Saturday, December 13, 2014

Girls Talk: How to Pass the Bechdel Test With Flying Colors

The other night we got caught up on the two current superhero shows and watched the Arrow/Flash two-parter. Something CRAZY happened in the episodes that I just. can't. even. It passed the Bechdel test:

  • two women
  • who talk to each other
  • about something other than men.

With a special bonus: they talk about science.

First off, I should say that I have mixed feelings about these shows. Arrow in particular has a huge white savior complex. While the cast of both shows have a broad swath of diverse characters, it's always the white guy who ultimately saves the day. They tried, but it's not quite there on the equality front.

Both shows have some gender issues, too. Some of the female characters are incredible, like Sarah Lance. But some of the main women have stilted dialogue and overly dramatic reactions to everything. Their responses can be summed up as: "You hurt me. Nothing you say will make it better. Goodbye." (Weeks later.) "Wait, that was the context of your actions? If you just explained..."

The writers lazily use these reactions to drive the plot forward, instead of coming up with something that is consistent with these women's characters and doesn't turn them into shallow, bitchy, unrelatable characters.

The writers of Arrow have apparently never heard of PTSD. Their mishandling of mental illness drives me crazy. But despite all this, they have captivating plots and three-dimensional villains that keep me watching. And they have high levels of diversity: POC, women, and LGB's in positions of power and as good guys. Half the time, they do these characters well, like the bi Arab woman who kicks butt.

What happened in the two-parter might be enough for a full pardon.

Whatever their failings, both shows have the hyper-smart-but-still-has-social-skills girl down. Meet Felicity and Caitlin. Felicity is the Arrow's technical everything. She attended MIT for computer science, has a well-above-average IQ, and is sought after by top scientists and engineers. She created a supervirus that can get into anything and is unstoppable, even by her. Oh, and she's had three different superheroes in love with her so far.

Caitlin is one of the scientists on the Flash's nerd team. She's a bio-engineer who worked on one of the world's few particle accelerators before it exploded. Besides being generally good at every type of science imaginable (Cisco does gadgets and Caitlin does everything else), she provides medical support when the Flash inevitably hurts himself.

Put these two women together. Most of the time, they make up the highest IQ in the room. They do science, like always, and provide the information that ultimately saves the day. But the best part is seeing these two women talking about it.

Cisco: We just got a ping from the facial recognition software.
Caitlin: Since when do we have facial recognition software? 
Felicity: Happy Hanukkah.

Felicity: If I had a DNA sample I wasn't able to fully break down, do you think you could isolate the genetic markers for me?
Caitlin: Sure. What's the sample from? 
Felicity: Canary's murder.

Later, they save Lila's life together when the superspy is fatally wounded.

Because, you know, we're the only ones who understand what we're saying.

Together, these two nerd girls talk about the friends they're trying to protect, about being the brains behind the mask, and about clues and detective-ing out answers. They're strong, they're smart, and they're women. They're realistic.

It's a great juxtaposition to the heart-to-hearts that male heroes Barry and Oliver have. Oliver helps Barry recognize the complexity of romance and hero work. Barry helps Ollie find his humanity after committing so many atrocious acts. Neither the girls geeking out nor the guys talking feelings is overdone.

After decades of media where the prevailing undertone was that girls feel and guys think, it's like a breath of fresh air. More and more media is showing realistic characters rather than stereotypically gendered ones. Still, seeing women talking about their hi-tech passions with one another is a rare thing. I can't help wondering if this sort of thing is what's missing in the "why aren't there more women in STEM?" debate. We just don't see women in STEM in mass media. They're there but invisible.

Not anymore. Thanks, Flash and Arrow, for giving us smart girls who are worth looking up to. Smart women who are relatable. Whoever wrote these episodes, you get my applause.

Happy Caturday! Ima go be smart nowz.

Word count: 726.