Women in Movies

Spoiler alert: this blog post contains significant spoilers about WALL-E, and contains minor spoilers about Salt (although these shouldn’t be spoilers to anybody who’s ever seen an action film before).

The Bechdel Test

I’ve talked to some of you already about my thoughts on the Bechdel Test, which aims to illustrate the under-representation of women in contemporary film. I first became aware of the test when I saw this video by YouTube blogger “feministfrequency”, earlier this year. If you can’t be bothered to watch the video, here’s a summary:

Alison Bechdel is the author of a long-running comic strip, Dykes To Watch Out For. In 1985, one of the characters in the strip states that she only watches a movie if it meets the following requirements:

  1. It has at least two women in it, (some later versions of the test require that the women be named characters)
  2. Who talk to teach other,
  3. About something besides a man.

feministfrequency goes on to show that the problem is endemic by flicking rapidly through a list of films that “fail” the test (she skips over the part of her argument where she demonstrates that this is a problem, presumably because she feels that this is obvious and, besides, YouTube’s consumers will often have too short an attention span to take in a proper argument anyway).

In the snapshot above, we can see her explaining how WALL-E fails the test.

Whoah, hang on a minute. WALL-E? Are we sure?

The Problem with The Bechdel Test

Let’s have a look at WALL-E. Here’s a summary of the plot, in case you’ve been in a coma for the last few years and the first thing you chose to do when you came around was to read my blog:

  • Runaway consumerism and lack of ecological foresight results in Earth being too polluted to live on.
  • The humans all evacuate to space, leaving behind an army of trash compactor robots, “Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth class”.
  • After centuries, only one of these survives, and has achieved sentience.
  • A robotic probe sent down by the humans, an “Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator” (EVE) probe and the surviving WALL-E unit form an emotional bond.
  • The EVE is called back to the mothership with evidence that Earth is becoming livable again. The WALL-E comes aboard as a stowaway.
  • Meanwhile, on the spaceship, the human captain (male) is in conflict with the ship’s computer, which hides evidence of Earth’s livability in order to keep the lazy, dis-focused space-dwelling humans under its authority.
  • Through a series of scrapes and adventures, the WALL-E unit and the EVE manage to survive the ship’s computer’s attempt to kill them and present the evidence that Earth is becoming habitable to the humans, who land the ship.
  • Finally, in a heartbreaking moment, the WALL-E appears to have been reset to its factory configuration, losing its intelligence and self-awareness, until an electrical spark passed during a “kiss” from the EVE causes the WALL-E to jump-start back into being its usual, quirky, self.

So there’s WALL-E. Does it pass the Bechdel Test? No. Well, I guess I’m wrong, then.

But the problem is: I only feel that a failure to the Bechdel Test is in any way significant if the film would pass its male-centric analog. After all, we can all say that the world is unfair because we haven’t personally passed the “Lottery Jackpot Test” – winning millions of pounds – but if only a handful of people ever do pass that test, then it’s not fair to say that I personally am unlucky: I’m pretty much just as unlucky as everybody else.

I propose a male-centric analog to the Bechdel Test. To pass this test, a film must have at least two male characters (ideally named), who talk to one another about something other than a woman. It may seem like I’m being facetious – after all, virtually all movies will pass this test – but I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to comment on the fact that a movie fails the Bechdel Test unless it also passes the male analog, for the same reason that I don’t feel it’s fair to use the fact that any given person has failed the “Lottery Jackpot Test” as evidence of anything in particular either.

So, here’s my Revised Bechdel Test. To pass this test, a movie must:

  1. It has at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to teach other,
  3. About something besides a man.
  4. AND it can not fail the test unless it has at least two men in it who talk to one another about something besides a woman.

