Sexy Lamp Test

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Synonyms:
See also: Bechdel Test, Mako Mori Test, Tauriel Test, Ellen Willis Test, Furiosa Test, fridged
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The Sexy Lamp Test measures how relevant a female character is to the plot of a work.[1] The test was established by Kelly Sue DeConnick and first achieved wide notice after she mentioned it during an Emerald City Comic Con panel titled "From Victim to Hero".[2] The full test is:

So, there’s the Bechdel test. I’ve got another test that works just as well. The Sexy Lamp test. If you can take out a female character and replace her with a sexy lamp, YOU’RE A FUCKING HACK.[2][3]

The sexy lamp in question is the one from the movie A Christmas Story (1983). The lamp consists of a lampshade over a fake leg, dressed in a fishnet stocking.

the "sexy lamp" from A Christmas Story (1983)

Context

The Sexy Lamp Test addresses the ubiquitous and much-despised Strong Female Character trope, in which a character is both strong and female but completely lacks agency or relevance.[4]

DeConnick works in the US comics industry, which is home to a wide variety of sexist behavior,[5] including the Fake Geek Girls incident, cosplay-related and other convention harassment,[6] and covers so awful they inspired The Hawkeye Initiative. This was during a period of pressure placed on Marvel to make a Black Widow movie as part of the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); at the time, it was difficult to even find Black Widow merchandise in stores, despite an overwhelming amount of merchandise for the male Avengers.[7] Amidst these events, DeConnick wrote the latest Captain Marvel series, starring Carol Danvers, which was one of the few female-led Marvel comics books at the time.[8] The comic achieved a large following among female fans, to the point where a Carol Danvers movie was added to the MCU lineup.

In a 2012 interview with Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance, DeConnick said:

As an industry, we have to make more female-led books that are actually worth buying. Nevermind the Bechdel test, try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft. They have to be protagonists, not devices. [Before anyone flips out on me, can I point out that I said we need to make “more.” I didn’t say we’re not making them. We’re making them. Industry-wide, we are making them–but we need to make more.][8]

The initial "maybe you need another draft" was replaced in later statements by variations on "you're a hack".

Impact

Interest in the test from comics and fandom circles grew after the ECCC panel. The test was mentioned in several articles in media-related publications.[5][9] DeConnick went on to repeat her statements and elaborate on them during later conventions.[10]

Various fans and critics also began discussing how the test could be applied to media.[11][12] One fan explained how the test could shed light on the differences in fanservice portrayals by gender:

Being sexy and being drawn or posed or dressed in a way that is designed to sexually-excite your viewers is not necessarily objectification. Characters can be sexy and still be complex characters who could not be replaced by a “sexy lamp.“ A good female example of this is Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop. Yeah, she’s clearly designed as fanservice, with her midriff-baring “shirt” and short shorts, but she’s also a complex, interesting, clever woman with an intricate backstory and well-developed relationships with the other Bebop crew. You don’t have to find Faye attractive to find her compelling, and she obviously could not be replaced by a sexy lamp.

The Sexy Lamp test was made as a joke but it is interesting in terms of revealing what’s truly objectification and when a character happens to be sexy but is more than that. And it really works to show us the very different ways that media - especially anime (since it has a lot of media that acknowledges the Female as well as Male Gaze) - tends to deal with male fanservice aimed at women, and female fanservice aimed at men.

Namely, the bishie male anime characters that people are always citing as evidence of “male fanservice" are almost never just Sexy Lamps. They’re nearly always fleshed-out, interesting characters to at least some degree. Hell, they’re often the protagonists! Or primary antagonists! But they’re almost always there as something more than sexy decoration. You can’t say the same for sexy female characters in anime. You have your Fayes, but you also have a lot of women who are really just there to be sexy and nothing else.[13]

Sexy Lamp with a Post-It Stuck On

In a discussion about the Sexy Lamp Test vs. the Bechdel Test, trailofdesire proposed a conundrum:

The sexy lamp test seems difficult to deal with, though, primarily because — like, technically, you could not replace Severine in Skyfall with a sexy lamp, because she needs to be animate enough to tell Bond about Silva. But … she’s basically a sexy lamp. So how do you deal with that in this test?[14]

In response, shitifindon suggested:

Not that I’ve seen Skyfall, but the modification that springs to mind is “sexy lamp with a Post-It stuck on”

Like, if she is a sexy lamp and also a vehicle for the transmission of information that is slightly better but not all that much better[14]

The concept of a post-it note quickly caught on, and this has become a common way of explaining how women who act as information dumps in storylines are still often objects who don't have independent agency and plot relevance beyond the information they provide to a male character.[15][16]

Relation to Other Tests

The Sexy Lamp Test is often compared to both the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori Test.[17]

Bechdel Test

The Bechdel and Sexy Lamp tests measure different elements of female representation - the first measures presence of women and the possibility of relationships between them that don't center on men, while the Sexy Lamp test measures an individual woman's impact on a work.[18] Both are extremely low bars that should be easy to walk over, but some feminists have argued that the Sexy Lamp test should raise more red flags because it shows that a woman in the work has been completely objectified.

