An open letter to Alison Bechdel

Hi Alison,

You probably won’t read this, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  You might, and if you do, thank you.

I’ve always admired your work. I had a copy of Dykes to Watch Out For in my squat in the late 80s.  My family collects graphic novels & comic books:  Hot Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For sits between Castle Waiting and Persepolis on a shelf on my upstairs bookcase.  My young adult daughter, a lesbian, has copies of your books strewn around her room.

 I taught my kids about the Bechdel Test as soon as they were old enough to understand it. They told their friends about it and discussions ensued.

It’s as relevant today as ever, because barely any films pass this incredibly low bar.

Two women, who talk to each other, about something other than a man.

I like to think you knew what a woman was when you drew your iconic cartoon that sets the criteria for what we now call the Bechdel Test. 

In 2000 you said in an interview,“You can be a biological female who thinks of herself as male and is attracted to men, you know? Any combination is possible.

I’d agree with that. Of course. A woman may feel that way, she may think of herself as male, but it doesn’t mean she is a man. For that woman to claim manhood, to demand that others see her and treat her ‘as a man’, she must abandon countless other women to a sea of stereotypes. Because if ‘woman’ isn’t about biology, what is about it but feeling and behaviour?

Where does it leave same-sex attracted women when a lesbian can have a penis and lesbian dating sites are infiltrated by biological men?

I wonder if you support single-sex spaces? This cartoon has been used to suggest you don’t. Is that what you meant?

What about women who feel  uncomfortable swimming in a public pool when men are present, or who are triggered by nearly-naked male bodies? Should there be no single-sex sessions for them? Is it hateful of women to want that space? Should we be entitled to female-only gyms? Changing rooms? Toilets? Do you know that boys are being allowed on girls’ sports teams? And that they are winning? Did you know that men in women’s sports are setting records in weightlifting, running and cycling, to name just three events?

If we say ‘transwomen are women’, we also say all that’s ok.

What about women-only refuges? Should they be defunded if they won’t take male-bodied people? Should women be evicted for complaining? It’s happened.

If we say ‘transwomen are women’, we also say that’s ok.

I get that, generally, nobody wants to be unkind, but if men can say they’re women where does that really leave us?

Do you know that schoolkids are being taught they can ‘choose’ to be girls or boys? That 12 year old girls are being given cross-sex hormones? That 14 yr old lesbian girls are having their breasts removed? That young women are so revolted by the idea of being female that they are growing beards to escape the stereotypes of womanhood? That adults are telling them this is possible?

The problem we face with gender ideology is there is no middle path. There is only complete and utter submission. We have blurred biological sex and personality into this horribly sexist concept of gender identity, with which everyone must comply.

Either you say ‘transwomen are women’ or you are called an evil bigot.

Some of us believe women should have biological rights and that our oppression from the womb until death- from sex-selective abortion, through higher levels of sexual abuse, FGM, sex-trafficking & forced surrogacy, voting rights and pay gaps- is based on our biology.

This isn’t something we can identify into or out of. We need that word ‘woman’. It has a meaning. It shouldn’t be taken from us.

Gender identity ideology changes the Bechdel test. Firstly, it becomes virtually meaningless when it’s claimed that anyone can choose to ‘identify’ into an oppressive situation.

So where you said ‘women’, should we now read ‘womxn’? Does it include men who call themselves transwomen? What about nonbinary folk? Where do the gender fluid fit in? Or agender? Or FTMs? Do they not count any more? Demiboys- are they in? What about male crossdressers?

If you say the Bechdel test is concerned with biological women, the gender ideologists will say  it is transphobic.

If you say the Bechdel test is about representation of all those who identify as women, it becomes something entirely new. It become a test that measures minority representation within the film industry. Not something without worth, but certainly no longer about the representation of women.

You once said, “the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings”.

I wish you would speak up for us now.

Wishing you all the best,



About Lily Maynard

Shamelessly gender critical. There's no such thing as a pink brain, a lesbian with a penis or a gender fairy. Transitioning kids is child abuse.
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12 Responses to An open letter to Alison Bechdel

  1. Jen says:

    I was literally just talking about the Bechdel test this morning. Of course you’re right, it is meaningless if she means womxn, rather than women.

    Thanks for all your hard work Lily.

  2. Redpeachmoon says:

    Beautiful letter, full of great phrases and talking points that I will grab.
    I hope you hear back from Ms. Bechdel.
    Thank you for your work!

  3. latsot says:

    Thanks for this!

  4. Ashe says:

    It is possible to acknowledge and advocate for cis women without denying womanhood to trans women. The words ‘cisgender’ and ‘transgender’ exist for this reason, and they have utility. Where and when the distinction is relevant, they are available to be used. Trans women being allowed the use of the word ‘woman’ does not deny it to cis women.

    Trans and nonbinary people are not individually responsible for perpetuating or rejecting the societal stereotypes placed on the sex they were assigned at birth. They can happen to either reflect or refute those stereotypes through their individuality, but those stereotypes are being placed on them as well; they did not create them. It is not the responsibility of an individual trans man, for example, to remain self-identifying as a woman for the sake of carrying the torch of defying stereotypes of women. And it is still possible for him to continue to advocate for women after transitioning.

