Break the Bechdel with Strong Female Characters Syndicate discussion

Mission Statement/Requirements for Nomination

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message 1: by Janna (last edited Jun 15, 2016 09:53PM) (new)

Janna Grace | 17 comments Mod
Hello everyone!

First, I want to stress that most things are up for discussion and can be reexamined at any time.

Next, after gauging the majority's feelings and weighing in my own, here are the few guidelines that I am set on:

1) No more self-nomination (we can perhaps create a page for self-promotion, but at least in my opinion, that is often a huge turn off when handled incorrectly. We are all paying money to be a part of this and I feel it can sometimes feel calculated, rather than for the best interest of the group). That being said, it is important to be open to projects that we may not have come across yet, and what better way to do that than to provide a page for authors to try to sell their project to us? Let me know your thoughts everyone.

2) In order to become an official nomination that goes up for a vote, the project MUST show in the excerpts available that there is a strong female LEAD. Now the definition of a "lead character" can be a tricky thing to agree upon, but, for example, even though Hermione is a wonderful female character in the Harry Potter books, the story is absolutely about Harry. And in that instance, he is "the one," and far and away the most important character. We can do better. A protagonist can count, but she must be one of the main protagonists who is of equal importance when compared with any male characters around her.

3) The excerpt posted on Inkshares must either pass the Bechdel Test, or show with very little reason to doubt that the book will do so in future chapters. I think it important to recognize that some projects begin solely in the female character's head (without any conversations, which are necessary for the Bechdel Test), or perhaps there are many female characters introduced, but they haven't yet come in contact in the first two or three chapters.

And that is it for now! Please chime in or DM me! Thanks so much.

message 2: by Janna (new)

Janna Grace | 17 comments Mod
I also wanted to quote Amanda Orneck's statement about what makes a strong female character because it expressed (in a much better way than I could) exactly what all writers should be thinking about when writing female characters:

"A great measure for a truly strong female character is to ask yourself 'what would happen to this person if I changed it to a man?' How many of her actions are there simply in reaction to a male character? How many of her actions would change once you swapped her gender? Even better, if you removed all the men from the book, does the entire plot fall apart, or is she integral enough to the story that it can stand on her shoulders when she is making the decisions.

Strong characters have agency in their own lives. They make their own choices based on their moral codes and background, and have an affect on the world around them. Their strength is not in how violent they are or sexual, but in how integral they are to the plot of the story, and how authentic they are to the real life people outside the book they represent.

When you are building a strong female character, she should be in the story because she is important to it, rather than a device used to highlight the strengths of someone else or to advance the plot of another character."

message 3: by Janna (last edited Jun 15, 2016 09:59PM) (new)

Janna Grace | 17 comments Mod
Lastly, Cara (A.C. Weston) also brought up what I think is a great idea: perhaps creating a "Nomination Team" of 2 to 5 people who would like to search out projects/and or make sure that they pass requirements. If anyone is interested in doing something like this, please let me know. I, for one, would love it!!

message 4: by Joni (last edited Jun 16, 2016 04:47AM) (new)

Joni Dee | 2 comments I personally don't like the idea of a nomination committee... we can do a list open for every member's nomination (save self nominations). and a short list (if original list too wide) that u need at least one to second.
A committee would be like deciding on supreme court judges, as I don't think Bekki & Cara's criteria matches my own (as an example)

I also would like to know your guidelines recommendation regarding author's gender. if there will be correctional discrimination against male authors as a rule, it would not suit me (nor would it suit the BREAK the Bechdel mission - in my opinion). Again i think Tahani well said that replacing one sexism with another is off point.

Finally, I want to add a point regarding the BECHDEL TEST...
Admittedly i did not know this test prior to this syndicate forming a few months back, when i went to look it up. Intuitively I thought this is a very sexist test on its own. If two women are having conversation about something other than a man?? can this measure anything relevant to 2016?
from Wikipedia: Wilson, Sarah 'Bechdel Rule still applies to portrayal of women in films': The Bechdel test only indicates whether women are present in a work of fiction to a certain degree. A work may pass the test and still contain sexist content, and a work with prominent female characters may fail the test.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collins thinks Bechdel test is damaging for the way we perceive women.. Hollywood's women are far more complex than what the test measures. Bechdel herself is embigous about her name associated with this test Telegraph article
here's the article about Sweden applying the test to rank feminist film scale: Telegraph article II

more from wiki: FiveThirtyEight's writer Walt Hickey noted that the test does not measure whether a film is a model of gender equality, and that passing it does not ensure the quality of writing, significance or depth of female roles...

