Think about the last movie you saw. Were there two or more female characters? Did they talk to each other about something besides men?
The Bechdel test, created by Alison Bechdel, examines female roles in movies by asking three questions:
- Are there two or more women in the film?
- Do they talk to each other?
- Is their conversation about something other than a man?
The test seems simple—women talk to each other about things besides men all the time in real life—yet a surprisingly high number of movies fail to represent this basic activity.
The test is so basic because it’s a standard that should be easy to pass. The fact that so many movies fail to achieve one, two, or all three of the test’s clauses highlights the rampant misogyny of the film industry. If a movie can’t even pass the Bechdel test, it’s unlikely to represent a feminist viewpoint—or, for an even lower threshold, accurately complex female roles.
Some people think that the Bechdel test shuts down the conversation about representation of women in the media. I disagree; I think it starts the conversation. I’ve explained the test to other people as part of my commentary about a movie, and it usually fascinates people how often their favorite movies fail the test given how simple the guidelines are.
Other critics of the Bechdel test think it’s reductive, which, admittedly, it is. But it was created for satire, not for thorough evaluation of female roles in any given film.
It’s also important to remember that just because a movie passes the Bechdel test doesn’t mean the movie is “good” or feminist. Similarly, movies that fail the test aren’t necessarily bad or anti-feminist. It just means it lacks significant female representation. There are movies that develop strong female characters that still fail to pass the Bechdel test (for example, Gravity starring Sandra Bullock).
The overwhelming majority of movies that fail, however, are victims of a film industry that is male-centric both on and off screen. Perhaps the Bechdel test is reductive, but the media is even more so, relegating female characters to play nothing more than nagging mothers or jaded single women obsessed with finding love.
The test isn’t the final word on a movie’s worth, but it provides a framework for how to look at representation, both in quantity and quality of female characters. It provides a jumping off point that is concrete and easy to understand.
Even though the Bechdel test isn’t perfect, it’s definitely valuable. How can we illustrate a wide range of in-depth female characters if they aren’t on screen? Holding Hollywood filmmakers to a standard like the Bechdel test wouldn’t even require plots that overtly empower women. It would only require storylines to have two or more female speaking roles that discuss anything besides men.
Is that really too much to ask?
Talk back: Does the Bechdel test help or hurt conversations about women in film? Did the last movie you saw pass the test? What do you think about the quantity/quality of female representation in movies in general?
Want more? You can read about more pros and cons of the Bechdel test, or check out my follow-up post about representation of disability, religion, race, and sexual orientation in the media.
107 thoughts on “Feminist Friday: How Valuable is the Bechdel Test?”
I find the recognition that the Bechdel test has received to be really interesting. I’m glad that you posted the panel from Dykes to Watch Out For that created the infamous Bechdel test. (Alison Bechdel also just recently received a MacArthur Fellowship, which is fantastic news.) Because I think we have to be aware of where this whole thing originated—as a joke but also as a sobering look into the on-screen lives and off-screen choices available to women.
Much like the publishing world, the film world still remains, in large part, male, cis-gender dominated world. Both are also still largely white in their make-up. What this means is that a multiplicity of stories and a chorus of voices are lost. Dykes to Watch Out For was a comic strip that broke a lot of rules, including who could be represented and what they could say, and it was really successful doing so. It’s one of the earliest ongoing representations of lesbians, and it ran from the ’80s to the 2000s.
The Bechdel test is also limiting, sure. But it wasn’t really meant to be taken from its context, and I think you make that point well here. It’s *not* a measure of film quality or even of women’s roles of a film, but it’s a viewing-glass through which, when we think about how many films (and books—representations in general) cannot say “yes” to those simple questions, we can see places to start our conversation about women’s roles in the fictions we create.
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She’s coming to speak at my college, which I’m REALLY excited about. Until I did the research for this piece I didn’t know it wasn’t intentionally created, but I think that makes it even more powerful–it’s hilariously simple and tragically not standard.
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Yes, I think the satire element is part of what makes this work but also part of the confusion. It works because it was such a good piece of satire. But like with “A Modest Proposal,” we can’t forget that it’s satire. That has to inform the conversation, because it explains the problems with the “test.”
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Reblogged this on Part Time Monster and commented:
Please wander over to Victim to Charm today for a discussion of the Bechdel Test’s value and women’s roles in film.
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Thank you for reblogging!
