capri0mni: A black field crossed by five parallel lighting bolts in blue, gold, green, red, and purple (Default)
[personal profile] capri0mni
(I've also posted this to [community profile] disability, where it is waiting in the moderation cue, and I mentioned this at the end of my most recent post about my NaNoWriMo novel [under a custom filter], but I also thought it might be good to open this question up to everybody, so... here it is [ETA: Also, I realized, just now, that I can cross-post it to [ profile] crip_crit, so I will do that]):

So, you know about The Bechdel Test, for evaluating certain aspects of gender bias and sexism in fiction, yes?

Well, there has been some talk in some circles, about how one could come up with something similar for depictions of PWD in fiction -- the discussions that spring immediately to mind are these two from Dave Hingsburger's Blog: "Rolling Around in My Head," from March of this year:

The Dave Test and The Rolling Test (I think he updated the name in order to honor all the comments to the Rolling... blog, not necessarily the little wheelchair stick figure).

Anyway, November is freshly over, and I'm still recovering from this year's NaNoWriMo marathon, and my head is still buzzing with my story. Wrote a "literary fairy tale," this time around, in which the tale opens with the princess being sent off to marry the prince who slayed the nasty monster, and retrieved her Father-the-King's magical Ring of Life and Death.

Disability comes into it, because it occurred to me that it would be highly unlikely that any prince who fights and slays a giant fire-and-poison-breathing monster at close range (how long is your standard sword: a yard?) would come out of that battle as handsome and unblemished as when he went in. So before the princess even meets him, it's revealed that he's lost his right eye, and most of the use of his right hand... and also, there's a minor(ish) character who has a twisted leg (the jester of her father's court).

Anyway, my novel is far from finished (vast stretches of the middle are half-or-completely unwritten), but I realized I've created some disabled characters that do not embarrass me, and that feel as though they do reflect something of what I experience as a disabled person (even though I did not give either of these characters my form of disability). And, in the process, I think I've hit on my own "Disability Test" for fiction (movies, TV, books, etc.):

1) There is at least one character who has an actual disability (with consequences)
2) The character is in the story to resolve a conflict of his or her own
3) Curing the disability will not resolve that conflict.

1) a- [re: "actual"] the disability is real, neither an act, nor psychosomatic (Unlike Colin in The Secret Garden or Clara(?) in Heidi). b- [re: "consequences"] The disability is more than cosmetic (unlike whatever reason Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami has to wear those sunglasses, or a limp that's there just to make a character "quirky").

2) as opposed to being in the story only to help the Able-normative characters resolve their conflicts (cf. Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol)

3) The fact that the person has a disability will influence how they resolve their conflicts, but is not the cause of their conflicts.

So, for example, the conflicts that my prince character has to deal with are: a) he's looking to the future, when he will inherit the throne, and has to decide what it is that makes "just law" by which he will govern the kingdom, when his time comes (He disagrees with his parents on this), and b) he's forced to marry someone he does not know, and (for reasons that come up in the story) does not quite trust. The fact that he is newly-disabled influences those conflicts, because there are those in the kingdom who believe that the disability disqualifies him for the role of king, and he's worried that his disfigurement repulses his new bride (plus, having only one eye, now, makes going down all the palace's spiral staircases far more terrifying than he would like). But he'd still have conflicts with his parents and new bride even if he still had two eyes and two hands.

The thing is, the strength of the Bechdell test is in its simplicity: 3 points, 15 words. So-- any tips or feedback on how I can simplify this test? And, perhaps more important, do you think this test "covers" the biggest weaknesses in fictional depictions of disability?

Date: 2012-12-03 02:40 am (UTC)
jesse_the_k: White woman riding black Quantum 4400 powerchair off the right edge, chased by the word "powertool" (JK 56 powertool)
From: [personal profile] jesse_the_k
Hmm. I think items 2 and 3 are great as they stand.

I'm having trouble with item 1. I'm afraid my concerns are more lawyerly than lit-critical, so here's the salt shaker, too:

It's the "actual" and "with consequences" that feel like disability policing which would push some of us over the line.

Someone with a facial difference: is that "actual"? I believe daily encounters with horrified faces and refusal to meet the eye are consequential as all get out. (This is of course the issue handled by the "regarded as" clause in the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

I don't understand cleaving away "psychosomatic" from all other mental illnesses which impair one's activity of daily living.

It would be fabulous if there was a reference standard we could use for "disability," but of course there isn't. Don't know if you cruised the [community profile] cripbigbang guidelines, which include lycanthropy as a disability. Is this perhaps the source of "actual"?


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