We all know what the Bechdel test is, The Bechdel test asks whether a film (or any work of fiction, for that matter) features at least two females who talk to each other about something other than a male.
What though is the Jane test, and where did it come from?
On twitter, a professional script reader named Ross Putman pulls the introduction of female characters out of screenplays, changes all the characters names to “Jane,” then tweets the description the first time we see them. Putnam’s findings reveal a superficial focus on a female characters’ looks, and a telling dearth of information about what makes them tick as a person.
Specifically, Putnam examines three things: 1) Does The Introduction Focus on the External Attributes of the Character? 2) Is She a Twenty- or Thirtysomething? 3) Is She Dating Someone Decades Older Than Her?
Here’s where I’m torn: In RIDING ARISTOTLE, the last feature screenplay I wrote, the protagonist is a female. It’s 1908, and she is the first female dean of a major university. The first time we see her, she is splashed in the face when a nearby horse steps in a puddle of water. So it’s a focus on an external attribute (Rule 1), but it is by no means a sexy description of her physical looks. Next, she is 37, which would trigger Rule 2. However, I didn’t write her as 37, to portray her as sexually vibrant, nor anything close to that. Since she is a fictional character, I wondered what the youngest age that a person could become a dean — and for it still be somewhat believable, but more importantly, remarkable. The point was she had made amazing achievements in grad school (finishing at 26), then as a professor (five years, making her 31), then as a department head (another 6 years, making her 37) — achievements so large, every step of the way, that they could not be ignored. She exceled her way up the academic ladder at a time when the odds were stacked against her. There’s no way THAT’S sexist. To the contrary, her age is a testament to her advanced abilities. Lastly, Rule 3 — not only is my protagonist NOT dating an older man, she is married to a much younger man (in 1908, another nod to her independent streak). On the other hand, I do have an older man chasing her. Am I guilty of violating Rule 3? Or am I subverting it, by having my protagonist (SPOILER ALERT) stay loyal to her younger husband?
See what I mean? A case could be made that my protagonist does not pass the Jane test — but there’s no way my protagonist is anywhere near the same as a lithe Meagan Fox glistening with sweat in her Daisy Dukes in Transformers. This is not to say that Putnam’s observations are wrong. I agree with him that there is a problem. I’m just saying that describing the problem is not as cut-and-dried simple as 1 – 2 – 3.
Clearly there is more to be said about this topic. This won’t be the last time we discuss the Jane test on this blog.