The Lonely Goatherd and the Bechdel test
I wrote this the other day for a discussion of (among other things) works that do and don't pass the Bechdel test; decided to repurpose it (lightly edited) as a blog post.
“The Lonely Goatherd” fails the Bechdel test. OR DOES IT???
I listened to it on the way to work this morning, and it struck me that (a) it does include two female characters (girl and mama), but they don't exactly talk to each other, and (b) I know that it's common in TV and movies for men to have professions and skills while The Girl has no attributes other than being female, but I'm not used to seeing/hearing it quite so obviously in a song.
He's introduced by profession, as a goatherd; she's introduced by gender, as a “little girl.” He has a loud voice; she has a pale pink coat. Almost all the people who hear his yodeling are specifically male: a prince, men working, men eating, men drinking beer. The Girl has a Mama who exists only to gloat about her daughter finding a guy. And there's a line that refers to “the girl and goatherd” that really drives home the distinction. It seemed to me this morning to be a perfect and nicely compact example of a standard kind of sexism-in-fiction. (Much as I enjoy the song.)
But then this evening I started writing up this note, and something occurred to me:
The goatherd is never explicitly referred to as male.
It seems to me that “goatherd” is a gender-neutral profession name. And the goatherd in the song has no pronouns or other gender markers. Which is pretty remarkable when almost all the other people in the song are explicitly marked by gender. (Everyone except for the “folks in a town that was quite remote.”)
So maybe this song not only passes the Bechdel test, but also the corresponding LGBT test. Maybe it's the sweet song of a lonely girl (ahem, woman) out tending her goats; she yodels loudly, and lots of men hear her, but that doesn't matter; all that matters is that the girl (woman) of her dreams hears her and yodels back to her. And her sweetie's mother is proud of their match.
(...I grant you that the line “soon the duet will become a trio” is a little harder to match to this reading of the song. But perhaps they had help getting pregnant, or perhaps they're adopting, or perhaps it's referring not to a baby but to the new third member of their poly triad.)
(After reading this piece, Jessie used the phrase “queering the goatherd,” which I feel like ought to be some kind of motto. Or maybe a euphemism.)