Is A Huck Finn Fan A Jerk?

Alison Bechdel, the cartoonist behind the brilliant memoir Fun Home and the seminal strip Dykes to Watch Out For, had a character lay out a set of three rules for determining whether any given work had a gender bias: 1) it had to have at least two female characters; 2) they had to talk to each other; and 3) they had to talk to each other about something other than one of the male characters.

This raises a question for blogger Frank Kovarik: might he be a raging jerk for loving works that fail these criteria?

He puts it more eloquently than that but you see the heart of the argument. As a responsible reader, how should one react to works that fail that test? As he puts it:

I was struck by the simplicity of this test and by its patent validity as a measure of gender bias. As I thought about it some more, it occurred to me how few of the classic works of literature that I teach to my high school freshmen would pass this test: The Odyssey? Nope. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass? Nope. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nope. Romeo and Juliet. Nope.

What’s wrong with me?

Not to spoil anything too greatly, but Kovarik is able to reconcile the great works with Bechdel’s test. It’s a fantastic take on the problem, and an essential read in my books. Go at it.

Author: James Brotheridge

Contributing Editor with Prairie Dog.

4 thoughts on “Is A Huck Finn Fan A Jerk?”

  1. Thanks; that was a good article (and I should admit that I was afraid it was going to be defensive and dismissive, as writing about thinking critically about bias and art often is!).

  2. A handy way to tell us apart is to notice that while James writes clearly, I come up with multi-claused nightmares like that thing I put in parentheses above.

  3. Years ago, I remember a debate about whether Darwin was sexist or not. The general consensus was, his writings were more a product of the norms of “the times” rather than any specific sexist tendencies.

    Perhaps Alison Bechdel’s criterion is best applied to more modern works, now that the general culture has begun to recognize women as more than backdrops, decoration or vessels of admiration (both toward and by men).

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