    “The Bechdel Test” being inclusive of transfeminine people, especially binary trans women, would not/does not suddenly expand it to all minority representation. It makes it inclusive of more or all womanhood.
    That doesn’t make it bigoted for not addressing other gender minorities. We are capable of discussing those separately or simultaneously.

    When trans people transition, they do not just ‘identify into’ oppressive situations; they become subject to actual oppression based on their individual circumstances. That includes both general misogyny and/or transphobia.
    Trans people, including trans women, do share some forms of oppression with cis women, including sexual abuse, denial of abortion access (for those with uteruses) and other sex-based healthcare, and pay gaps.

    Young children are not being administered “cross-sex hormones” or having gender reassignment surgery; they are receiving puberty-blockers at most. Full HRT and gender affirming surgeries are made available as options later on.

    Trans women athletes as a class are not dominating womens’ sports. They are not setting records at a higher rate than cis women, and they are regularly defeated by cis women. Plenty of individual trans women who do win some events have previously and go on to lose other events of the same sport and even against the same competitor.
    At least some levels of competition impose hormone testing and regulation on athletes.

    On the whole, ‘biological woman’ is not even as simple and unambiguous a term as many believe. Biological sex is a spectrum in many aspects, including but not limited to chromosomes and their activation, and hormonal levels and sensitivity.
    Some cis women have high levels of testosterone and/or androgen sensitivity.

    Gender is indeed a largely socially-defined concept, and is not synonymous with sex.

    Dating sites can and should adapt to the existence and presence of non-cis people. People are capable of disclosing and discussing their personal details, and resolving any conflicts related to them as it becomes appropriate to do so.

    Attempting to enforce exclusion of trans people from gendered spaces is immediately impossible without invasive treatment of all people in those spaces. Even a hypothetical case where you simply require everyone to have a government-issued ID with a sex marker on it (and do not allow that marker to ever be changed from birth, and ignore all other logistical challenges of implementing this universally) would cause trans men to be forced to use womens’ facilities which would be uncomfortable for everyone including them, as well as forcing trans women to use mens’ facilities which is not only uncomfortable but actively dangerous to them.

    • Lily Maynard says:

      Transwomen are men. Transmen are women. Men do not belong in women’s sport. Biology is not a spectrum. We are not clownfish. Lesbians do not want to have sex with a penis involved and it’s homophobic to suggest they should. Your rhetoric does not change these facts. And it’s interesting that you think men in men’s changing rooms are dangerous but men in women’s changing rooms aren’t

  5. Joe says:

    Whiny, tedious moaning from another straight. What a gross disservice to Bechdel’s work to reduce her to a single cartoon about lesbians in film that came to be misappropriated by straight liberal media consumers in 2012. Your flop tweet that you screenshotted reads like a parody of the “trans activists” you’re so afraid of, agonizing over perfectly innocuous and natural language that doesn’t do enough to protect your own personal sense of identity.

    Other women being different from you doesn’t reduce you as a woman. Get over yourself you big baby.

    • Lily Maynard says:

      Who is this straight to whom you speak? Presumptious, much. I think Bechdel is a great talent. However, men are not women. I think that covers everything.

      • Samwise says:

        So, assuming you’re not straight, that makes you a TERF. And that means that you have willingly turned your back on other Queer people, your own community, for the sake of… what? Biological “truth”? What about the fact that there are cultures MUCH older than this Euro-centric, heterosexist one we live in
        that accept and integrate the presence of third-gendered people? Do those cultures or people not matter because they don’t fit into your black-and- white view of humanity?

        • Lily Maynard says:

          There are no cultures that actually believe that whether you’re a man or a woman is a question of choice and if you truly beleive there are I suggest you start reading outside of your comfort zone.

  6. Nah says:

    Bad opinion. Please educate yourself 🤗

  7. Graciela Ñ. says:

    the day you transphobes stop attacking trans people and start putting in ACTUAL effort into protecting ALL women, including trans women and women of color (especially trans women of color), like the rest of us (us being real feminists) then maybe we will see the safety you all claim to want for women so bad. but why just settle for safety though? why not completely tear down the patriarchy so that not just women but men too feel safe as well? is the end goal not community wellness and happiness? or is it that you cis women, all presumably white, simply like to live in a perpetual bubble of inflated self-victimization? realize there is more struggle in this world than just the patriarchy. realize that the patriarchy is a tool of colonialism and that intersectionality is key. trans women are the greatest example of dismantling the patriarchy within ones own personal life. they are feminist in every sense of the word. trans women are not and never were men. trans women are real women. and they always will be. i will fight alongside my trans sisters against oppressive structures in society forever, until there is liberation for ALL, and not just for white cis women

  8. Sofie says:

    Thank you for writing this ♡ I’m so sorry for all the vile and stupid hate comments you’re getting.

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