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Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For

ALISON BECHDEL’S Dykes to Watch Out For

By Sabine Decatur, Production Dramaturg

Long before her Fun Home fame, Alison Bechdel was best known for her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (DTWOF). First published in 1983, DTWOF follows neurotic lesbian Mo and her group of friends as they go through political angst, queer discoveries, career struggles, and romantic drama. Bechdel gives readers unique access to her lesbian world while also showing just how normal and everyday these lesbians are. When she first started working on them in the 80s, she saw her cartoons as “an antidote to the prevailing image of lesbians as warped, sick, humorless, and undesirable. Or supermodel-like Olympic pentathletes, objective fodder for the male gaze.” She committed the radical act of representing lesbians as human beings.

Although mostly published in smaller feminist and queer newspapers, DTWOF gained a cult following and today is one of the most important artifacts of lesbian culture. Outside of the queer community, though, DTWOF might be most recognized as the source for The Bechdel Test, a measure of gender equality in film. In the comic strip, one of the women decides that in order for her to see a movie it must have 1) at least one scene 2) in which two women talk to each other 3) about something besides a man. The Bechdel Test has become widely used as a feminist mode of engagement with fiction, although its radical lesbian origins are rarely recognized.

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