Women in Fiction: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the GalaxyI’m fairly convinced that The Bechdel Test has become common knowledge. In fact, I’m convinced that those in charge of movie production have started making movies that actually pass the now-ubiquitous test for female representation.

But I’m not convinced that passing the test is enough.

Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy has more than two female characters. Sure, those females talk with one another. And, yes their discussions revolve around something other than the male characters around them. But does that mean they exist in a feminist universe?

No.

Or rather, not necessarily. The thing that people might forget about The Bechdel Test—the thing that, I’m afraid, movie producers flatly ignore—is that it is not in itself a vindication of a movie as feminist or pro-woman. All that it measures is female presence. It doesn’t matter whether the women are objectified (as the human-weapon/slave-sisters Gamora and Nebula undoubtedly are in Guardians of the Galaxy). Or whether they are treated as potential romantic interests (as Gamora is, albeit briefly—with her immediate rejection of the protagonist somewhat undercut by his later acting as her savior and getting a few lingering gazes of affection…). Or whether their roles as active and powerful figures are undercut by a male protagonist (however bumbling he may be) taking control of the situation and using the powerful-human-weapon/largely-voiceless-female-leader to his own ends.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie.Chris Pratt has always been adorable and charming, and his newly-chiseled action hero manifestation was a pleasure to watch in 3D. Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan were pretty fabulous as the menacing (yet sympathetic) Gamora and Nebula (respectively). Glenn Close was an imposing Nova Prime (though I wish she’d had more lines… or at least showed some more agency rather than accepting the plans of the men around her).

I definitely thought that Guardians of the Galaxy shows movement in a positive direction. I’m glad that Hollywood is actively working toward passing The Bechdel Test. And I’m glad that I could watch a movie teeming with women (and people of color… though I don’t have the space to get into a discussion of race in this movie). It was a movie I could watch-and enjoy-without feeling guilty about indulging a fantasy world based on the suppression of female existence. I could, in fact, revel in the smart and competent female characters supporting the male protagonist.

But it’s still a movie with a male protagonist. A mostly-male cast. In a media landscape teeming with less-Bechdel-approved media.

Maybe it’s time to up the ante. To demand that movies do more than pass The Bechdel Test. To demand that they also pass the same test for people of color. To demand that the ratio of male to female main characters is more balanced. To demand that female characters do more than speak to one another about something other than men—that they speak authoritatively to men. And are listened to.

But that’s just, like, my opinion man. What do you think? Did you think Gamora and Nebula’s fight scene was awesome, or problematic? Did you think Gamora’s rejection of Peter Quill’s romantic advances were sincere, or meant to be interpreted as female coyness? And did the movie’s comedic overtones undercut the serious feminist work that might otherwise have been accomplished by a hit movie passing The Bechdel Test so well?


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