diversity tips · how to break the rules well · writing problems

Bechdel and a male protagonist

A recent querier made a unique claim: their book, which had a male protagonist, passed the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test requires:

  1. at least two women
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.

A female protagonist is not necessary. But it’s rare to find a Bechdel-passing story with a male lead.

I see too many male protagonists even though half our authors, and half the human race, are women. If you include enough women to pass the Bechdel test, why don’t you have a heroine?

It feels half-assed.

Yet I want all stories to pass the Bechdel test. In an ideal world, all books would pass and all protagonists would split evenly among genders.

Verdict: passing the test is awesome whether your hero is male or female.

But I encourage all writers to ask every character’s gender. Why can’t her mother be her techno-savvy role model? Why is the bartender a guy? Why is the smoking hot runway model a woman?

It turns out if one-third of characters are female, we think the ratio is 50-50. If it’s actually 50-50, people get the impression women make up an overwhelming majority.

Keep writing women. We’re not close to equality yet.

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4 thoughts on “Bechdel and a male protagonist

  1. In my WIP, I made the conscious decision to make the teenage girl protagonist have a male best friend, rather than a female one. Both are straight, but they don’t fall in love and aren’t interested in each other romantically. I decided this after reading a Writer Unboxed column lamenting how friendships between opposite gender, straight folks in novels always seem to turn into romance. (I also gave her widowed neurology professor grandfather a single female BFF who serves as a dubious role model for the teen girl. For various story reasons, the grandfather couldn’t be changed to a grandmother.) I wanted to prove that it’s possible for males and females to be friends and only friends!

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    1. I think that’s a good reason to have male characters! I’ve done the same thing for the same reason: I’m tired of every guy-girl friendship ending in love. (Then when two girls or two guys fall in love, people ask, “Why ruin a friendship with romance?” SIGH.)
      What really matters, of course, is that you thought it out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never heard of this test before. My WIP has a number of scenes that pass this test, though they don’t occur until the 2nd half of the story. How does an author telegraph this in a query? I feel the scenes, though important for the climax setup, are too gradual for the synopsis.

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