Also, I was thinking more about why white women saying they’re boycotting ‘Pacific Rim’ and urge others to do so because it doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test and is therefore Terrible for Women and Feminism bothers me so much even though that’s their right to do so and I wouldn’t tell them not to do it, and now I think I know and can put it into words.
It’s really easy to throw away a film because of that test (which is flawed and used incorrectly in a lot of ways) if you’re a white woman and can easily find other films with white women who look like you and represent you, even if that representation isn’t as good in quantity and quality as white men (and yes, I’m specifying WHITE men and not just ‘men’ for good reason). If ‘Pacific Rim’ does nothing for you, there are plenty of other films that will generally do quite well for white women.
But as an East Asian woman, someone like Mako — a well-written Japanese woman who is informed by her culture without being solely defined by it, without being a racial stereotype, and gets to carry the film and have character development — almost NEVER comes along in mainstream Western media. And honestly — someone like her will probably not appear again for a very long time.
So you’ll understand why I can’t throw her and the entire film away as meaning nothing in terms of representation — because she’s all I really have right now. I can expect and push for better while still appreciating what she means to me. Mako Mori means more to me than the Bechdel Test if I have to compromise (and as a WOC, I have to compromise all the damn time, and no, I don’t like it), even if it would have been nice for the film to pass it as well. And don’t fucking dare accuse me of ‘accepting crumbs’ and how that will ‘bring down all women’.
*facepalm* A boycott? WTF why. What is it exactly that we’re saying we don’t want? Heroines of color with their own stories. PSHAW get that crap out of here.
And apparently I’m going to take this opportunity to flail about the Bechdel Test? OOPS.
1) @sanguinarysanguinity has recently been smartly pointing out (here’s one post; here’s another) how the Bechdel test was never intended to be a test “for feminism,” it was a test initially created by a lesbian in the context of a comic about lesbians, and thus shorthand for determining whether a movie might reflect any hint of a community centered around women. Everyone should go read her posts, they are very relevant! But basically, she discusses how now lots of discussion tries to twist the Bechdel test into something it was never intended to be.
2) It has often been a useful test for me, as someone who is just by default more interested in media with multiple women who have relationships with each other, but as it becomes more and more some ultimate “test for feminism” and thereby a fairly reductive tool, it is less useful (and again, as sanguinity says in her posts, it was not intended for this use). If Jane and Darcy talk about science for one minute at the beginning of Thor, Thor apparently is a more feminist movie than Pacific Rim? (Not slamming Thor, this is just an example drawn from two movies I’ve recently seen). That’s arbitrary. I think we can discuss lots about the feminist elements/female representation in each, or lack thereof, and I’m not saying we should pit movies against each other, but just that relying only on the Bechdel test is reductive of feminism (and media representation issues).
For example, yes Pacific Rim fails the Bechdel test. Pacific Rim is not perfect. There should be more women! The Russian and Chinese teams should have gotten a lot more to do. Mako and Sasha talking would have indicated that both roles were stronger/more present in the film. There could have been less focus on white dudes. But the above perspective by @spider-xan on Mako is important and should be listened to and considered by all people dismissing the movie in the name of feminism. (It doesn’t mean you have to like the movie! I more than understand someone who wouldn’t, because there aren’t more women or for any other reason. But your perspective =/= universally feminist). She’s a female lead of color who gets her own hero arc, and whose function is not to support or admire a man. Why would we want to send the message that we don’t want that? Why do we think that is automatically not feminist or anti-feminist, because it doesn’t meet this one arbitrary “test for feminism” (women minimally interacting)?
Let’s propose the Mako Mori test, to live alongside the Bechdel test (not to supplant it! My point is not that we shouldn’t care about women interacting—I care about this A LOT—but that isn’t the pinnacle of feminism or the only thing we should care about). The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist. (Many movies/shows would not pass it).
2) Why are so few people talking about the fact that Pacific Rim DOES pass the Bechdel test as modified for race (two characters of color talk about something other than a white character) with almost flying colors?! Mako and Stacker both have their own arcs, and also have an arc TOGETHER, which gets multiple scenes and is one of the emotional centers of the movie. As far as I know, this is really freaking rare in any sort of mainstream media. And is also feminist, yes? Again, I’m not arguing that this should supplant women interacting, or that the fact that people of color interact means we should be quiet about the movie’s other flaws. Not at all! But the Bechdel test is NOT the be-all, end-all test for feminism. (And, to bring it full circle, as sanguinity says in her posts, it was never meant to be).
3) I will probably continue to use the Bechdel test, though honestly I really only find it useful for my specific purposes when using it among people who apply the same “spirit” of the Bechdel test—multiple women with prominent narrative roles who interact, because I like media that does this—and don’t apply it in the highly technical way it has come to be applied, where any random, short conversation between two women makes a movie/show pass “the feminism test.”
trans* boys in gryffindor being sent to the girl’s dormitory and then being delighted when the stairs won’t let them up
trans* girls in gryffindor being told they can’t go in the girl’s dormitory (and maybe shown what happens by some cis boy) and then trying it and finding that the stairs DO let them up
Gender fluid gryffindor students falling down as the steps to the girl’s dormitory unpredictably turn into a slide.
you’re a good egg
Hogwarts, driven either on its own by the changing ideas of the students within its walls, or by a headmaster’s spell after frequent complaining, lets boys into the girls’ rooms now, and anyone else who wishes to enter, unless they have bad intentions. If anyone wishes to enter *any* of the dormitories (girls or boys or the headcanon genderfluid dorms) with intentions to do anything bad without the consent of the student(s) in question, the staircase becomes a slide. You can be a girl going to the girls dormitory but if you want to go up to the room to harm (mentally or physically) another witch you best believe the school won’t let you up that staircase. You can sleep in the common room for all it cares.
Barbara Winslow, Feminist Movements: Gender and Sexual Equality
The next time someone tells me that you can’t have feminism in historical settings I’m going to print out 1,000 copies of this post, bind the paper, and throw it at them.
“My wish is to ride the tempest, tame the waves, kill the sharks. I want to drive the enemy away to save our people.” HOLY SHIT.