The Bechdel Test

In 1985, Alison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For introduced this concept. See below:

Basically, it goes like this.  In order to pass this “test”, a movie must have all of the following:

  1. Two female characters present who have names.
  2. The two female characters must talk to each other.
  3. They must converse about something other than boys. (Women discussing plot issues involving men counts, but not if they are talking about romantic involvement with those men.)

Keep in mind when using this test, it is a yes/no answer – not a “yes, but” or a “no, but”. What made me discover this test?

Garbanzo saw this video which got us talking about our own movie collection in those terms.

It’s kind of interesting really.  Especially when you think about the movies that are supposedly geared towards women. Few of them will pass this test.  Why? Because unless they happen to have scene where the two women talk about something other than men, they don’t usually pass the test. And even in those cases, they barely pass it at that. We could sometimes find action movies where there were two female characters with names, but often they never shared a scene. One was the love interest while the other was the antagonist or associated with him.  What is also surprising? Most of the “highly acclaimed movies” don’t seem to pass this test.  And also interesting was the fact that some of the people most praised for their realistic dialog did not pass this test consistently.

What was another surprising thing? How about half of the kids movies don’t even pass this test. The first Shrek movie? Nope. Ice Age? Nope. The Princess and the Frog? Yes. The Harry Potter Movies? Yes. These are some of the easy to check compared to other kids movies.

What I should make clear is that this test, by no means, implies that the movies which pass are “good feminist movies”. Not at all. It just quickly sorts out the movies where female characters are more of a presence to meet a demographic requirement from movies where female characters are not necessarily one dimensional.

For me, this is extremely interesting. Maybe a bit more because I have a child (DJ) who notices these things. I mean, a couple years ago while listening to the radio station, she piped up from the backseat and asked “Why are there no girl rockers? All of these songs are by boys. Why is that?”

And I think that IS a good way of summarizing the point of this test. It is about asking “why is this??”  It’s not necessarily about discussing the feminist movement. Or how women are ultimately portrayed. It’s merely a thought provoking concept.  This is the point. To ask why, in a world where women are everywhere – politics, business, and all – where are they in the films and television series? If demographic representation is why they usually toss in a woman anyway, why not go all out and represent society realistically? And why does this have to be the exception when someone does do it?

And if you have daughters, I think it’s a good idea to start asking this question too. I mean, we talk a lot about how the media distorts beauty for women – why not talk about how films distort how women are represented. Or even in TV? I mean, why should we not be as discriminate in terms of how women are portrayed in those movies. It would definitely give you a different view on movies like Twilight and others where women are portrayed as weak and in need of protection in comparison to the men.  What kind of message does that send our daughters? 

Like I said, for me this is more of a “parenting issue” as I want my daughter to see women represented in more than a single place in storylines. I want her to see the potential women have by having them show up in many places in film and TV – not wonder where the women are and why they always have to talk about boys.  I almost want to change that last rule to “women talking about non-stereotypical topics like boys, fashion, makeup, weight, etc.” Because, in my experience, there are a lot more going on in the lives of women than those things.

I think these are legitimate questions to ask.

To be fair, I read that things are getting better. When Bechdel introduced this idea, the stats were heavily in the favor of files that would not pass. Today according to the website I’m going to give you below, about half of the ones they look at do.  While I’m glad it’s getting better, it’s got a ways to go, in my opinion. 

Curious to read the discussions about certain movies? Check out this website.
And a word about this website – the discussions are well done. No femi-nazi dialog here. Just good, honest discussion that doesn’t degenerate into the “yo-mama” sort of BS (as Garbanzo put it).

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Interesting discriminant. I’ll have to try applying it more often. I do tend to think women get the movies they deserve (I.e shitty rom-com) cause that’s the shot they pay to go see. But I also think part of the reason so many women like that stuff us because it’s what they’re raised on. I’ll attempt to more dilligent for my daughter.

  2. Vixen says:

    Very interesting. I’m not sure I had heard of this before.

  3. Lili says:

    For DJ:

    – Joan Jett
    – Janis Joplin
    – Ann and Nancy Wilson
    – Bjork
    – Pink
    – Aretha Franklin
    – MIA
    – Evanescense
    – Fergie
    – Gwen Stefani
    – Christina Agulera
    – Madonna
    – Lady Gaga (I think)
    – Joss Stone
    – Norah Jones
    – Lauryn Hill
    – Alicia Keys
    – Etta James
    – Patsy Cline

    change your radio station

    Movie and TV studios make the shows they do because they know that back at home, away from our jobs, we still talk about men, s*x, food, and shopping. Does your blog, or mine, or any other s*x blog out there pass this test?

    The point isn’t that “they” should change their minds. The point is WE should recognize ourselves for who we are: girls, and get over it. Yes I’m a girl. Yes I can do what you do. I can stomp my feet just so you can recognize that fact, or I can get the job done. My boss’s boss comes to work every day wearing something Hello Kitty.

    What do I tell my daughter? If you don’t like something, do what you can to change it yourself, but don’t whine about the fact society still treats us like girls. That’s who you are.

  4. Emmy says:

    Lili –

    I think women are our own worst enemy. Either we whine and point to the problem expecting it to solve itself or we work our asses off trying to solve a problem few recognize IS a problem but we won’t talk about it for fear of being “one of those” women.

    As a result, I tend to lean towards to latter group myself. But, periodically, I find something that makes me think and wonder why. And this is one of those things.

    While women can sit around and talk about boys and sex, I am always turned off by women who can only talk about boys and sex. My friends and I talk about life – careers, books, music, literature, sports, politics, etc. When we do talk about boys and sex and relationships, it isn’t the point of the conversation. It is merely as point along the way. Why do movies and TV shows act like this is the exception? That is what got me thinking was realizing how many movies I hold up high in terms of great movies. Yet, the women are flat representatives of what I would expect. I rarely look at things in these terms. Does that make me respect those movies less? No. But it does make me think and wonder.

    You mentioned does this blog pass this test? It does. I’m not ONLY a mommy blogger, a sex blogger, a blog about my marriage, or a blog about my romantic relationships. It’s multidimensional like me. I can talk technology one minute and about the great sex I had the next – then photography the next. THAT is how women are. Men don’t dominate or own the conversation exclusively.

    And that is what I want my daughters to see. I want them to see they can be a mix of these things. They don’t have to spend their life fretting about not having a boyfriend. The goal of life isn’t getting married. It’s about living – and being the person they want to be without having to worry that society expects them to care only about fashion and shoes because “that’s what girls like”.

    Because, let’s be honest, what makes you and me successful in our lives is not simply accepting we are being treated like girls and moving on. No, it pisses us off and we show their asses that this girl is about ready to kick it. And when they are done, they won’t make that mistake again. At least with us they won’t.

    Lastly – go watch this video. JOss Whedon has a great response to the movie/tv question about women.

  5. Lili says:

    I was hoping you’d comment back. 🙂 It sounds like we’re pretty much in agreement on the whole issue. However, TV and movies are always going to target the lowest hanging fruit as it were.

    And it was my blog that was just about boys. =:o


  6. Emmy says:

    Yeah, your blog was just about boys. But I somehow think yours would still pass the test. I mean, the foot boy is definitely not your typical relationship, for lack of a better word! And one that can hardly be considered typical for a woman by societal terms. Hell, the way we both talk about sex is far from typical by societal standards! 😉

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