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Thank you for this post! Female characters in movies (and television where much more progress was made at least), especially in Science Fiction, are one of my main research topics. It is always good to bring more attention to the representation of women in media.
When I first discovered the Bechdel Test, I thought that it was a really good idea, but it took me a while to find out it originally was created for satire. I am all for more female characters in movies, and I hope we get there, but at the same time, I prefer a movie with one good female character, than more than one and them being mediocre. That was why I was very interested when the possible alternative/complement to the Bechdel test emerged with the Mako Mori test when Pacific Rim came out.
Keeping our voices heard to get greater and better representation is important. That also reminds me of the reaction female fans had when only two women were included in the original cast announcement for Star Wars Episode VII earlier this year. They added more female characters since then, but if they had included them right from the start (at least Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie), the concerned reaction might not have been the same.
I also didn’t know until I did more research for this piece that it was created as a satirical device, even though I’ve been referencing the Bechdel test since high school. I’m glad that women are demanding representation and are being listened to, but of course there’s still much farther to go.
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I’m also a big fan of the Mako Mori Test — “Does the movie have a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story.” Neither one can be the end-all of female representation, but both of them together create a way to talk about a movie that covers the essential bases. Some movies, like Gravity, only have two characters at ALL, so they CAN’T pass the Bechdel Test. Others might pass the Bechdel Test but not the Mako Mori Test, and then you can ask some pretty interesting questions about genre, what kind of movie you’re watching, and who’s expected to like that kind of movie. When a movie passes the Mako Mori Test but not the Bechdel, there’s an opening to talk about the “token female character” syndrome.
(As an aside, I’m pleased to note that when one types “Mako Mori” into Google on a public computer, “Mako Mori test” is the first suggestion — even above “Mako Mori actress.”)
They’re both most useful as satire, as indicated in the post and other comments. You have to understand how few movies pass the tests, otherwise it just sounds like people saying “STOP MAKING MOVIES ABOUT MEN.”
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I was wondering how to use the test without voiding a film based on LACK of criteria. Thanks!
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Reblogged this on Natacha Guyot and commented:
Feminist Friday Discussions are back. Today’s one is hosted by Victim to Charm and focuses on the Bechdel test and women’s roles in movies.
Thanks for reblogging!
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Reblogged this on Jennie Sherwin and commented:
I have been following the Feminist Friday discussions organized by GeneO,’ and today I am posting the first discussion from the new round of Feminist Friday offerings. I thank Natacha Guyot for introducing me to the series. Please go to Victim to Charm to join the discussion.
Thanks so much for reblogging!
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And Alison Bechdel just won a MacArthur Genius Fellowship! http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/09/17/349209211/book-news-a-q-a-with-alison-bechdel-cartoonist-and-macarthur-winner
Considering writers and directors seem to rely still on the “token women” trope, I’d say it’s incredibly useful for pointing out how systematically women are portrayed as background decoration or in the context of their relationships to men. Same with queer characters and POC, who are also vastly underrepresented. Doesn’t mean the film is good or that it’s not problematic, but it does mean the scales are more balanced. The more women (and queer, POC, people with disabilities) you have in a piece, the more those characters can be characters and not a representation of an entire demographic.
Agreed! I’m glad you brought up LGBT/POC/disability too–I have a post prepared for next week about underrepresentation of those groups in movies too.
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Reblogged this on Just Gene'O and commented:
Feminist Fridays are back! This week’s installment is a fine post from Sabina of Victim to Charm that asks some very good questions about the Bechdel test. Check it out if you have a second; I’ll see you over at Victim to Charm this afternoon.
Thanks for reblogging!
So thrilled to her about Bechdel’s grant– much deserved.
Definitely, and it’ll only help her success grow.
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I think this is a really good, balanced explanation. Not just because I agree with it or anything :D I come at it from the other side of the coin though – the Bechdel test annoys me to no end because the only application I’ve ever seen is people using it as an end-all be-all tool rather than a conversation starter.
It almost feels like those people would rather be able to draw a hard line between THIS IS FEMINIST or THIS IS NOT FEMINIST rather than asking “What is feminist?” or “How could this be improved?”
Send them this link then! Explaining that it started off as satire helps to show that it’s not the end of the conversation but rather the beginning.
I love your point about asking the right questions to improve representation/feminism/everything in the whole world. That’s really at the heart of it.
