Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Bechdel Test for Politics

I recently wrote a paper called "The Sarah Palin Phenomenon" for one of my women's studies classes, and wrote about why Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann, which got me thinking as to why certain women are "superstar" politicians, while other female politicians (often the more progressive, sane ones) don't get that much attention. And furthermore, when should women actually celebrate female politicians?

It occurred to me that the Bechdel Test can be modified and applied to most things where female representation lacks. And the day after I turned my paper in, I saw a post on Jezebel about using the Bechdel Test for classic literature, but this is what I came up with (excerpted from my paper):

To most feminists, Palin and Bachmann represent a serious backlash against women by the Republican Party. In the case of female representation in politics, it is possible to use a modified Bechdel Test (used to test for representation of women in movies) to begin to understand why some women in politics aren’t necessarily valuable assets to women in general. To modify such a test I suggest that the test for female representation in politics should look like:

1. Are there female politicians at every (or nearly every) level of office within a political party?
2. Are the female politicians not tokenized?
3. Do the female politicians offer any change in perspective for the rights and opportunities of female constituents from what is represented by male politicians?

If “yes” can be answered for each of those questions, then there is representation of women in politics. But like the Bechdel Test for movies, passing the test does not necessarily mean that there is feminist presence. For Bachman and Palin, they are definitely tokenized within their parties. While other Republican female politicians exist, the elevated attention that politicians like Bachman and Palin get compared to more moderate and women-friendly Republican women—like Olympia Snowe—suggests that Bachmann and Palin are “it girls” of the Republican Party because of their ability to pull people in rather than their politics, which are not all that different from many Republican, ultra-conservative, male politicians. While female politicians should not and do not run on platforms saying that their only political goals are to focus on the state of equality for women, it is a fact that gender inequality remains an issue in America and that often female politicians are important catalysts in raising awareness, promoting progressive legislation, and addressing the needs of women than male politicians. The increase of female politicians who have no regard for the state of gender equality should be seen as a warning sign.

So... what do you think? How do American politicians hold up? Do you know of any examples where female politicians pass this test? Or even come close?

Edit, 5/16:
Jezebel and Politico have posted that women close to President Obama have helped convince him to pick Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz for the new DNC chair. As Jezebel has pointed out, Shultz is kind of an awesome badass. We like her.

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