Lesbian writer and illustrator Alison Bechdel is a living legend. Her graphic novel-turned-Tony-winning musical and comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For were and remain highly influential in the literary and queer communities.
Bechdel was born in 1960 in Lock Haven, Pa. She graduated from Oberlin with degrees in studio arts and art history. After graduation, Bechdel sent the first panel of Dykes to Watch Out For to WomaNews, a feminist newspaper, where it was first published. The comic offered humorous insight into the urban lesbian community. The “Bechdel Test” commonly used in film criticism originated from a panel published in 1985 in which two characters discuss the presence and influence of female characters in film. The test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. An added bonus is when the women are named. Bechdel has said she was inspired by the work of Virginia Woolf, who wrote:
“All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple . . . And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. . . . They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men.”
A study found that in American films from 1950 to 2006, there were, on average, two male characters for each female character. Female characters were seen to be involved in sex twice as often as male characters, and their ratio of scenes with explicit sexual content increased over time. The Bechdel test challenges the creative industry to do better in its portrayal of women.
Bechdel wrote her most well-known piece Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic as both a graphic novel and memoir. The work follows Bechdel’s own process of self-discovery as well as her relationship with her father, a closeted bisexual who eventually committed suicide. The work gave a voice to those struggling with coming to terms with who they are. Fun Home was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named Time Magazine’s No. 1 Book of the Year in 2006. In 2015, it debuted on Broadway as a musical and won five of 12 Tony nominations, including Best Musical.
In 2014, Bechdel received the MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Award. She currently lives in Vermont with her wife of three years. Readers are highly encouraged to discover her revolutionary work for themselves.
Caroline Fritz is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in French and linguistics. ✉️ CF853302@wcupa.edu.