(While there are no explicit plot spoilers here, I will be referring, however briefly, to the way in which some characters are handled. I will mention if certain acts occur within certain novels. I won’t give details away, but there you go, you won’t be shocked when you come across them.)
I am a semi-regular reader of Karen Healey’s “Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed)“. I do recommend checking it out, if you read comics and are an internetting sort of reader.
Anyway. Healey mentions, every so often, Bechdel’s Law. It’s one (one) of the keystones, in Healey’s view, of representing full-developed women in literature, comics, film etc. It’s a quick rule of thumb to figuring out how hostile to women (not necessarily in the I-Hate-Women sense, but definitely in the I-Have-Objectified-Women-In-My-Head-And-They’re-Really-Good-For-Making-The-Hero-Look-Good sense.)
The Law, loosely paraphrased, can be summed up thusly:
Does the story have
1. More than one Woman?
2. Do those women talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?
3.a. (added by me) More than once?
Obviously, simply following these rules won’t mean that you have a completely developed female character. (Or, with different questions, a male character.) But Healey insists, and I have come to agree, that it makes a significant difference to how those women feel as characters.
I was looking through the books I have recently read, trying to figure out which of them pass, and do not pass, the law.
Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself does not. (Both female characters in the novel are products of abuse, by the way.)
Hal Duncan’s Vellum does not. (Vellum also seems to trace the Rape-on-the-path-to-becoming-a-stronger-woman storyline, which I find annoying.)
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings does not. Neither does his The Hobbit. I’m iffy on the rest of the material, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say No. (Tolkien has few rapes in there too, but Celebrian isn’t an important character – or is she? In any case, Rape is not the Motivation for the female character in question. Nor does it form the major motivation of the [male] characters who are closely linked to her. It is Important. But not The Ultimate.)
Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time passes the Bechdel Law, though the feminism vs. masculism debate gets a bit more complex. (Within the text, Larry assures me, the female villains have been raped at certain points. It forms a significant but not all-overpowering part of their subsequent motivation. On the other hand, rape was not the reason they became “evil” in the first place, and in any case their current situations are not feminist-friendly.)
Lynn Flewelling‘s Nightrunner series and Tamir Triad fulfill Bechdel’s Law. Just about. (Rape is a continual textual undercurrent, given that every so often someone’s chastity is implicitly or explicitly threatened. Usually it is the more “feminine” of the two romantic leads.)
Robin Hobb’s Farseer books didn’t fulfill the law, as far as I can recall. The Liveship books do. So do the Tawny Man books, just about. (The Liveship books do involve an extremely convoluted rape – thankfully not something that motivates the plot in any way – and all of the books are deeply concerned with child abuse.)
I’m not sure what I want to talk about here. I’m just leaving it open to those of us who want to go somewhere with this. I suppose part of the point I’ve been (not successfully) making is that there seems to me to be a definite difference in the way male and female authors depict female characters – and to a lesser extent, children.
Thoughts? Sticks and Stones? Words?