So does WALL-E fail the Revised Bechdel Test (i.e. fails the Bechdel Test, but passes the male analog): I don’t think it does, but it depends, perhaps, on how you choose to define gender. Many audience members will choose to identify the protagonist WALL-E unit as male, for example, despite the fact that it is clearly a robot manufactured in a way that makes gender irrelevant. They choose to do this because of their conditioning:

  • Lead characters in films are frequently male, so – in the absence of any evidence to the contrary – an audience will associate masculinity to a genderless character presented to them.
  • WALL-E units are dirty, engaged in manual labour, and with “rugged” square corners; these are characteristics that audiences will readily assume to be masculine traits because of the stereotypes within our society.
  • The WALL-E unit engages in a romantic relationship with a robot that – for similar stereotype-based reasons – the audience will often designate as being female. Our culture of heteronormativity means that when we discover that a character of a suspected gender forms a romantic relationship, that the subject of that relationship must be of the opposite gender.

Here are the options, then:

  • We assume that all robots in the film are genderless. If this is the case, the film fails the Bechdel Test, but passes my Revised Bechdel Test. Note that the same would be true of March Of The Penguins (this also fails the Bechdel Test, but I doubt that any feminist could rightly claim that women are under-represented in it).
  • We assume that all the robots in the film are of the same gender that their voice actor (please note that I don’t feel that this is a fair way to assign gender to characters: at least six of the recurring male characters in The Simpsons are voiced by voice actress Nancy Cartwright), with the exception of the ship’s computer, which – voiced by a synthetic algorithm called MacInTalk – remains genderless. In this case, the film still fails the Bechdel Test, and still passes my Revised Bechdel Test.
  • We assign arbitrary genders to the robots in order to make our argument fit. Only in this case can we pass the Bechdel Test or can we fail my Revised Bechdel Test.

The Revised Bechdel Test I propose solves the greatest fundamental problem with the Bechdel Test: that it discriminates unfairly against films where gender is not an issue. In most films involving nonhuman characters, the Bechdel test doesn’t provide sufficient granularity to tell the difference between “women being underrepresented” and “gender being irrelevant to the story”. Note that “nonhuman characters” is still an ambiguous term, for there exist characters with sufficient anthropomorphism that they can be treated as human analogies, like the stars of the original Toy Story, which fails both the Bechdel Test and my revised test, and rightly so.

The Problem with The Revised Bechdel Test

I’m not claiming to have fixed the Bechdel Test completely, though, as a measure of the representation of women in films. Last night, I watched Salt.

I first became aware of this new film when I saw a trailer for it at the cinema when watching Inception (doesn’t pass either the Bechdel Test nor my Revised Bechdel Test, although this isn’t a measure of how good a film is, and Inception is fantastic). Salt is a very typical modern action flick in many ways. Here are some of the common tropes of a modern action film, that Salt also has:

  • The lead character is a secret agent, spy, assassin, detective, mercenary, or similar “cool” profession that entitles them to carry a gun.
  • The lead character exhibits an almost-superhuman ability to withstand pain and torture, fight with a variety of weapons or barehand, learn multiple languages, pick locks, hack computers, and so on.
  • The organisation for which the lead character primarily works is of dubious trustworthiness.
  • The lead character is betrayed by somebody once trusted to them, and is on at least one occasion described as “rogue”.
  • A major motivation of the lead character is the liberation of their primary love interest.
  • The whole movie is full of badass fight scenes and explosions.

You get it? I could be describing almost any James Bond film, the Mission: Impossible series, Minority Report, Robocop, the Bourne film series; even The A-Team! But in this case, I’m describing Salt. And there’s one particular thing that Salt does that none of these other films did: the lead character is a woman.

From a point of gender equality, this film does a really, really good job. It would be perfectly possible to change the gender of any of the major characters and still have movie which remained perfectly intact. The lead character’s femininity is part of the plot, certainly, but not in a way that makes mockery of it or belittles her for her gender. Not once does the lead female require the lead male to come and “rescue” her, or she is disadvantaged by her gender. Even the scene in which she disguises herself as a man is done not because a man would have been required but because it was the most effective disguise that she could have used, at the time: one that completely changed her appearance.