Never heard of the Bechdel test before reading this post. So thank you for educating me :) I’m so excited to see a wave of YA lit turned into films with strong female characters. 2014 seems to be the year for that. And not necessarily perfect heroines, either. The true definition of a strong female character (at least the kind I want to see on film) is one who is flawed but relatable.
I agree, flawed but relatable is the way to go. I’m glad you I could teach you about the Bechdel test!
I agree with you; the Bechdel test is a good place to start the conversation. Of course it shouldn’t be the strict measuring stick but it’s a good start!
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Very interesting. I work in the film business but I’ve never heard of this test. I shall be applying it to films I watch in future. I always knew this, but didn’t have a name for it before. I will be mentioning it to colleagues in future.
Incidentally, the (mis)representation of women in film I would venture mainly applies to American movies and TV. European films have generally sorted this one out years ago. And if a film appears where the women are just cut-out characters – then the critics soon bring it to the producer’s attention.
Interesting that you see a cultural difference in representation–I’ve never heard that brought up!
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Yes, interesting and a good explanation!
The Bechdel test has its value, and I believe movies have to be put to the test. I also believe, however, that it’s ok for a movie not to pass the test. Those movies can be fun, entertaining and great pieces of art.
It’s true that women are often not included in movies, wether as characters that reflect real life people or as behind the camera’s crew, as producers, directors, screenwriters. The Bechdel test is, without a doubt, an important step in the direction of a more diverse and inclusive movie industry. Ideally, we will be able to find a balance between movies that pass and those which doesn’t. We will have a world that creative freedom is actually free, and everyone has their space.
Exactly, there are lots of movies that are great, valuable movies even if they don’t pass the test. It definitely gives us a way to think about that balance and diversity though.
Interesting indeed. Beautiful day to you!
Reblogged this on Why no addiction? and commented:
So.. How many Bollywood movies would you think may pass the test?
If you want to hold it to a higher standard, replace (3) with:
Do they talk about something other than men OR their children?
That would be a higher standard! Female characters are too often relegated to just a wife or mother, with their worth established in relationship to their husband or child.
People who try to seriously use the Bechdel Test as a measure of anything other than whether or not something passes the Bechdel Test seem to be missing both the point and the punchline of the comic. Even Alien only passes ironically, in that Monster and Man can be used interchangeably* and doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of male gaze going on, particularly when Ripley’s running around in her skivvies at the end of the movie.
* For is not every man a monster?
Right. Even the movies that pass the test can be problematic in terms of feminine roles. I suppose the only good thing about overapplication of the test is the knowledge of its existence (even if that knowledge is not perfect).
The test is a stepping off point, as you so brilliantly pointed out. And look at the amazing discussion it has generated. Bravo.
It’s interesting what does and doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and you’re right when you say it’s more of a jumping off point than the final word. Thanks for the post.
Thanks for reading and your feedback!
thanks for giving me something good to read!
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Reblogged this on Button Parlor.
I think I’ll apply the same test to movies with black male characters- the same problem seemingly permeates my demographic as well- I’ll re comment on how it goes.
I wrote a follow up post called Beyond the Bechdel Test that discusses representation of other groups that you might find interesting! As a whole representation needs to be improved.
Yep I saw that- good morning btw- I said I’d def give your supplement a look too- as a Masculinist your topic got my whole being buzzing great article-
Whoops my bad–when I respond on my phone app I can’t see our back-and-forth so it’s hard to keep track!
Yea I noticing that too- just know you made a masculinist smile with your supplement- I probably won’t get to read it until this afternoon but thanks for even posting it.