If something passes the Bechdel Test: wow great okay
If something does NOT pass the Bechdel Test: don't freak out - the test is inherently flawed and only takes into consideration a very select and narrow group of variables
If something passes the Sexy Lamp Test: wow great okay
If something does NOT pass the Sexy Lamp Test: freak out because that means the story still would have made sense if that particular female character had been replaced by a sexy lamp and that's hella fuckin' sad
Tags: *shouts at top of lungs* THE BECHDEL TEST IS NOT THE BE-ALL END-ALL THING TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT A WRITTEN OR PERFORMED WORK IS INHERENTLY SEXIST[19]

Yet other feminists find it more alarming that a simple conversation between two women fails to appear in so many media, since this doesn't reflect real life by objective measures. In discussing how The Avengers (2012) passes the Sexy Lamp test but not the Bechdel Test, scifigrl47 explained:

I agree with the purpose of the women in the Avengers, but seriously. Women are HALF OF THE POPULATION OF THE EARTH. During the course of any given movie, you will have a hundred conversations between men, and yes, conversations between men and women.

But how is it possible that movie makers have created some sort of alternate universe where, just by sheer coincidence, two women don’t accidentally speak to each other? How does that happen? It is nine thirty am and I have already talked to about twenty women today, because as it turns out, there are are a lot of us and sometimes we interact.

Failing the Bechdel test points out a fundamental flaw in how movies are structured, how popular media is structured where the default is male (and likely white/straight male) and anything else is an actual statistical freak of nature. When in fact, guess what?

The only place where the world continues to be white and straight and male is in the goddamn media.

Tags: rawr lazy writing when it's so easy to fix really seriously just make the goddamn SHIELD tech that updates Maria about the status of the engine a woman AND POOF You've passed the easiest test since that vision test in grade school the apple is on the table FINE CAN WE JUST IGNORE HOW STUPID IT IS THAT SCREENWRITERS SCREW THIS UP?[20]

Mako Mori Test

The Mako Mori test measures similar elements to the Sexy Lamp test (an individual woman's relevance to the plot of a work). The Mako Mori test is somewhat more rigorous, requiring a woman not simply to contribute to the plot but to have her own character arc that doesn't exist to support a man's.

The Bechdel test is, very simply, a test that indicates whether women are present in a movie—it is not a test that indicates how feminist or not sexist a movie is. Both the Mako Mori and Sexy Lamp tests, however, are directly measuring how much agency a woman has and how much of an impact she has on the plotline. Mako was integral to closing the Rift, and Natasha led Avengers by recruiting Bruce, manipulating Loki, getting Clint Barton back to himself, oh, and also by defeating a bunch of Russian mobsters. Both women had character arcs which were not about supporting a man’s story, and neither of them could have been replaced by a Sexy Lamp. Meanwhile, Twilight’s Bella could definitely have been replaced by a Sexy Lamp, and she had a character arc, in the loosest of terms, that was all about Edward.[21]

Conclusions

Many fans have concluded that no single test can measure the quality of female representation in a work; tests should be used together as part of an overall assessment of media in general and a specific work.[22]

The point is to use both. The Bechdel Test was always meant to be used on a large scale - to show an overall trend, to be applied to a wide selection of movies. To show a pattern in media representation. As a feminist indicator for any one movie, it doesn’t always work - and that’s fine, becuase that’s not how it was meant to work.

The Sexy Lamp test is meant to apply to a single movie. Does this movie have a women who has agency? The Bechdel test is meant to apply boradly to say - “Look how few women there are in movies, and look how rarely they ineract with each other/are given things to do not about men.” Taken apart, they analyze to different facets of media representation. It’s not a question of vs. There can be many, there doesn’t have to be one, and they work well together. I would say that a “true” feminist movie passes both tests - it has ladies interacting, and having agency.[23]

Most tests call attention to significant problems of portrayal in the media they're designed around, generally with the goal being to encourage creators to think about their decisions in their future works.[24][5]

