The Bechdel test is a test of female characterisation in movies. Passing the Bechdel test requires that the movie (or media):
- has at least two women characters;
- who talk to each other at some point;
- about something other than a man or men
Of course passing or failing the test is not an ironclad guarantee of well-rounded, feminist, characterisation or a great, interesting movie; however it is indicative of the problems of token women characters that are plaguing the film industry. A vast amount of geeky media fails the test although you have to admit the criteria cannot be called exorbitant. Just a minute or two of small talk between two chicks, no guys mentioned – is it such a big deal? Is it?
A movie can easily pass the Bechdel Test and still be incredibly misogynistic. Conversely, it’s also possible for a story to fail the test and still be strongly feminist in other ways, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. What’s a problem is that it becomes a pattern — when so many movies fail the test, while very few show male characters whose lives seem to revolve around women, that says uncomfortable things about the way Hollywood handles gender. There are also lesser-known variations of the rule, such as the Race Bechdel Test, in which two characters of colour talk about anything other than the white leads and the Reverse Bechdel Test, with the roles of men and women swapped.
2-4. The Entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy
5-7. The Original Star Wars Trilogy
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
13. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
15. Princess Bride
16. Sex and the City
17. The Avengers
18. The Hunt for Red October
Quite a list, isn’t it? If you want to know more or if you want to check whether your fav movie would pass the test without actually rewatching it, please visit http://bechdeltest.com/ where movies are listed and assessed properly. You can comment there as well. 🙂
Some people MIGHT get twitchy at the idea that more female protagonists would be a positive step in cinema. Shouldn’t cinema be just about art and good films telling interesting stories? No, it shouldn’t – here’s a few reasons why I think the Bechdel test is important, and what it can tell you:
1. You don’t notice it until you have it pointed out…
…and then you can’t stop. It’s amazing how the relative absence of women in film is so normal, so acceptable and so widely spread it can barely be noticed.
Think about it this way – how weird would a reverse Bechdel world be? Most movies only have one male character and if he gets any dialogue at all with a rare second male character, it will inevitably be about women. Challenge of the day: have you ever seen that film? Think, and think hard, and if you come up with a title please comment. If you can name one, what kind of film is it? Is it making a point, or aimed at a particular demographic – or is the lack of testosterone entirely by accident, because no one is paying attention.
2. “Women aren’t interesting enough to deserve more time in a movie…”
…is a very short-sighted fallacy. While cinema can’t – shouldn’t – rebuild the world as an equal-opportunities utopia, a great many test-failing stories seem to arise through laziness and ignorance. This can’t be simply pigeonholed as a “feminist issue”. If you’re only telling stories about men, you’re ignoring 50% of the ideas, thoughts, and experiences in the world. That’s a whole lot of movies not being made. Not a big deal, really?
3. It demonstrates the lack of good, strong female protagonists so the lack of good, strong female models
4. Film shapes popular culture and popular perception of male and female gender far more efficiently than school, any piece of legislation or government policy.
If you think the way women are treated nowadays matters and should be improved/changed you simply cannot neglect such a powerful tool as pop culture entertainment. As much as film is a product of a culture where women are dull accessories with nothing to say or do, it reproduces this culture. If you learn most of your information about a world outside your so-called comfortable, contemporary existence through cinema how are you to know how realistic say City of God or Das Boot is? But when you happen to discuss street kids or submarine operators, those vivid images come to your mind. If you want to change the way men perceive and treat women start with the entertainment.
5. It says a lot about the industry and the world we live in.
Why is it so difficult for a movie to pass such a simple test? Is it because most scriptwriters, directors and producers are male? And therefore inclined to write from their personal experience? Even assuming they’ve managed to name two women, perhaps their understanding of what women are interested in is limited? I am inclined to think this must be the case. Maybe women are traditionally a rarer cinema-going demographic precisely because of a lack of realistic women on screen? Why would Hollywood willingly shut off a source of income otherwise?