I just realized that, while I’m watching all these episodes, I could be running them through the Bechdel-Wallace test too!
If you’ve never heard of the test, it’s named after Alison Bechdel, who featured it in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, after an idea by her friend Liz Wallace.
Here are the criteria a piece of media needs to meet to pass the Bechdel-Wallace test:
- There must be at least two [named] women characters;
- Who talk to each other;
- About something other than a man.
It’s not a test of whether a piece of media is feminist. But if a show or movie can’t even meet that basic standard it can be indicative of a lack of women characters or that the ones who are there might be tokenized, stereotyped, or one-dimensional.
Televixen aka Mary Czerwinski has already written a little bit about applying the Bechdel test to Star Trek, and Voyager in particular:
I immediately thought Star Trek Voyager would pass with flying colors. Female captain? Check. Female chief engineer? Check. Female scientist? Check. Mothers and daughters on the ship? Yep, got them too! It’s interesting, for as much crap as Voyager gets for being conceived through the eyes of male fantasy, it has many instances of women talking shop, questioning their humanity and occasionally, discussing a strongly brewed cup of Joe.
Some examples she highlights are the interactions we see between Janeway and Kes, Janeway and Seven of Nine, and Seven of Nine and Naomi Wildman.
I’m excited to apply the test more specifically to Voyager episodes as well as to episodes in the other series.
The work has already been done for me on the movies:
- Star Trek: Into Darkness – Fail
- Star Trek (2009) – Technically a pass – Uhura and her roommate discuss lab time, but this is happening while Kirk is hiding under the bed watching Uhura changing. So a good example of how passing the test doesn’t make it feminist.
- Star Trek: Nemesis – Fail
- Star Trek: Insurrection – Pass – Crusher and Troi talk about how they’re feeling more rejuvenated due to the planet’s strange properties
- Star Trek: First Contact – Pass
- Star Trek: Generations – Pass – Lursa and B’Etor talk to each other
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – Debateable – Valeris and Uhura have a conversation but Chekov is also a part of it
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – Fail
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Fail – Uhura talks with a woman passer-by but she isn’t named
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – Fail
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Barely pass – a few quick exchanges between Saavik and Uhura in the first scene of Saavik’s training
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Fail