Truro — Gender studies students from across Nova Scotia have been flocking to the town of Truro this week, after the alarming revelation that area resident Jeffrey MacDougall’s 47 years of life have so far failed to pass the Bechdel test. The test, normally a metric applied critically to films, was created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel as a means to determine whether a motion picture passes a very low bar for feminist content.
For a movie to pass the test, it must contain (1) at least two female characters, (2) who have names and (3) a scene where the female characters talk about something other than a man. The test has gained fame in recent years, but has never before been used to determine the feminist content of someone’s life.
“It’s remarkable,” said Alyssa MacTavish, a third-year gender studies major at Dalhousie, “but every time Mr. MacDougall has been in a room where women whose names he knows start talking about something, he will immediately find some excuse to leave, unless the conversation is about him or one of his male friends.
“I observed MacDougall sitting in his living room on a Sunday, quietly working on a jigsaw puzzle, when his wife Linda and her friend Amelia walked in the room. They spoke about Amelia’s husband Craig’s job for 12 minutes, and then about their nephew Vince’s volunteer work at the local animal shelter. There was no movement from Jeffrey until the conversation switched to shopping, at which point he ran out of the room as if it were on fire. Apparently this has been a pattern his entire life.”
Some have been quick to defend MacDougall against charges of casual misogyny. “I’m sure he must have heard women talking about things besides men — on plane trips, taking the bus,” said his sister, Claire, a systems analyst in Halifax, “although I guess he wouldn’t know their names, so it doesn’t count. Oh, but definitely in Home Hardware, there’s a couple of ladies who work there. I’m pretty sure he knows their names. I think we went to high school with at least one of them… he’s probably heard them chit-chat when he’s in getting a belt sander or something.”
When asked by The Manatee whether her brother was present for any conversations she had with her friends when they were children living together, Ms. MacDougall couldn’t offer a definitive answer. “I’m sure he was — but then again, all my friends and I used to talk about was boys.”
As MacDougall continues to fascinate academics, last Friday yielded a unique nexus of the Bechdel test’s use as an analytic film tool and as a means of examining the Truro man’s life.
“He took his two daughters [Kristine, 10 and Jordan, 8] to a screening of the new Ghostbusters, a film that easily passes the Bechdel test,” explained Mount Saint Vincent University women’s studies grad student Shelly Kurosawa, “but when his daughters started whispering to each other during the screening about whether the movie was scary or not, Jeffrey got up to go to the washroom or buy more candy. It was remarkable. We have no idea if it’s on purpose or it’s some Pavlovian reflex.”
“I concur,” said Kurosawa’s thesis adviser, Dr. Lysette Francis. “Our entire department will definitely be talking about this man for years to come.”