SO my point is this Syndicate i thought was meant to Break the Bechdell not endorse it as a measuring test nor as criteria to get backed.. correct me if I'm wrong..

Now for me personally (if you care) - I didn't join the syndicate just because my book was nominated (though it reminded me to do it I must admit). But i have been watching you guys for a while now. I am a father of 2 kids, one is Emily, a 2.5 year old girl. she is an absolute genius, talks fluent two languages, gets a certain degree of irony, and solves small problems all by herself. I'd like to be able to say that I helped paved as much of the road as I can for her, so when she is old enough to do something - she will not be considered a woman (or not a man) for anything she sets her mind into doing.
By applying chablonic tests like Bechdel i think we are ticking boxes and keeping Emily in the same invisible box that was applied to women when Bechdel came up with this.
Please let me know your thoughts on this, last 2 points specifically. thanks.

message 5: by Joni (new)

Joni Dee | 2 comments a bit of paternal pride there - I hope you'll excuse me for it (if not relevant for the discussion in your opinion) :)

message 6: by A.C. (new)

A.C. Weston (acwestonwrites) | 4 comments Thanks, Janna! I'm really encouraged by all of this discussion.

I actually like the idea of authors being able to write out an explanation of why their book will give us one or more strong female characters - mainly a strong female protagonist, yeah, but I bet there will be other female characters that are important to talk about, too. Sometimes people only post 500-1000 words of their book as an excerpt, and it can be hard to tell how the book fits or doesn't fit the syndicate just from that.

I proposed the idea of a nomination committee because I think we need people who are well-versed in these sorts of complex issues who can debate with one another to make sure books that don't fit the spirit of the syndicate don't get onto the ballot. I'm sticking with that assertion, although I don't have any clever way to propose picking those people. I'd like to operate at a third-wave, intersectional level of feminism here, although I have started hearing some intriguing talk of a "fourth wave"... these things are malleable, of course, and there's not really a consensus on what's what, exactly. That's why we need multiple people to discuss things - but not people who have no idea what they're talking about when it comes to representation of female characters.

I am surprised to say I agree somewhat with Joni regarding the Bechdel test, although I view the Bechdel test slightly differently. It's not the be-all, end-all of feminist storytelling. I think we all know that. It's a very, VERY basic, ground-level test that is supposed to get us to realize how unequal things are in terms of female and male characters across all stories. We're supposed to notice how silly it would be to have a male version of the question: "are there at least two men who talk to one another for more than a couple lines about something besides a woman?"

That's a ridiculous question; of course almost all stories would pass such a test. It's supposed to get you to realize how little women are allowed to exist and how little they're allowed to do in so many stories. There's a tiny little box of things women are allowed to do, and it's not the same for men in stories. That's the point of the test.

It doesn't tell us anything about whether the narrative is a sexist narrative, or whether everything in the story is a bunch of cliches and stereotypes, or whether the story advances feminism. Not really. It's evidence of a trend across storytelling, not strength of feminist storytelling within a single story. It can show lazy, status quo writing, where everyone is a man because, er, men are the default as far as the writer is concerned? But it's not a high-level test.

It's possible that an entire story could be about a woman alone in a post-apocalyptic setting and she never meets another man or woman the entire story. The story wouldn't pass the Bechdel test, but it still totally destroys the status quo of who gets to be important and who gets their story told.

So I sort of agree with Joni that the Bechdel test shouldn't be the limit of our ability to evaluate a book, but I disagree that it's putting women into boxes - the point of the test isn't to declare any given story or any given character to be 'unfeminist' or whatever. It's about stories and representation, collectively. If a given story doesn't pass the Bechdel test but passes a 'male Bechdel test' over and over with flying colors, then that is a good indication of whether the story is about men or about women, in general, but that's about the limit. It's a limited test. You gotta use your brain.

I need to note here that there are stories out there that don't pass the Bechdel test that are still amazing stories. This isn't about 'reverse sexism', which isn't actually a thing. I can't believe I have to explain this, but sexism involves an institutional power imbalance and women DO NOT HAVE INSTITUTIONAL POWER OVER MEN. There is no such thing as reverse sexism. Discrimination, sure, but not reverse sexism. The power imbalance is tilted in the direction of men in society and in publishing and in storytelling representation. I will always vote for a female author telling women's stories over a male author telling women's stories because of this imbalance, because we think as a society that we're being fair and impartial between genders in all sorts of way and weirdly, strangely, somehow men still dominate. (For example, we as a society see 'fair' as less than 30% of characters/people being female, and anything more is imbalanced in favor of women. Here's a good reference for that concept: []. And here's what just happened when the "Stuff You Missed in History Class" podcast was accused of favoring stories about women: [].