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To get any kind of objective perspective the Bechdel test should be done alongside my ‘Fechdel’ test :)
The Fechdel test measures things like…
1. How much are stupid, annoying, pathetic, whining, self centred, arrogant, narcissistic, bratty, empty headed, dependent women in movies VALUED, PROTECTED, ADORED, WORSHIPPED, GIVEN HIGH STATUS, RESCUED, OBEYED, RESPECTED (delete as applicable) by male characters and generally given a sympathetic treatment by the film maker? And how do women characters respond to men who behave in the same way? Whole movies (and all of the characters in them) often revolve around rescuing or protecting a single female who is basically an annoying (and often completely irresponsible) brat. She offers nothing of value to anyone around her except the fact that she is a young, fertile, attractive woman – therefore extremely precious and worth dying for. Imagine a movie where a young attractive fertile MALE bimbo is valued the same way with random female characters who only just met him putting themselves in extreme danger just to ensure his safety and wellbeing. Ludicrous! .. yet we are socialised to view it as normal when it is the other way around. This encourages the kind of female self entitlement that spawns modern feminism. Modern feminists are often incapable of even *conceiving) of men in terms other than how they are of utility to women (Thus ‘he for she’ really is a slogan of gender equality in their warped minds)
2. How many men die unimportant deaths relative to women? (ie male disposability). In most Hollywood movies men drop like flies and their deaths are not portrayed as ‘an event’. The onscreen characters do not react, and neither dies the incidental music or editing provoke the audience to care. Even movies for kids like Star Wars teach boys and girls that males are basically unfeeling drones who are expected to just quietly get mown down in a hail of bullets (laser beams) and not make any fuss – because nobody cares. Only Princess Leia is important enough to care about. And what does she do when Luke Skywalker (et al) risk life and limb to rescue her from Darth Vader’s torture? She starts nagging him for being too short and a rubbish hero! Not a WORD of thanks. And this is fine, that’s obviously her character (we’d expect nothing less that self entitlement from a Princess) ….but in the movie her bratty, ungrateful, whining character flaws are still portrayed in a totally positive light, training girls (and boys) that this is a totally acceptable and normal way for a woman to behave – and that boys should value and adore women like this. Hollywood movies are full of women like Leia, and they usually don’t have the excuse of being ACTUAL princesses (not that ‘princesses’ actually exist in real life, but you know what I mean).
When female characters are killed (which is rare) or inured (usually just a superficial wound like a twisted ankle so the hero gets a chance to carry her away from danger heroically) the movie usually stops to focus on her, the music acknowledges this as an event of significance and the audience is encouraged to care.
3. How are assaults on male/ female genitals portrayed? In most comedies kicking a man in the reproductive organs is depicted as hilarious, as is a man landing in a way that impacts his genitals, such as jumping and landing astride a fence. Punching a woman in the ovaries or kicking her between the legs is rarely depicted in movies and if it is there is no hilarity implied. It is treated as a serious assault.
4. In movies where women talk mostly about men, what are they actually talking about? Are they talking about men’s feelings, men’s concerns, men’s safety, how they (as women) might be affecting the men in their lives etc? …… or are they discussing men only in terms of their UTILITY to women – as potential providers of entertainment, free meals, status, sex, protection, flattery, foot massages, accommodation and emotional fulfilment?
Basically are they discussing men, or men in relation to themselves? (which is not the same thing at all!)
5. Of all the thousands of on-screen women who are rescued or protected from harm by heroic, self sacrificing, dutiful men in life threatening situations (and probably with loads of other men dying along the way) – how many of these women actually THANK the men for their huge efforts and suffering? (and how many acknowledge – “I owe you my life, and I feel so bad that so many people died to keep me safe”). How might seeing women being GRATEFUL for the protection offered by men affect the attitudes of modern feminists? Feminists rely on big strong burly men to rescue them from burning buildings, take the garbage away, maintain the infrastructure which give them light, heat, TV, transport, internet, food, water, sewage treatment and shopping malls. As the saying goes, “Feminism evaporates the moment society is hit by a crisis like a tornado, or a flood, or an earthquake”.
6. What is the ratio of ordinary (or even uneducated and useless) women tagging along with Alpha men for adventure and fun….. relative to their male equivalents tagging along with Alpha women for adventure and fun? How would a movie depict an ordinary man basically living off a rich, high status, dynamic Alpha woman? Would this be portrayed as acceptable or even positive…. or would it be treated as a rather pathetic existence for him (and overly charitable of her)?
7. Domestic violence is split about 50/ 50 between men and women and the majority of women admit to hitting their babies and children (I believe the average child in the US gets around 900 beatings from his/her mother a year). Relative to these and other statistics, how are wives/ mothers usually portrayed in movies?….. and how are husbands/ fathers usually portrayed in movies? Who gets the more favourable portrayal (relative to real life statistics)?
8. In movies that have unsavoury male characters in them (bank robbers, mafia, sleazy politicians etc) how much moral agency and moral responsibility is assigned to any female characters (wives, GF’s, groupies etc) who CHOSE to hang out with them, help them achieve their goals and generally benefit from the spoils of these men’s immoral behaviour?
These are just a few questions and assessment criteria which are *conspicuously absent* from the Bechdel test.