But guess what: this fantastic (and undeniably-feminist) film… doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. It doesn’t even pass my Revised Test! Why? Because despite the fact that it represents women equally and counters the culture of male leads to action films (without making a point of doing so – gender is not a factor)… it doesn’t have a second named female character for the lead female to talk to (about something other than a man). Men talk together during the film about something other than a woman (although not much – a lot of their discussion is about the lead female, but they do on occasion talk about other things during the set-up), but it’s somehow a failure in the Bechdel Test simply because the film spends most of the time, without dialogue, watching the protagonist be a awesome gun-toting badass.

The Bechdel Test is too coarse. My Revised Bechdel Test improves its biggest failure, but still fails to detect films like Salt as being a good representation of women in movies. And if anybody’s got any suggestions about how we could refine the test any further, I’d love to hear them.

30 replies to Women in Movies

  1. Bollocks. The Bechdel test is an excellent broad-brush measure to demonstrate how underrepresented women are in film. It’s one of the simplest ways to demonstrate this in conversation, as one’s interlocuter pauses to scratch their heads in confusion as they try to think of a single film that passes.

    It doesn’t need any changes from a dude to make it better, it’s working perfectly well right now.

  2. @Cas: That it’s a broad-brush response is exactly what my objection was – it’s a little too broad, and even my (minor) revision makes a huge difference to that, removing (frankly silly) false positives like WALL-E and March Of The Penguins, without causing any false negatives that I’ve been able to think of: that’s a refinement, and I can’t understand why it’d be objectionable.

    I’ve no problem with known-imperfect models, but some of the holes in the original Bechdel test (which, of course, was never designed to be used this way) are laughable.

    Perhaps I’m just biased because to me it’s obvious that women are underrepresented in film, and I have difficulty getting into the mindset of the folks that the use of the test attempts to persuade.

  3. Having not seen the film, I can’t say this with any accuracy, but I’m told that there is another female in the film, who Salt talks to about something other than a man: the thing is, the female is (again, so I’m told) a young child.

    If what I’ve been told is correct: why does the fact that the other female is a child detract from the fact that the other female is, well, female?

  4. @Katie: It wouldn’t. If what you had been told is correct, then that wouldn’t be grounds for a Bechdel failure, as far as I’m concerned.

    What would be a Bechdel failure, for me, would be only two women, one of which only has one line, discussing something insignificant to the plot. Sure, if you want to count that then you can, but I think it would undermine the entire point of the test to allow it to count if two background characters muttered something to one another.

    The Wikipedia page’s cast list contains only one female actor. I had to go as far as the iMDB to find other women in the film at all (other than the lead): of those, the only ones were (a) a younger version of the lead, who obviously didn’t talk to the lead, and (b) the lead’s deceased mother, who if I remember rightly only appears in flashbacks (don’t worry, there are no spoilers there).

    There were a few other incidental female parts working in the same building as the lead, to begin with, but I think you’ve been misinformed. Or I’ve forgotten.

  5. @Cas:

    It’s one of the simplest ways to demonstrate this in conversation, as one’s interlocuter pauses to scratch their heads in confusion as they try to think of a single film that passes.

    Hang on. Surely the purpose of this test is to actually demonstrate that women are underrepresented in films, not to demonstrate that the person you’re talking to can’t think of any off the top of their head? (Although personally I think there would be more value in demonstrating that women are inaccurately represented in films, which I suspect is rather more of a problem).

    But to me, the aim of any test of societal norms should be to make a valid point, not just to get people to scratch their heads because they don’t have instant recall for the contents of film scripts. Surely you shouldn’t resist increasing the accuracy of the test out of concern that someone could then name one or two examples of films that pass: occasionally saying ‘Really? Just those two? Out of all the films ever made?’ is hardly going to sink your entire position, is it?

    For example:
    Under both the original and revised tests, Kenneth Brannagh’s Henry V would pass with flying colours. So would Titanic. So would Pretty Woman.