But I know that lifting up female authors in the face of this entrenched sexism is not one of the goals of this syndicate, so it won't be an actual rule. I still expect more people to vote for male authors than female authors because of societal sexism and internalized misogyny, but oh well. Rome wasn't built in a day.

A lot of things are important to me when it comes to the stories I like, and there are a whole bunch of tests we could apply to books to see if they are contributing to the representation of women in the world of storytelling or not. No one test is going to tell us everything about a story.

Heck, Anita Sarkeesian didn't like Mad Max: Fury Road, and that is one of the most important stories to me in the entire universe! I'm thinking, ANITA WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?!?! I'd like for us to be able to support books that contribute to an increase in a wide variety of complex, well-written female protagonists out there in the world, even if the female character in question isn't particularly impactful for some of us, personally.

That's why we need to be able to debate these things, I think!

I propose that we take nominations and then ask the authors that are nominated to write a short explanation of why their book should be considered for the syndicate. Then the nomination committee can screen the nominees and put together a ballot which everyone will still be able to vote on.

I've heard concerns that certain books get onto the ballot and then come close to winning, but are just dropped the next month. Do we want to talk about that? I'm not a fan of the idea that all books that ever get nominated deserve to win eventually, but I can understand how frustrating it would be to be considered and maybe almost win, but then the next month your book is forgotten about. Does anyone have any thoughts on this issue?

Thanks again, Janna. If anyone has any idea how to select people for the nomination committee, speak up! It's not like we can only ask for people with bachelor's degrees in Women's Studies or anything :).

message 7: by Janna (new)

Janna Grace | 17 comments Mod
Hooray! Great points raised already. I hope I address them all, but if I don't, please remind me.

First, Joni, I have addressed my opinion about male writers several times in the past discussions and hope you will be able to go back and reread (Tahani actually made her statement about it in response to my own). I know that women writers need more avenues for representation, but for the purposes of this Syndicate, I am 100% for inclusivity. I cannot control some people choosing only to vote for women writers or only for men writers, but I will continue to accept nominations from both. As of now, we have had 5 books chosen and only one was by a male (kudos to Michael and the men whose books have come really close of course). I think this would be a great ratio to maintain, but of course I cannot and will not control that.

Second, the Bechdel test itself. When I made the Syndicate, it was absolutely as a call to action to BREAK the test. It is limiting, but I do not believe it puts women on boxes. It was created as a check and balance in an unbelievably unbalanced world. We are changing that balance, slowly but surely, and I chose it as a minimum jumping off point (that would be recognizable). I am absolutely not wedded to the idea or to keeping it in the title if it is problematic, but I think it is important to realize that such ridiculous tests HAD to be created to point out the immensity of the imbalance. As I said above, I think it is an easy way to begin looking at a book, but it definitely does not mean the book is not sexist or poorly written. Also, as I said above, there are many excerpts that won't have that part of the story available, or who will never even pass the test because of the structure of the novel (Cara hit my point on the nose about a post-apocalyptic novel, like my own, and I myself was thinking of a fine book on Inkshares that has the protagonist in a sort of holding cell in a mental institution.

Third, I would like to clarify that we are looking for complex and fully-realized characters. This may actually mean they are not the textbook definition of "strong" and I think that is commendable when it is done well. For example, Melly in Gone With the Wind (in both the novel and film), may be seen as weak in many aspects, when really she is a steadfast and quiet rock of kindness and inner strength.

Fourth, thank you Cara for explaining that there is no such thing as reverse sexism, just as there is no such thing as reverse racism. She explained it perfectly, so I will not add to that.

Fifth, should we always Reno minute books until they have won? Honestly, I do not think this a fair or manageable goal. I think if we crack down on the nominations, then those who make it to nomination status will definitely have something worth renominiating for, but definitely in the past it might have been an indication that the project was not riget for us. Also, if we keep all previous nominations in all new votes, the number of projects will soon become overwhelming. Maybe we can find a middle ground? Perhaps the top 2 (after the winner) can be moved to the next month's nomination pool? Or maybe we can have the projects that didn't get any votes wait a month or two before they are added to the nomination pool again? I am completely open on this, so please weigh in.

And lastly, the nomination committee idea. I would like more opinions on this and do not think it has to be a set group of people, but it can be a group who will help when they have time and others can jump in when they don't. It would be great for me, but it would also be great to have as many eyes on nominations as possible (in my opinion). I think Cara's idea about the author writing a short blurb about their book would be a great way to have our voters take a greater interest and to be more knowledgeable about the books we are voting on (especially if they don't have time to read all).

Think that covered the main issues, but please correct me if I'm wrong! Thanks again for your input!

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