Heteronormativity – Affecting Queer and Feminist Spaces Too?

So about a week ago, as I was getting ready for school in the morning, I got to thinking about the Bechdel Test. More specifically, I got to wondering if it actually works for lesbian films, books, and other media.

For those unfamiliar with the Bechdel Test, it’s a brief measure applied to fiction to see how women are represented within. It was created by Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For, and it goes without saying that she is herself a lesbian. In order to pass the Bechdel Test, a work of fiction must have three parts:
1.) There are two women
2.) Who talk to each other
3.) About something other than men.

For video games, some would argue that there’s a fourth requirement of having a female playable character. However, when you apply this test to say, a lesbian movie, they’re talking about women, not men. In such an instance, despite technically passing the Bechdel Test, they fall into the same traps as those works which fail it.

These thoughts came back later that day while having lunch with my friend Dori, another trans girl and feminist who runs the blog Trans and Godless. In it, she was talking about one of the readings in her women’s studies class (the same class I took last semester, she’s borrowing my book in fact), and how it was the first one that made her actually stop and think. The reading in question was about the differences between men and women when it comes to doing household chores. Dori, while bi, is in a heterosexual relationship, and both she and her partner are feminists. Taking this into account, it struck her that despite living in a feminist household that is greatly influenced by queer culture, sexism was creeping its way in through how the chores were divided.

While the two may seem disjoined, they actually do fit. I mentioned how in my class, we had to do assignments on that reading, applying it to our own situations, and I tied it to being both homoromantic (i.e. lesbian) and being trans. In essence, I said that I could see it going a number of ways, with us both being women and working out who got what. But I also pointed out that by being a trans woman, my partner could assume that because I was born into male privilege, that I’m going to act like a man and not do chores or only do certain ones, or that she could turn my birth on me and demand I do the more “feminine chores.”

This got us talking about how heteronormativity, sexism, and more creep their way into the very places we least expect them. Even in queer and feminist households, these problems affect us. Now, they may not be as overt as in some heterosexual households that don’t identify as feminist, but they do exist. Which comes back to my original thoughts of the Bechdel Test: how do we improve it to be more inclusive? To not only encourage there to be more women in movies, but to also ensure that those women don’t fall into the same traps whether they’re gay or straight? How do we eliminate heteronormativity from our lives, and make the world a better place for all?

I’m not sure that I know the answers to these questions. They’re more complicated than they at first appear, but we have to acknowledge that these trends exist and discuss them before we can find our answers. What do you all think?

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