Two or three years ago, when I was perusing agent #MSWLs, I saw an agent advertising that she didn't want any manuscripts that can't pass the Bechdel test. Intrigued, I looked it up.
1) Two named female characters
2) who talk to each other
3) about something other than a man.
Now, with my Dragon's Leap MS tucked away for a little while, I wondered, does it pass? My MS focuses on mostly boys, but it starts with a strong woman, the MC's mother, who's doing what she feels is best to protect her 14-year-old son. They argue, not about men. But the setting, a ranch, is extremely isolating and in the short narrative windows in which you see her, she really has only male characters -- her brother and son -- to talk to. The neighboring rancher's an old, senile man.
Another character, a young girl, is a map-maker at the castle. Her maps are key to the plot. Her boss, the head of the archives, is a strong female character, and they converse -- again not about men, but about maps and plotting the spread of illness and disease in the sheep flocks.
So by the Bechdel test, it passes.
My other MSs are all women-centric stories -- featuring a 33-year-old local news broadcaster and an 11-year-old girl music student (the one I'm working on right now).
But what about books that don't have the requisite two female characters? What if there's only one? But she's kick-ass awesome? Is that a "failure" somehow?
Enter the Mako Mori test, coming from, of all places, a character brought to the big screen by our favorite screenwriter and author, Guillermo del Toro.
Mako Mori Test
a) Have at least one female character;
b) who gets her own narrative arc;
c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.
All my works definitely pass that one. The characters in my stories each have their own narrative arcs, which I've worked out even if I haven't necessarily explored them in detail on the pages you see / read. There's a ton of backstory that gets written but never used in every novel, or iscut for word count, etc. And while I may have chosen a male POV to tell the story from, it's not "his" story per-se. Events affect all the characters' profoundly, even if the reader can't see them because the story's not from their POV.
I'm plotting a sequel to DL that would start from the map-maker girl's POV, and flip back and forth between hers and the first story's MC points of view.
And finally, just because a work passes both tests doesn't make it feminist.
DL is not a feminist work. I'm not pushing any boundaries here, and I know it. My mother pushed boundaries when she went to sign up for chemistry classes at Gettysburg and the head of the department said "no." She pushed boundaries when she taught at a primarily African-American high school in the deep south instead of in the whites-only neighborhood school.
I'm using well-used tropes and looking to put a slightly new spin on them.
The sequel I'm planning will have a stronger girl POV by virtue of including one, but that doesn't make it feminist, either.
For my first book, I felt like I was learning so much, and just wanted to tell the MC's story, that I consciously limited myself to his (only) POV to interpret the events that were set into motion.