Comedian Paul F. Tompkins Defends Bechdel Test In Brilliant Display of Allyship
As with anything related to feminism and the media, there's been a lot of debate over the Bechdel test and its relative usefulness. That debate, of course, continues to wage on, made ever the more complicated when celebrities like Shailene Woodley react to the word feminism as if it's a slur. But a recent defense of the Bechdel test by comedian Paul F. Tompkins serves as a good reminder of a couple of things — but mostly that it can feel really great when a dude stands up and actually shows the world what it means to ally yourself to women.
Tompkins' Bechdel-related conversation took place mainly on Twitter, where he engaged in one of those social media "debates" we've all had. You know the kind: Where one side's being a shady douchenozzle when all you're trying to do is make them see that the patriarchy's got some issues. The interaction was sparked when writer Cassie St. Onge commented on Dawn Of The Planet Of the Apes' failure of the Bechdel test. This summoned a troll, who Tompkins then fought with for a while, before taking to his blog to state his advice on how men can do better when it comes to relating to the women in their life — and how those women relate to a media that systematically shoves them aside (bolded emphasis mine):
HEY YOUNG MEN! I know it seems like women complain a lot about how they are represented in media, including fiction, and how it seems like they want entertainment tailored specifically to them, and how they seem to want ALL of pop culture to be politically correct or feminist-ized or whatever it is you think they want, but really, what’s happening is that women are tired of seeing garbage women characters in most of our entertainment. And they’re wondering, Would it really be so much trouble to make more realized female characters? You could still have all your CGI and action and science fiction and drama and swords and stuff, but the female characters could be a little more fleshed out and interesting. And the entertainment would still be good and would, in fact, be better.
Another favorite passage is when Tompkins relayed an anecdote in which he'd unintentionally shoved aside two female friends' opinion of a movie not being feminist:
And that’s when I realized that none of this was about me, and maybe I should shut up and listen and try to understand. And also to be more aware of things like this and develop not just my sympathy, but my empathy.
I will only ever be able to empathize so much with women, because my experience as a white male in America is vastly different from that of anyone who is not that. But I can relate to: not being taken seriously, not being listened to, being dismissed, being condescended to, having something explained to me that I already understand.
And I having had those experiences, I am now more inclined to TRY to understand where someone is coming from if they are telling me they are having a similar experience with our culture.
If anyone's wondering, this is what allyship looks like. This is what it looks like when someone looks past their own privilege and actually makes an effort to think about other people's experiences. Tompkins thinks men (yes, all men) need to make that effort, and he's right. Like he said, this isn't about him, or men in general. That so many people frame feminism as something that has to focus on men is part of the problem in the first place.