Bechdel-Wallace Test and New Star Trek: Thoughts

I’ve been working on applying the Bechdel-Wallace Test to Star Trek and using it as a tool for basic analysis of women’s representation for a long time now. For full results see the posts here. Each post for each series has some high-level analysis at the top, but I’ve also shared some analysis on Twitter (or as Apocrypals aptly describe it, The Bad Website) over the years that I wanted to archive here before I delete my content over there!

Running the Bechdel-Wallace Test on new (streaming era) Star Trek

Tendi and Mariner encounter a transdimensional being that appears as a ball of light

Running the Bechdel-Wallace Test on new Star Trek is super interesting. Here’s a thread with examples of some of the less clear-cut situations – let me know what you think!

As a reminder, to pass the test, there must be a point at which two women talk to each other, about something other than a man. I don’t set a requirement that the conversation be a certain length, but I do require that both women be named characters. Usual caveats apply about the test like it’s not necessarily a test of feminism!

Another big limitation in new Trek particularly is that the test doesn’t have a way of accounting for non-binary characters. I am not counting a woman talking to a non-binary character as a pass because that’d be misgendering the non-binary person. But it’s good representation!

Also worth noting that in episodes that had conversations between a woman and a non-binary character but not between two women, we are still usually seeing multiple convos between two cis men (Prodigy may be an exception – haven’t got there yet!).

Ok so episodes where I’m slightly conflicted so far include DSC “An Obol for Charon.” Love love this ep but the only moment that *might* pass is when Reno comes into Engineering. Tilly introduces herself and Reno replies, introducing herself to Tilly *and* Stamets simultaneously.

In the Lower Decks episode “Envoys,” Tendi and Mariner have a conversation that is *maybe* about men. First Mariner suggests they might go to the bar after the shift and see if they can find any “hunks” & at this point in the show it wasn’t confirmed Mariner is bi.

Then the two encounter a transdimensional alien ball of light. They repeatedly call the being “he” and it’s voiced by a male actor. So is it silly to gender a ball of light? I mean I guess they could’ve cast a different voice actor and referred to the being as “she” or “they.”

There are a lot of unnamed characters in Lower Decks that I think would’ve been named if it wasn’t a 1/2 hour cartoon. Like the woman admiral in “Temporal Edict” and the Captain of the Vancouver in “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” – both have enough of a role that maybe it’s in the spirit of the test to pass them (the eps both pass for other reasons). I also thought what if it’s not reasonable to apply the test to a 1/2 hour show? It was originally for feature films.

But I keep coming back to the fact that it’s still so rare to find an ep that wouldn’t pass a reverse version of the test (two men talking to each other about something other than a woman) – so maybe it’s still reasonable to ask why it’s so hard to make that happen for women.

For example “Envoys” splits the team, Mariner with Boimler and Tendi with Rutherford. In both cases the they’re interacting mainly with men. The easiest swap in this case would’ve been changing the gender of the Klingon diplomat, and it would’ve had zero impact on the plot.

I’ve also been surprised that early Disco wasn’t as much of a Bechdel-Wallace test home run as I’d expected.

@Crude_Reviews has interesting analysis of the first half of S1 and how we see way fewer interactions among women.

In S2 the big challenge is how much of the conversations between women are about Spock. E.g. “Light and Shadows” has a Michael/Amanda flashback repeated from a previous ep, and a scene where Georgiou and Michael talk, mainly about Spock and Leland, but they do mention her mom too.

I think S4 also fares better on the Bechdel-Wallace Test but I’m still assessing these later two seasons. Also still looking at Picard, which I expect will be a lot of talking about the man at the centre of it all.

So there’s some initial thoughts – still finishing analysis and drawing conclusions but overall, even though representations of women have improved SO much, I’m reconsidering my initial assumption that we can totally dispense with the Bechdel-Wallace Test.

Strange New Worlds Season 3: “Ad Astra per Aspera”

Una Chin-Riley testifies in "Ad Astra Per Aspera"

“Ad Astra per Aspera” was notable for me not just because of how many times two women talk to each other about something other than a man, but because it’s the first Star Trek episode I’ve seen that would barely pass a reverse version of the Bechdel-Wallace Test. There are two scenes where men talk to each other (mild spoiler warning).

In one scene Pike and April talk to each other, but they’re talking about women (Una and Neera). In another, Spock talks to both M’Benga and Ortegas, but M’Benga does have a line delivered to Spock about how they won’t say a thing, and Spock thanks him directly. Most of the time this is the kind of fleeting exchange that you have to look out for when you’re running the Bechdel-Wallace Test on popular media.

When you have over 800 hours of Trek and this is the only hour I’ve found where I had to watch really hard to catch two men talking to each other about something other than a woman, I can’t say this one episode marks a sea change.

I’m also not saying the goal is that all Trek should be nothing but women talking to each other. The point of the Bechdel-Wallace Test is to illustrate how rarely popular media represents complex women characters with their own stories and meaningful relationships with each other.

From that perspective this ep was a breakthrough that can help us envision a more balanced future, where women can be the centre of a story that’s not about their relationship with a man as often as men are the centre of a story that’s not about their relationship with a woman.

And while the test doesn’t really create space for non-binary representation this is also critical. We need to see more trans and non-binary rep in general in Trek and other popular media too.

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