I’d like to propose a new test.
We’ve got a slew of them already.
- The Bechedel Test (in which there are two named female characters who talk about literally anything that isn’t a man)
- The Mako Mori test (in which there is a female character who has her own plot which isn’t about propping up a man)
- The Sexy Lamp test (in which a female character couldn’t just as easily be replaced by a sexy lamp)
- The Fleshlight-with-a-Post-It Test (in which a female character can’t easily be replaced by a fleshlight that happens to have a single piece of plot-critical information written on it with a post-it note)
I’d like to add The Labrador Test: In which a female character can’t easily be replaced by an adorable dog that a male character is just so gosh-darn attached to.
And dear God, I’m so sorry we still need for this test to exist. I’m sorry that female characters are still being sidelined to the point where the entirety of their dialogue could easily be replaced with a soulful gaze and a wag of the tail while the male characters are given all the lines that actually move the plot forward. I’m sorry that their contributions to plot lines add up to the hero not wanting her to die, and (on a good day) occasionally barking at something interesting and/or dangerous so the hero can do something about it.
You see it even in the recent Deadpool movie, where we’re given four female characters who spend an awkward amount of their screentime following silently at the heels of a male character who actually advance the story. And I’m glad that they’re given screentime and lines at all, I’m glad that we get a whole whopping four as opposed to a single token lady (or none at all) as still happens so very often. I’m glad that at least two of them aren’t sexualized (especially considering one is a minor and the other is elderly).
But would it kill the writers to make them actually relevant to the plot?
I get it. Wade loves Vanessa. And she’s important because he loves her. She makes him happy. And she affects the plot because he doesn’t want her to get hurt. And… really, that’s it for her, isn’t it?
This is not me picking on Deadpool. It was a fun flick, and I enjoyed it a lot. But it’s also a one of the latest in a trend that we’ve seen all too often, and it’s one we’re going to keep seeing.
Vanessa’s role is the exact same role played by the dog in I Am Legend. And by the dog in Shiloh. And, really, any other movie that has a non-talking dog in it. In dog movies, it’s not uncommon for the protagonist to lay down some exposition or work through personal problems by venting to their animal companion.
I’m not saying that these characters are necessarily unlikable. After all, I enjoyed the dog in I Am Legend, and the dog companions are always adorable (if sometimes trying) in games like Fallout and Skyrim. BB-8 and R2-D2 in the Star Wars franchise are also wonderful and lovable, but notice that while BB-8 was being lovable and in danger, we still had Rey and Maz and Leia actually being active and moving the plot along. And let’s face it, BB-8 and R2-D2 both still have a whole lot more bearing on the plot of their respective movies than a lot of female leads do in theirs.
Please, guys. It’s 2016. Let’s try to do better.