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Friday, February 20, 2015

The Bechdel Test + The Vito Russo Test + The π Index


I believe it is not scandalous to suppose popular imaginaries contribute to the shaping of social reality: consequently, inclusive representation in fiction should be a matter of consideration in criticism. I have decided to formalize my appreciation for diversity in the form of a variation on two popular sets of criteria (the Bechdel test and the Vito Russo test). Going forward, all of my reviews will feature a short section rating fictions between and ♀♀♀♀ based on the following standards (with each criterion being worth one ):

1. The fiction features a woman who "has a name," or who is "tied into the plot in such a way that [her] removal would have a significant effect."
2. This woman talks about something other than a man ...
3. ... to another woman ...
4. ... who also "has a name."

The answer as to whether or not a fiction passes the Bechdel test will therefore take one of the following five formats:

0, or ♀♀: Fail: this fiction does not explicitly represent women's voices or women's worlds.
♀♀♀: This fiction comes close to representing women's voices or women's worlds.
♀♀♀♀: Pass: this fiction stands out for its representation of women's voices and women's worlds.

I will also consider whether the fictions I review pass the Vito Russo test for LGBTQA-inclusiveness. I will be taking into account the following criteria, each worth one R.

1. The fiction features a character who is identifiably LGBTQA.
2. This character is not "solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity."
3. This character is "tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect" (i.e.: the character is not there merely to support a heteronormative character's story).
4. Supererogatory: This character interacts with at least one other identifiably LGBTQA character; this criterion cannot be met if 2 is not also fulfilled.

And so: fictions will receive one of five possible R scores:

0 or R: The fiction is not explicitly LGBTQA-inclusive.
RR: The fiction is somewhat LGBTQA-inclusive.
RRR: The fiction is noticeably LGBTQA-inclusive. 
RRRR: The fiction stands out on account of its LGBTQA-inclusiveness.

Lastly, I propose to adapt the Vito Russo test to assess the representations of people of colour using the following benchmarks:

1. The fiction features a character who is a person of colour. Non-human sapients do not count unless the issue of their rights and/or integration factors significantly into the plot.
2. This character cannot be summarized by popular stereotypes about people of colour.
3. This character is "tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect" (i.e.: the character is not there merely to support a white character's story).
4. Supererogatory: This character interacts with at least one other person of colour; this criterion cannot be met if 2 is not also fulfilled.

I will grant one π for each criterion, for a possibility of five different ratings on what I have termed "the π index":

0 or π: The fiction is not explicitly PoC-inclusive.
ππ: The fiction is somewhat PoC-inclusive.
πππ: The fiction is noticeably PoC-inclusive.
ππππ: The fiction stands out on account of its PoC-inclusiveness.

I understand none of these yardsticks provide a perfect measure of inclusiveness: meeting most (or all) of the criteria does not automatically place a work above criticism  nor is a fiction which does not conform to any of these standards necessarily bereft of aesthetic merit. These tests can nevertheless be used to jump-start a critical discussion; nuances which cannot be summarized by a four-point scale will have to receive more detailed attention under the relevant heading. Furthermore, I prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness: if an interaction between significant women characters is not exclusively about men, it will score a ♀♀♀♀.

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