But why stop at the Mako Mori test or the Sexy Lamp test, both of which only concern one woman’s story? Why don’t we go full-tilt and say that a new test should demand 1) at least two female characters, each with 2) their own character arcs which 3) don’t revolve around men? If we’re feeling particularly up to it, we could even add 4) female character interacts with a named female colleague or family member.[21]

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. "The Sexy Lamp test helps you see if your women are relevant to your plot. This test not only asks you if women are represented, but if they are there to do something." ~Headless at characterandwritinghelp, The Bechdel Test (and others not unlike it): A Masterpost. Posted c. April 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Writing Women – The Sexy Lamp Test, Endless Realms. Posted March 3, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  3. sexylamptest.tumblr.com, header text. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  4. We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome by Tasha Robinson. Posted June 16, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016. (Note that Robinson says "floor lamp" instead of "sexy lamp" and does not credit DeConnick for the concept.)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Writers need to engage their audience with a narrative that includes female characters who are more than mere plot devices; they need to play an integral role in the story where their absence would certainly impair, if not outright halt the progression of the story." The Bechdel Test and a Sexy Lamp:Detecting Gender Bias and Stereotypes in Mainstream Comics by Forrest Helvie. Posted November 21, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  6. San Diego police seek information in assault on cosplayer — UPDATED by Heidi MacDonald. Posted August 29, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  7. butnotblackwidow.tumblr.com, a Tumblr devoted entirely to the absence of Black Widow merchandise. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  8. 8.0 8.1 [http://comicsalliance.com/kelly-sue-deconnick-captain-marvel/ Kelly Sue Deconnick on the Evolution of Carol Danvers to Captain Marvel (Interview)], Comics Alliance, by Laura Hudson. Posted March 19, 2012. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  9. Kelly Sue DeConnick Talks Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly, and the Sexy Lamp Test by Joshua Yehl. Posted June 20, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  10. I Don’t Know About You, But I Prefer My Strong Female Characters To Pass The 'Sexy Lamp' Test, video of Kelly Sue DeConnick explaining the Sexy Lamp Test at Wondercon. Posted July 24, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  11. Films That Totally Fail The Sexy Lamp Test by Jenni Berrett. Posted August 2, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  12. “Sexy Lamp Test” more accurate evaluation of female characterization by Haley Mitchell. Posted June 12, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  13. The thing about male vs. female “fanservice” by memoriescanwait. Posting date unknown but on or before August 3, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Bechdel vs. the sexy lamp, trailofdesire's and shitifindon's responses to SweaterKitty's original post. Posted May 8, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  15. "Lucrezia Borgia is a sexy lamp with a post-it note. Both Pietro and Cesare want the same lamp, she gets kidnapped at one point because the lamp has a key tied round it’s neck, and then she has a post-it note of where the apple of eden is." Feminist Points Rundown of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood by kalebtrevelyan. Posting date unknown. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  16. "Moneypenny was a sexy lamp with a post-it-note as usual. The grieving widow was a sexy lamp with a post-it-note and a random shag. (That sounds callous but he really did just get information out of her, have sex and leave. She even asked, if he was leaving his number. He practically laughed and said no. He’s not even going to bother protecting her himself and he just dumped.) And Miss Swan was just narrowly saved from being a sexy lamp with a post-it-note by the scene where they allowed her to shoot / wound Mr.Hinx and potentially save James’ life… although she was not allowed to kill him." James Bond: Spectre *Spoilers* by faitharmstrong. Posted December 5, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  17. An analysis of 1,500 films resulted in 1 disturbing conclusion. Curated by Parker Molloy. Posted March 19, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  18. Bechdel vs. the sexy lamp by sweaterkittens. Posted c. April 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  19. If something passes the Bechdel Test by teroknortailor. Posted February, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016. Currently 6679 notes.
  20. bechdel vs. the sexy lamp, comment by scifigrl47. Posted August 16, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Sexualized Saturdays: If the Bechdel Test Isn’t Feminist, What Is? by ladygeekgirl. Posted March 15, 2014. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  22. The Media Tests and a proposal (or “Women in Fiction” and Crystal Gems Test) by locuas642. Posted August 26, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  23. princess thundernuts: Bechdel vs. the sexy lamp by lovelyhera. Posting date unknown. Accessed February 2, 2016.
  24. "I’ve long felt that the Bechdel Test is a better measure of media as a whole than it is of any one specific work. Basically, if one movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t necessarily mean the movie’s sexist. If ninety percent of movies don’t pass the Bechdel Test, we have a serious representation problem on our hands."What are you doing here?: Bechdel vs. the sexy lamp by beatriceeagle. Posted August 17, 2013. Accessed February 2, 2016.