    Does that mean that those three films are reasonable and accurate portrayals of women and their interests? Hell no. Does it mean that the Bechdel test might need to take a more detailed approach to be accurate? I’d say yes.

    Greater granularity might make the Bechdel test a bit less fun to roll out mid conversation, but it’d help to bolster the quality of the results. (But, again, that’s me worrying rather more about the accuracy of the representation of women, which this isn’t a test for. Although I still think a test for that would be more useful. A damn sight harder to implement, mind, but a lot more useful.)

  6. In other news, Cas’s Gravatar is awesome.

    However, it’s only when I re-read Cas’s comment that I notice the full impact of this line (emphasis mine):

    It doesn’t need any changes from a dude to make it better, it’s working perfectly well right now.

    @Cas: Do you mean to imply that changes from a non-dude (presumably, from a woman) could be treated differently?

  7. @JTA, Dan: Its virtue is in its simplicity. “A film must contain two named women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man.” That’s it. Easy to describe, easy to check, easy to think about. I really don’t care about a few edge cases here and there, because it’s not talking about individual films; it’s talking about the industry as a trend. It’s not a litmus test for any one film and you’re missing the wood of the trees if that’s how you try to use it.

    @Dan’s #6: Yes, but I’m not interested in discussing that here.

  8. @Cas: Thanks for getting back on that one. I think I must have misrepresented myself, because I’ve never ceased to feel that the Bechdel Test is good for exactly the purpose you describe. On that, we agree.

    I shall try to clarify – perhaps with a revision to the post – that I feel that I understand the value of the Bechdel Test and don’t generally attempt to use it as a litmus for any particular film, except in order to demonstrate the crudeness of the test. By demonstrating that a test is inaccurate on the small scale, we can extrapolate to what degree it is inaccurate on the large scale. In this case, the conclusion is still the same – women are underrepresented in film – but we have a more accurate representation of how much.

    To summarise: the Bechdel Test is great to demonstrate to people that women are underrepresented in film, which is a worthy cause and one that I promote (using, among other things, the Bechdel Test). However – as we agree – it is not an accurate model for assessing the representation of women in any particular film. It is my belief that an approximation of such a model can be created using the Bechdel Test as a starting point, and that is my aim with this blog post. I have no intention of replacing the Bechdel Test for its best purpose – the one you describe – at which it excels.

    Your second point disgusts and disappointments me so utterly that I am genuinely glad that you don’t want to discuss it.

  9. @Cas: Fair enough if you’re not after naming films: from the comment about people ‘scratching their heads as they tried to think of a single film that passes’ I got the impression you were a bit hung up on that, which is why I offered some.

    However I stick to my point that it’s not as useful as it could be, or as useful as a test to determine the accuracy with which women are represented would be if we had one. (I don’t think such a test would be simple, but I think it would give more constructive grounds for improvement).

    (Also: seriously? Jeez.)

  10. @Dan like I said, haven’t seen the film yet, and haven’t read about it as I don’t want to spoiler myself :) thanks for clarifying.

    Also agree on the point that a man making changes to the test is not acceptable, but a woman making changes is horrifying. I’m also [fineness] amazed that that line came from Cas :/

    Edit by Scatman Dan: The commenter has e-mailed me to apologise for the typos in this comment, which were caused by her phone, and asked me to correct. I’ve fixed as many as I’m able, but I suspect that the word “fineness” is out of place. Suspect it’s supposed to be some variety of adverb, perhaps a superlative, to express exactly how amazed the commenter is.

  11. I’m finding it bizarre how astonished people here are at the idea that we should respect the experience of experts. I can’t imagine anyone having a problem with the idea of engineers having the last word on whether a building design is or is not viable; why not respect the word of women – experts on sexism by virtue of experiencing so damn much of it – on whether or not the Bechdel test is fit for purpose? Men can observe sexism too, of course, but one of the key points about male privilege is that you’re not forced to see as much of it.