Let’s not forget the Queen of England rarely discusses her private life and mostly talks about how she ‘serves’ the population of the UK (and the ‘common’ wealth nations). She mostly discusses other people’s lives and not herself. I’m sure she’d fail the Bechdel test. But is she oppressed? In general the more privileged people are the more they promote a NARRATIVE about ‘serving’ others and being ‘duty bound’ (or even oppressed) by those around them. Politicians, monarchy and feminists all promote themselves in this way…..
Politicians, monarchy and feminists all share one thing in common – they all demand special treatment and a proportion of everyone’s earnings AT GUNPOINT. It is therefore essential when making such demands to promote the public perception of yourself as weak, duty-bound/ oppressed, selfless, innocent (and even victimised) and above all, as lacking AGENCY.
Monarchs literally put on elaborate costumes to make themselves physically weak, vulnerable, unsteady on their feet, and therefore appearing to lack agency (it makes them look like ornaments). Feminists ‘wear’ victim narratives as costumes (often in addition to high heels and tight, restrictive, flimsy clothing which also helps to present the illusion of a lack of agency)…… narratives like the narrative spun by this Bechdel test are basically laying the groundwork to justify making sexist demands on men.
> The overwhelming majority of movies that fail, however, are victims of a film industry that is male-centric both on and off screen.
The movie industry is NOT male-centric. It is MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX centric (not the same thing at all!). There are very few genuine (representative) men in movies – there are mostly absurd caricatures of men used as propaganda. In general I’d say men are depicted less realistically than women in most Hollywood movies / TV shows.
The movie industry is owned and funded BY the military corporations. Even the Pentagon ADMITS to having a department specifically for scripting propaganda and putting it into Hollywood movies. Entertainment being used for military and social engineering propaganda goes all the way back to the Roman Empire and before. Movies like Top Gun were scripted BY the Pentagon (this is all admitted) to boost recruitment following the drop post Vietnam.
The ‘patriarchal’ gender roles (men as heroes, women as princesses) is just how society trains its men to go off and sacrifice their lives defending the tribe…… or these days in some totally unnecessary war racket enterprise which only profits a few elite political groups and military industrial corporations.
The idea of the heroic, patriarchal, aggressive, dominant man and the fragile, weak, vulnerable, inert, passive flower of a woman is very much a creation BY and FOR women. Mothers have always raised their boys and girls to conform to these gender roles, and let’s not forget the women who shamed pacifists refusing to go to the front line to be machine gunned (and do the same to other men) by giving them a white flower.
And what of the women who practically orgasm at the sight of a ‘man in uniform’? (a man dressed in the costume of a hired assassin).
As always these feminist-leaning tests and ways of deconstructing media/ society continue to define (objectify) women as powerless, passive, innocent, inert, naive, completely RESPONSIBILITY FREE ……… while heaping all agency, blame and POWER onto men in a festival of mass resentment/ mass shaming.
I’m sorry but the Bechdel test itself spectacularly fails my ‘Fechdel’ test! :)
Wow, sounds like you should write a blog post about this!
Representation of men in movies is also a problem–they are developed as overly macho or as pathetic and helpless, neither of which provide accurate depictions of the complexity of men.
That said, despite all your other analysis, I think you’ve missed the point of the Bechdel test. It’s supposed to be simplistic, that’s its power. And it doesn’t apply to people, so the queen can’t pass or fail it. The third question of the Bechdel test encourages female characters to NOT be passive and powerless (namely, to own their independence). That doesn’t mean take down men.
Thanks for giving me a lot to think about. I disagree with much of it, but getting another perspective is interesting.
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> Representation of men in movies is also a problem
Yes and it’s a problem which the Bechdel test fails to highlight (which was kind of my point).
Do you not see the glaring irony/ hypocrisy of not representing gender unbiasedly in a study about biased gender representation?!
> It’s supposed to be simplistic, that’s its power.
Yes, it is simplistic to the point of being misrepresentative. That means it is creating a powerful MIS-representation of reality. That is a bad thing isn’t it? You seem to be saying distorting reality by error or omission is acceptable as long as women are the ones getting sympathy and men are the ones getting demonised or portrayed as privileged.
I wonder if you would feel the same way if the genders were reversed and the Bechdel test focused ONLY on men’s portrayal in movies while demonising women and/ or implying women were privileged….?
> The third question of the Bechdel test encourages female characters to NOT be passive and powerless…
I would argue the opposite is in fact true. I already pointed out that when women discuss men in movies (or in real life) they are almost always discussing *themselves* (ie they are discussing men only in relation to themselves). The Bechdel test is so simplistic it does not even acknowledge this.
