger on the trigger. Seriously Artists. This. Is. Not. Hard.

    Perhaps there is a badie falling from above and she’s just such a crack shot she can pick it off while making eye-contact with the camera they’re posing for.

    @ Laura W

    It’s great that my girl is growing up in a new generation. Still, I can’t wait until we are all just HUMAN first. After my lifetime, I’m afraid.

    It begins with individuals. Ideas exist only in the ideating minds. Biases aren’t mystical forces that exist independent of people; they survive only so long as they go unexamined and unseen through to a less filtered reality. It seems like this should be obvious to most (if not all) thinking people. And I’m inclined to think it is. Clearly people who talk about this or that bias being how “we” see things are discussing trends, not actually saying they buy the bias, because, if they did, they wouldn’t be deconstructing it. But it sounds linguistically off-kilter because it can make it seem as though the trends must reverse before individuals are allowed to buck them, which is so very clearly not the case.

    Um…that was mainly my own musings using your comment as a starting point, not actually a direct reply to what you said. I just find the way we use words (there, I did it to, dang-it) to be contextually self-contradictory.

    @ Greg

    I consider “down” a better direction than “up”, because “down” means you know what the bullet is going to hit

    Not to mention the fact that what goes up tends to come down with comparable force (allowing for terminal velocity, updrafts, thermals, ect…).

    I think we could use a similar upgrade around the kind of “conflict” we see in fiction, so that it isn’t always gun play, sword play, vampires bleeding someone dry play, or kids in a fight-to-the-death contest play, or some sort of story where the basic conflict is someone killing someone else.

    It’s called literary fiction :-P

    @ rb

    And here I thought the ‘trigger finger’ comment might have been a welcome call for a bit less gun imagery on the covers of YA fiction.

    Not everyone regards guns as unwelcome, particularly in situations where their presence or use can alter the outcome for the better.

    @ Kevin Hicks

    The trigger finger thing makes me nuts, because I’ve been told I was a little old lady about gun safety.

    Those will be the people around whom to avoid when they are carrying or shooting. It’s right considerate of them to flag themselves for you ;-)

    I don’t accept that there is any such thing as a “gun accident.” If somebody got shot it’s either because it was deliberate, or at least one person did something stupid.

    Friendly fire is an oxymoron.

    @ Sarah

    I’m looking forward to a book that has a strong female CHARACTER instead of a strong FEMALE character.

    Amen. Or awomen. Or just a human 👍

    @ Margaret S.

    It sounds (to me, who could be misreading you) like your beef is not with attractiveness and beauty, but with cultural norms of both. In which case, I tend to agree. But since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the most realistic approach, IMHO, would be to have some characters whose appearances and personal aesthetics sometimes intersect with whatever happens to be the prevailing consensus in their era and culture (real or imagined), and some characters whose definitions of beauty and attractiveness are somewhere else entirely on the aesthetic map. After all, there’s nothing inherently sexist or amoral about a particular aesthetic. What makes it sexist or amoral is the cultural pressure that compels women (and, in different ways, men) to conform to those expectations.

    On the flip side, the notion that a woman shouldn’t show skin or that a man shouldn’t display buff muscles, just because it coincides with today’s Western gender idealizations, is its own kind of conformity to nonconformity. I would argue, and it’s only my opinion (which is by no means necessarily right or right for everyone), that a realistically empowered human (or transhuman, in the case of some of my own stories) character, whether female, male, gender-queer or otherwise, would choose their appearance and how to present what they cannot alter based on their own preferences rather than the preferences of either their society or any one subset of their potential audience.

    Anyway, sorry for the essay. These things fascinate me both as someone who has a very strong sense of personal aesthetics that are sometimes but not always congruent with ever-shifting norms, and as a writer who wants to write self-actualized characters who don’t automatically bow to the expectations of others, whether cultural or counter-cultural.

  30. But what about the stereotype of the Asian girl with martial arts skills? How about that? Because perpetuating that stereotype about Asian women isn’t cool for some Asian women, okay?

  31. I don’t know anything about the gun trigger thing (other than what I’ve read in this thread, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me), but the thing that stands out to me about the cover is how much it makes me think of some of the character designs in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Well, maybe not the one on the right.

