In researching the topic what made a feminist book I ran across 3 tests for movies/TV that are also applied to works of fiction (although this in not their original design purpose). I want to use all 3 of these tests to analyze Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series. For clarity’s sake when I speak of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series I am speaking of her 5-book series that focuses on her character Alexia Tarabotti. For those interested in reading this series who have not yet, please be advised, spoilers will ensue.
The 3 tests are:
- The Bechdel-Wallace Test
- The Mako Mori Test
- The Praying Mantis Test
The Bechdel-Wallace Test, often shortened to The Bechdel Test, I would venture to say is the most well known for applying to see if a book ensures equal gender representation. A piece of fiction can pass The Bechdel Test if more than two females exist in the work, if at some point only females are in a conversation, and if during that conversation no men are discussed. The problem with this test is that it does not account for length of conversation, depth of topic, or if the women are romantically involved/interested in each other. In the Parasol Protectorate series, Alexia, the main character, has many conversations with various people that do not focus on men. These conversations often focus on a mystery that needs to be solved. At some point, the conversation will always move on to a man, usually Lord Conall Maccon. Lord Maccon is the head of The Bureau of Unnatural Registy. This is a government division that reports directly to Queen Elizabeth on supernatural matters. To make a lateral comparison, Lord Maccon is the Inspector Lestrade to Alexia’s Sherlock Holmes, and her official pipeline for being able to bring in the bad guys. In addition, Madame Lefoux, a cross dressing, gay, female inventor and Alexia become close friends. Throughout the book series Madame Lefoux makes clear her interest in Alexia, and while Alexia does not share her interest in a romantic manner they often talk at length about scientific discovery and whatever mystery Alexia is tangled in. If we were to look at expanding The Bechdel Test to better fit a true feminist novel, not just gender representation, I would say that the length of conversation without mentioning a man should be considered. If two females are romantically involved/desire to be romantically involved. This of course would be more complicated if, similar to above, one of the characters would forever be not “the one” for another character. Overall, I believe that more than enough of even my expanded criteria for The Bechdel Test shows that the Parasol Protectorate series passes.
The Mako Mori Test tests that a piece of fiction has at least one female character and that this character has an independent plot arc. This arc cannot simply exist to support a male character’s plot arc. In this series, Alexia Tarabotti is soulless. She lacks imagination, some say a moral compass, and in many cases the ability to understand why people interact the way they do. The entirety of the five-book series focuses on her development as an investigator, a person, and eventually a mother. While her fate and Lord Maccon’s are intimately tied together, I would argue that her development in these areas are separate from her relationship with Lord Maccon and should be considered passing this test.
The Praying Mantis Test is a two-prong test. Does a man kiss a woman, and does he later try to kill her. This idea can of course be expanded on to “does this man mentally/emotionally abuse/control her,” and I feel it should. Something I don’t see enough of are tests for things that equate to Toxic Masculinity. Things that cover unhealthy relationship guidelines that may cause readers to believe a situation in more normalized than in healthy/safe. This is the closest I feel that the series fails a test. At the end of book two, we learn that Lord and Lady Maccon (Alexia) are expecting a baby. It is unheard of for a soulless and a werewolf to be able to conceive in the modern age (we later learn there is recorded histories of it for both vampires and werewolves). Lord Maccon, despite knowing his wife would hardly have the time let alone the inclination for an affair, casts her out claiming she must’ve slept with another man. The entirety of book three involves Alexia trying to prove her innocence while in a separate plot her husband tries to understand what could’ve happened. This is my least favorite of all the books in the series. Very little is done to develop as humans in book three. Relationships are in every conversation, it seems, as the characters must continuously explain that Alexia is pregnant and it is Lord Maccon’s despite a lack of evidence. This leads to Alexia constantly having to defend her honor as a wife, and being put through rigorous verbal and scientific tests to try to trip her up. I think that in the case of this test, Gail’s books fail. Unbeknownst to her husband his casting her out also causes Queen Elizabeth to withdraw protection from Alexia that she had been granted since a child. This allows the vampires to send out a kill order and attempts start on her life before she fully understands what is happening. In addition, I find Lord Maccon’s demeanor extremely mentally/emotionally abusive. To cast her out without talking to her, to not believe her when she proclaimed her innocence, and to have internal knowledge of a lack of time to have committed such a betrayal and still cast her out is extremely damaging to one’s psyche. To make matters worse there is another incident in book five where Alexia has kept a secret from Conall. She has done this knowing that if the information ever came out, a rift would happen in her husband’s pack that he may not recover from. When it comes to light that his wife has knowingly kept this secret for approximately three years, he abandons her and their daughter in a foreign country leaving them uncertain of his return.
I still believe that at their core these books are deeply feminist. They involve women saving themselves, not entirely focused on men/marriage, women advancing in science and other important fields of study, and the idea that sexuality is multifaceted. There is also a concept of friendship with opposite sex characters that is purely for intellectual purposes, and same sex friendships where interest in one sided but is not the focus of conversations or their relationship. Out of the 3 tests I looked at Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series passed two. Is this enough for everyone to believe that they have a strong feminist ideal? Perhaps that is for each individual to consider. Putting these three tests together definitely gave a fuller picture to the series. It is my belief that a multi-faceted test should be created that includes my expanded criteria to better say if a work of fiction is feminist in nature, or has equal gender representation.