  12. @Cas: You believe that those who experience the ill-effects of discrimination are experts on it. Would you similarly agree, then, that victims of crime are the best people to decide on the punishment for the perpetrators, as is the case in a handful of societies?

    Being a victim of something does not make a person an expert on it, nor does it necessarily put a person in the best position to counteract it.

    I have a friend who feels that feminism is a complete waste of time and that – as a society – we were better off when women didn’t have many of the privileges they enjoy today. This friend is a woman. I think that she is wrong: but presumably, you’d value her opinion on the matter as being more valid than mine, because of her gender?

    I don’t deny for a second that virtually all women will, in their lifetimes, experience more negative gender discrimination (and less positive gender discrimination) than virtually all men. I only dispute that:

    (a) it necessarily follows that virtually all women are better than virtually all men at developing strategies to combat this gender discrimination: I suspect that I’d certainly do a better job at this task, for example, than the friend I mentioned earlier, and I’m no expert (note that on average, I would expect to find more female experts than male experts in this field – the difference is that I, unlike you, don’t assume somebody is or isn’t an expert based on their gender)

    (b) it is valid to write off the contributions of anybody on any topic based solely on their gender

    That you aren’t “forced” to see something doesn’t mean that you can’t be an expert on it, and just because you are “forced” to see it doesn’t mean that you are: it just adjusts the probabilities.

    If you spend your life assuming expertise based on gender, then presumably when your computer breaks you ask for assistance from a man rather than a woman, because – statistically speaking – the man is more likely to be an expert (because there are more male professional IT folks than female ones).

  13. Wow, Cas. You’re making us all look bad. I don’t want you to feel picked on, or shouted down, or anything like that, but I disagree with you entirely.

    What Dan proposed was an idea, a suggestion for a possible improvement. Shouting down ideas without full consideration based solely on who they came from is, in my view, entirely indefensible. But hey, feel free to try…

  14. Cas:

    I’m finding it bizarre how astonished people here are at the idea that we should respect the experience of experts.

    Ah. See the reason I’m astonished is that – to me, at least, and possibly some of the others – it doesn’t sound like you’re saying ‘we should respect the views of the experts’.

    It sounds like your saying ‘We should attach more weight to the opinion of $Gender_Type’. I have an enormous problem with that attitude, because that’s exactly the kind of mindset that causes social inequalities in the first place, and personally I’m in favour of reducing social inequalities, not using them as a foundation for change.

    That’s my first problem.

    My second problem is pretty much what Dan says: I don’t see the difference between saying ‘Women experience more sexism, therefore anything a woman says on the subject is more important’ and saying ‘90% of CEOs are men, therefore if they say they shouldn’t hire a woman, we should ignore anything a woman has to say on that subject – after all, the men are the one’s with the experience’.

    I think you’re failing to see the flip side of your argument: if you assign experience based on gender in “favour” of women, you have to do it against women as well. And then you are pretty much doomed to having women experience more sexism. Feels like a world of wrong to me.

  15. Sorry Cas, usually I would jump in on your side simply by virtue of the fact you’re the only one on it, but it’s just plainly silly to suggest that a man can’t (shouldn’t?) add anything to discussion on a feminist issue. But you already know what I think about equality and feminism, affirmative action and the like, and you said you didn’t want to discuss it, so I guess that’s that. What a mature way to make a contentious point.

  16. Bah, this was why I didn’t want to go into this. As with all aspects of my feminism, what I’m trying to do here is to act as an ally to feminist viewpoints I’ve been exposed to, without trying to shape those viewpoints.

    It becomes complicated when there are different viewpoints and areas where they conflict. “Women are best placed to determine the direction of feminism” is one of those. It’s a radfem tenet but obviously not held by all feminists, as this thread (and a million other conversations) shows.

    Perhaps it’s best to say that my support for this viewpoint is based on its being held by many feminist women I know, both face to face and online, and if it seems like I’m advocating it, it’s only because I’m trying to put forward their position with as little paraphrase or reformulation as I can manage.