  32. This reminds me, when I first outlined a heist-story project, I had made every character of the heist male, without giving it a thought. Later, when I came back to actually start writing that project, I realized how ridiculous that was. I changed the genders of half the crew, and it didn’t hurt the story at all. Imagine that.

  33. Someone I know asked me once why most of my favourite fictional characters (with a few exceptions) are male when I’m so enthusiastic about good female characters. It’s usually because my favourite characters are strong characters, but believable; intelligent; have strong bonds of friendship (i.e. bromance) and positive, realistic friendships; aren’t afraid to call people out, but will also admit when they’re in the wrong; pretty much never think about what they look like or what they’re wearing, or what anyone else is wearing, except as an occasional observation; have exciting adventures; and while they may sometimes be in romantic relationships, that’s not the focus of the story, and their relationship doesn’t dominate who they are. It’s really hard to find those qualities in a novel ‘about women’ (and what’s with that? how many novels say that they’re ‘about men?’).

    It reminds me of that quote, where Joss Whedon was asked “Why do you write strong female characters?” and responded, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

  34. To address the comments on characters being attractive: This is something that most male characters are too. I will say that maybe it’s not addressed as thoroughly when describing male characters – you describe them as fit and tall and that’s good enough to be attractive. Female characters we go into discussing their hair, figure, etc… Plus, it’s never good for any character to *think* of *themselves* as plain, and confident anyway. It’s not confident to think “Well, I’m just not that attractive, but I’m a good person anyway.” It’s more confident just not to compare your natural appearance to those around you at all. You don’t have male characters specifically thinking “Well, I’m short and extra hairy, but I’ll get all the girls anyway.” (You MIGHT have *another* character think that about the plain/short and hairy character though.)

  35. Also, Tamora Pierce has been writing very good female characters for decades. It’s always good seeing more authors making the effort to join in. Book purchased – looks like it’ll be a good read.

  36. Re: Kevin Hicks
    Calling someone a “little old lady” about guns is like calling someone a “very old barbarian fighter.” They’ve managed to stay alive for a very long time in an environment where becoming dead is a potentially common occurrence, and therefore they are sufficiently smart and/or dangerous that you might not want to mess with them or their friends.

    I did fail one of the Old Guy tests, though – I figured that the Hawkeye Test wasn’t about Alan Alda’s character from MASH, but had to look up who it was about :-)

  37. This book looks terrific. Straight onto the Buy for My Daughter list.

    The problem with the Bechdel test is that, while superficially a clever critique of the lack of genuine and wholly-developed female characters in most media, it fails to accomplish its nominal goal of letting you know whether a particular book / film / show truly offers you such characters. The idea is that the Bechdel test should be a quick and simple check as to the presence/absence of gender bias, so that passing the test ensures a portrayal of realistic, genuine, empowered, capable female characters who can control their own agency, and who are defined as something other than eye candy, or in terms of something other than their boyfriend.

    But it doesn’t work.

    With a usual caveat that the two female characters must both be named, the 2011 Hollywood version of “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo” does not pass the Bechdel test.

    “Sucker Punch” does.

  38. Adrienne writes:

    “But switch the genders around. Do you see now how the film becomes first and foremost about women robbing a casino, not about a cool heist? The surprised audience questions why women would do such a thing. Why has the filmmaker chosen to cast all women? We don’t ask these same questions when a filmmaker casts all men. Men are seen as the default setting. The norm.”

    Ummm…I dunno about the logic here. I think it’s kinda reasonable to cast gender in accordance with a particular stereotype, especially when the action involves derring-do, violence and crime. To turn the tables, what if the film was about a bunch of dudes getting together to paint their nails, bake muffins, exchange sex tips, and bitch about relationships? What question might the audience ask then?

    Look, I’m not saying gender stereotype (or indeed, ANY stereotype) is either necessary or accurate. Certainly a bevy of hot babes might come together to knock over a casino. It could happen! And I totally love that Adrienne has written a novel that confounds stereotype, with “smart, strong, kick-butt characters.” More of this I say! I’m simply speaking to the argument as to whether or not it would be reasonable for an audience to question the casting of women in an action/adventure flick. I think her example is flawed. As they say, when one hears hoofbeats, one should not think, “zebras.”

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