The Bechdel Test

In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I’d share this with you, as I only just learned of it.

The Bechdel Test is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two (named) women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. For a video introduction to the subject please check out The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies on feministfrequency.com.

I have ranted about the presence of women in the film industry before. But this offers a really interesting perspective on it: namely the realistic representation and presence of women IN movies, rather than behind the scenes. Ironically, once its put under the lens, its pretty pathetic. Even movies with ‘Strong Female Characters’ are mainly represented through a male lens; infantilized (Sucker Punch, Kill Bill), wrapped in skin tight leather (Matrix, Catwoman, Underworld) or dressed scantily (Watchmen, Leia in Star Wars), essentially mimicking a male action hero while having sex appeal for the male gaze that is watching.

L-R: The girls of Sucker Punch, Princess Leia, Aeon Flux, Catwoman, Sin City, Resident Evil, Daredevil, Wonder Woman, Xena, Trinity, Ripley, Lara Croft, Catwoman.

In fact, among the only female action heroes I can think of that don’t fit this description are: Cara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica, The Bride in Kill Bill (although the ENTIRE plot revolves around a man), and Ripley in Alien (although look above for a scantly clad Ripley – they still managed to fit it in there.)

Not particularly sexy or skin tight in a tracksuit.

Definitely occupies a masculine role, but at least she's not wearing short shorts and a bra.

Strong Female Characters (and by this I don’t just mean Action Hero Strong Female Characters) are rare enough.. but even more rare is how often they actually represent real female issues, ideas, values, etc. in movies. This is what the Bechdel Test measures. Unfortunately many movies can ‘pass’ the Bechdel test by having only ONE scene (or even one line!) exchanged by two female characters about something other than a man. Its actually kind of appalling when you think about it. The Bechdel Test.com has a list. Its ridiculously short.

Most romantic comedies, which are ‘geared’ towards a female audience, revolve around men and conversations about men. Seriously.. don’t we have anything better to talk about? Is that all you ever talk about with your girlfriends? Wouldn’t you like to see yourself represented in films more accurately?

I can’t believe that this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it and the original comic strip came out in 1985! I am definitely going to make it a priority to make, work on, and write REAL female characters. In fact, I’m working on a script right now with a strong female lead character whose goal in the film has NOTHING to do with a man. Yay me!

Men and Women of the film industry, it begins with us. We have to change this.

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