    But the fact that I think the voices of women should come first in this discussion also means, Ruth & Katie, that I don’t want to argue with you. I don’t want for you to waste your time arguing with me when you could be doing feminism your way.

    Dan, I have less of a problem raising the disagreement with you, but not really much more interest in persuing it once it’s clear we have very difficult viewpoints. That’s partially because I’ve never really seen anyone change their mind on the internet in this kind of discussion, and partially similar to what I wrote above about Ruth & Katie – you obviously think feminism is a good idea and I’m sure you’re doing good stuff, and I’m cool with that. I do think that explaining in tedious detail to women how their test is imprecise and you, a dude, can fix it, isn’t really the best way, but I’m sure you do other stuff which is significantly more awesome and I don’t want to distract you from that. That’s not meant to be sarcasm.

    So, all: if you’d like to argue with this viewpoint; argue with those women, not with me. Think about it – if no women hold that view, I’m hardly going to hold it either. And it’s very difficult to argue with me about it when the views I’m putting forward are partly mine and partly others’ – it’s not fair for me to become persuaded “on their behalf”.

  17. And finally, Dan, you say a lot of things about what you think I think in your #12. By way of trying to point out that this is all complicated, and that perhaps you’re not getting where I’m coming from, I’d just like to mention that almost all of them are incorrect. In fact, I’d answer pretty much all of them Ben Goldacre style: “I think you’ll find it’s a little more complicated than that”.

  18. Women can do feminism however they like and you won’t argue, and men can’t do it at all and you’re going to shout them down for even trying to have input. Sexism alive and well! This is the most cause-undermining idea I’ve ever heard, and yes, you’re not the only one to say it, but this is why I find it difficult to call myself feminist despite being in support of most of the same things. The solution to sexism is not to be more sexist in the other direction.

  19. @Cas I suggest you try again, then, rather than making very blunt aggressive statements, not qualifying them, and then blaming the reader for not understanding what you mean.

  20. I don’t blame you at all. I said we’d miscommunicated. I’ve also tried to express how little I want to try to persuade you to my point of view! A radfem ally trying to convince a non-radfem woman to be more radfem is a ridiculous situation! :D

    But without trying to be persuasive and have a massive debate, it does seem fair that I get to say, “No, I don’t think that at all!” if you put a bunch of words into my mouth. And if you think I’m acting in good faith, then I hope you believe me when I say that.

  21. I do believe you, I’ve had a lot of coffee and am answering with a little less care than I would otherwise. You support radfems: does this mean you aren’t one? I find it frustrating that you’re willing to make statements that provoke debate and then you don’t wish to participate in the debate. I enjoy a good argument, and I’d rather have the whole discussion, not nibble at the edges trying to guess what is at the core.

  22. I think that I’d sometimes describe myself as a radical feminist, sometimes as a feminist, and sometimes with the word “ally” before either of those, depending on who I was talking to and the sense that those words had in that conversation. What I’d be trying to communicate is that I can see massive value in woman-led feminism, that I want to support that without getting in the way of it, but also that I don’t support the historical attitudes of radical feminism towards trans people. So it would be complicated. The words come after, not before, if that makes sense?

    I find it frustrating that you’re willing to make statements that provoke debate and then you don’t wish to participate in the debate.

    I find it frustrating that the default mode of interaction is “debate”! I think that if the only way people get to express their opinions is if they’re also prepared to spend hours backing them up in detailed, point-by-point argument, then the only people who’ll express their opinions are the people who are comfortable doing that.

    My preferred mode is “friends speaking in good faith”, where a friend gets to say what they think and other people who know them trust that they’re speaking in good faith. And if others think they’re a good person, then perhaps others think, “Wow, that good person said something which sounds to me like it’s nasty and discriminatory. There again, I respect them and don’t think they’d do that. I guess maybe we didn’t communicate well.”

    And what can follow that is maybe more conversation about the thing, or maybe an agreement that it’s difficult to communicate well on that topic – perhaps in a specific medium, or perhaps at all.

