A New New Bechdel Test

Recently, Tumblr users created the Mako Mori Test, a kind of alternative or addition to the Bechdel Test. Citing its inefficiency in evaluating a character like Mako in a movie like Pacific Rim, fans wanted to create a more versatile test. The results: a movie must A) have at least one female character, who B) has her own narrative arc that is C) not about supporting a man’s story. While I appreciate the usefulness of the Bechdel Test as a tool, it can be limiting. The Mako Mori Test allows for a different perspective than the Bechdel Test. Instead of focusing on the verbal and physical presence of women in movies, the Mako Mori Test emphasizes the development and complexity of a female character.

I know what this looks like, but I swear this isn’t really about Pacific Rim. The Mako Mori test, like the Bechdel Test, has the ability to draw our attention to the inadequacies of writing, beyond the scope of only one movie. The lack of Makos on film is a quality that is so engrained in the film industry that it practically defines it. One of the many things that struck me about the writing in Pacific Rim is that Raleigh’s development as a character is inextricably interconnected with Mako’s. Raleigh doesn’t advance at the expense of Mako; he wouldn’t have been able to grow as a character without her growing, too.

So I started to think. Though useful and well-meaning, tests like these always focus on female characters, essentially creating more and more rules for them. More restrictions, more ways we can critique the perceived inadequacies of female characters. Taken to an extreme they can become a version of the dreaded Strong Female Character, or the equivalent to slapping the Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl label on every fictional woman.  So I thought: why not start regulating our male characters?

Today I propose the Raleigh Becket Test.

A movie successfully passes the Raleigh Becket Test if there is A) a central male character, whose narrative arc B) requires the development of a female character, and who C) never becomes romantically or sexually involved with this female character.

Obviously the first one is pretty easy. Almost every movie in existence passes the first one, but the other two are not so easy. As much as I’d love to see more Makos on the screen, I’d also like a few more Raleighs. He cares so deeply for Mako’s personal growth, without ever once wanting to have sex with her. That’s pretty revolutionary, too.

-Joanna

Finding the Words

My apologies for the spotty posting recently. I can’t give any particularly good excuse, other than my (temporary) mindless minimum wage job. In general, the issue is that I’ve been finding it hard to muster the appropriation indignation for events like the Mark Millar “rape doesn’t matter” incident. My reaction was basically: am I going to get really angry about this, or am I going to just throw up quietly somewhere because this man is an actual, real writer of comics who has more cultural power than I probably ever will? I basically chose the second option. His comments went into the deep recesses of my brain, to join similar incidents whose deeply tonedeaf wrongheadedness have made me nauseous. (I’d give examples, but the specifics have become ether and joined the “background radiation of my life.”)

As for what hasn’t been making me want to find a hole to live in until the world is no longer terrible, I could very easily turn this site into a Pacific Rim fan blog, but I won’t.

Today, in light of my blogger’s block, I will consider the benefits and pitfalls of being able to find the words.

Being able to identify and express harmful aspects of our society by using precise terminology can be extremely empowering. For better or worse, words hold power. Language reinforces and influences culture. This is one of the reasons that, every so often, the internet finds itself in a debate about the real, quantifiable definition of sexual assault. Armed with the specific words to describe an incident, it can be easier to cope with. Being able to say, “that is sexist” or “this is racist” helps to reinforce the idea that inequality not only exists, but marks our everyday lives. We can point it out, say This Specific Thing is Bad.

But language is not always enough. When we lack the discourse and actions required to solve the problems we are able to point out, we remain as powerless as we are without the terminology. It seems that we, culturally speaking, have the vocabulary for identifying racism, but lack the teeth to enforce the punishment that should logically result from saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. We all, at some level (excepting extreme cases), think that racism is a real phenomenon, even if we think it means only Jim Crow or apartheid. Even if the definition is woefully inaccurate or incomplete, we believe at some level that it is real.

By contrast, it is much more common to hear women identifying sexism without ever using the word. Women will say things like, “if men got pregnant, abortion wouldn’t be an issue.” Or, “women have to work twice as hard as men do to get just as far.” But they will rarely say that sexism is the cause of the problems they are identifying. And I think that a lot more women would deny the existence of “sexism” than people of color would deny “racism.” Yet, I would argue that the US’ cultural discourse on gender is (marginally) better than its racial discourse, if only because mainstream media outlets are free to frame gender discussion around upper-class white women.

So is it better to have the terminology, even without the power to enforce it? Or is it better to be able to state the problem without naming it? Do they leave us ultimately in the same position culturally? I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I figured I’d offer these somewhat coherent thoughts to you, O Internet, to consider. Next week, I promise to return to more tangible analysis. Until then, be glad this didn’t turn into “Mako Is Tha Best!!!!!!111 Part Two.”

-Joanna