In 1985 Alison Bechdel was writing and illustrating a comic strip titled: Dykes to Watch Out For. In a strip titled “The Rule” Bechdel memorialized a conversation with her close friend Liz Wallace where Wallace mentioned her parameters for deciding which movies she would go to see. Her requirements were seemingly simple:
- The movie has at least two women.
- The women talk to each other...
- And they discuss something other than a man.
Between 1970 and 2013 only 53% of surveyed movies pass under these requirements. This test gained popularity over the years, earning the name “The Bechdel Test,” spawning a website where you can read crowdsourced evaluations of what movies pass the test with written explanations and debates for why or why not. Bechdel herself stated in a 2015 interview that she didn’t like the name of the test, since the credit belonged to her friend Liz Wallace, and stated she preferred: The Bechdel-Wallace Test. In Center for the Reader, we aren’t in the business of movies, so we compared this test to our collection of fiction. It’s important to note that simply passing the test is not necessarily the mark of excellent fiction, just as failing it doesn’t make a novel inherently bad. The purpose of the test was to point out a trend in the portrayal of women in the media but can also be a good start when searching for well written female characters. Keeping this in mind, we’ve compiled this list of outstanding fiction that also passes the Bechdel-Wallace test:
The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel
We'd be remiss if we didn't suggest the collection that inspired this list: a graphic novel that unequivocally passes its own test! Settle into this wittily illustrated soap opera (Bechdel calls it "half op-ed column and half endless serialized Victorian novel") of the lives, loves, and politics of a cast of characters, most of them lesbian, living in a midsize American city that may or may not be Minneapolis.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she'd become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy's daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African-Americans passing for white. Even as Boy, Snow, and Bird are divided, their estrangement is complicated by an insistent curiosity about one another.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy's childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy's life.
Sula by Toni Morrison
At its center--a friendship between two women, a friendship whose intensity first sustains, then injures. Sula and Nel--both black, both smart, both poor, raised in a small Ohio town--meet when they are twelve, wishbone thin and dreaming of princes.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
In The Power, the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power: they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.
Need more? Click this link for more suggestions or come check out our display at Central Library in Center for the Reader to see the full selection!