    I think that effective communication on the internet about types of feminism is one of those things that happens badly or not at all. I’ve certainly never seen it be successful, and I’ve seen plenty of attempts!

    So, I’d rather have no debate than a shitty, confrontational debate. But I’d also rather not have it that because the internet is a shitty place for debates, and because the default mode is debate, that all people who don’t like shitty debates are shut out.

    Makes sense?

  23. Yes it makes sense, but it’s very similar to “trolling” to incite a debate you aren’t willing to participate in. Whether or not it’s to everyone’s liking, the comment section is a place for debate, especially when the issue or following comments are contentious. To only partially participate is much more annoying that either abstaining or joining in.

    What kind of interaction did you want? Should we each state our opinions, in whatever tone we feel appropriate, and then say “Ok, thanks everyone, same time next week?”

    What does “in good faith” even mean? That you don’t want to hurt anyone? That you do really think what you’re saying, or that you think something similar that you don’t want to write out for whatever reason? It’s about as useful as saying “no offence intended”. Just because you don’t think or want what you’re saying to be discriminatory, doesn’t prove it isn’t. I know that you mean well, but that has nothing to do with whether your opinion is worth considering. What counts is your reasoning.

    I accept that the internet is less than ideal for this sort of thing, but as far as debate goes I don’t see the point of saying things, particularly things that will get people’s backs up, if you can’t or won’t defend what you’ve said.

  24. > What counts is your reasoning.

    We have a fundamental difference of opinion, then. Because I find most points of view on something so difficult as feminism very difficult to explain from first principles on the internet. What counts for me is the respect I have for someone’s wisdom and integrity. If they say a thing I don’t understand, but I’ve seen them to be a sensible, loving person with a deep understanding of life, then I’ll often take them at face value without needing to have it all explained. And then I’m happy to go away and think and then ask small questions later.

    This idea that everything can be explained by reasoning seems to come from philosophy debate, or from discussions of mathematical logic. And it doesn’t seem to bear true! Otherwise, all internet conversations would end with nodding, reasonable agreement. That’s not how it works. This one has already seen people, for example, use the words disgusting, disappointing and horrifying to describe what they think my viewpoints are. And these are people I’ve hugged in all cheerfulness! I can’t understand how people would be happy to hug me on one hand, and believe me capable of holding disgusting and horrifying viewpoints on the other. Surely it’s more likely that I don’t think what they think I think. But I’m already on the back foot.

    But, ok. You’ve said that this comments space is for debate. So I’ll go away, because I hate that.

  25. Everything can’t be explained. A large amount of things can be explained, and when anything *is* explained, it is done using reason. There’s no other route to explanation. Even an explanation such as “Faeries did it” contains reasoning about cause and effect. It’s often bad reasoning, but I digress.

    Reasoning doesn’t have to lead to agreement. Two different perfectly valid viewpoints can be reached by different routes of reasoning, especially when you take into account varying priorities among people.

    What I always hope debate will lead to is everyone understanding the true depth of an issue a bit better, being more aware of the arguments on both sides, having a better understanding of why they and others think what they do, and a respect for those who disagree if they’ve argued well. I’m for understanding and cooperation, not agreement. I don’t think you can understand a point of view if it is only stated (and you don’t already have your own, possibly completely different, justification for that point of view).

    Some things are too obvious or too personal or too impossible to clearly state let alone explain, but for everything else, there’s reasoning.

  26. (Sorry all, been offline for the day, hilariously due to sitting in an Apple store for most of it. Just about caught up now…)

    I kind of see where Cas is coming from, in that women have one of the best ideas about where feminism should go, but actually, I don’t think that’s quite enough: I think feminists, no matter their gender or not, are best placed to figure that out.

    Incidentally (how many of you are planning to be at BiCon I don’t know) I am running a workshop on this very topic on Friday – breaking down gender binaries (as an example, the way that many feminist spaces are women-only) specifically within feminism but generally as well.

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