This is as absurd as implying that male football fans who spend a lot of time discussing football players and managers, are somehow being oppressed by them, or are being somehow subservient to them.
But we all recognise that male football fans talk abut football all day long because they CHOOSE TO BE obsessed with it.
Implying that women who talk about men all day long do so under duress and/ or because of some inadequacy is SEXIST and BELITTLING. It objectifies women by stripping women of their agency (in this case their ability to decide for themselves what to talk about talk about).
IN REAL LIFE men often do group together and discuss football, and women often do group together and discuss men (ie their current relationships, that new guy in the office, their sex lives etc). Movies are just reflecting this.
> the Bechdel test encourages female characters to NOT be passive and powerless…
But being passive can be INCREDIBLY POWERFUL, especially if you can define yourself as the most weak and vulnerable (or even victimised) group in society. Women in real life (and consequently in movies) exert massive power through being passive, and thus PROVOKING men to act on their behalf (usually to perform dangerous, unpleasant and unhealthy things like manual labour or fighting wars).
The Bechdel test is ITSELF an example of being PASSIVE and playing the VICTIM by defining movies as something which (active) men DO to (passive) women. This distortion of reality creates a VICTIM NARRATIVE about women which is used to provoke sympathy while making passive-aggresive demands on society (particularly on men)… AKA ‘damselling’.
The Bechdel test isn’t SUPPOSED to be all-inclusive, that’s why I wrote this piece to point out that’s a misconception of the test. I don’t think it demonizes men, it simply asks if women are present and serve a role in the plot besides being saved. I agree that are a lot of issues that the Bechdel test fails to represent, but it started as a satirical tool not a fully developed test, which is why it’s a conversation starter and not the final word.
> The Bechdel test isn’t SUPPOSED to be all-inclusive…
Right. And the more this test becomes established as the default way of judging media (and culture in general), the more its massive flaws and limitations need to be pointed out. Otherwise people will end up with a skewed, biased, over -simplified and destructive idea about gender and culture. I’m sure feminists would hate for that to happen! ;)
From Wiki (bold added): Originally meant as “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper”, according to Bechdel, the *test moved into mainstream criticism in the 2010s and has been described as “the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books, and other media”.*
By 2013, an Internet newspaper described it as “almost a household phrase, common shorthand to capture whether a film is woman-friendly” ….
In 2013, four Swedish cinemas and the Scandinavian cable television channel Viasat Film incorporated the Bechdel test into some of their ratings, a move supported by the Swedish Film Institute.
So it’s obviously become part of the ‘zeitgeist’. Therefore whatever its original intentions were it is now being treated as a bone fide way of evaluating media. But as I have already pointed out it is not only flawed, it is in some respects promoting complete reversals of logic and the opposite of reality.
The most dangerous thing in the world is for casually, satire which originated in a cartoon to be adopted and treated like a scientific tool. And ‘implying’ this or ‘insinuating that’ based on a shallow, fuzzy kind of ’emotional logic’ is far, FAR more dangerous than outright claiming ‘women are oppressed/ mistreated in the media because of X,Y and Z’. Because making hard claims like that requires arguments and facts to back it up ….. but just vaguely implying or insinuating some sort of default oppression or persecution of women by constructing an emotion-based ‘threat narrative’ bypasses the need for facts and arguments…. and so the public ends up convinced at a deeper (emotional, uncritical) level. And whenever people are convinced of something without facts/ logic it is very hard to *un-convince* them using facts and logic – no matter how compelling they are!
This whole thing of ‘vaguely implying’ some sort of widespread mistreatment of women/ domination fo men but without presenting PROPER ARGUMENTS wreaks of nazi Germany circa 1930s.
Without the groundwork of casually and ’emotionally’ insinuating Germans were victims and Jews were domineering, the insane nazi policies could never have taken hold. Emotion-based, fuzzy, over-simplistic, cartoonish propaganda is precisely what makes insane and immoral ideologies and policies appear to be perfectly sane and justified in the minds of the masses.
(Oh, but it’s OK in this case because the targets are men, so who cares right?)
> but it started as a satirical tool not a fully developed test, which is why it’s a conversation starter and not the final word.
Are we talking about the Bechdel test or nazi anti jew propaganda in the 1930’s …. which was also just a conversation starter and not the final solu – I mean word? (my point being we could be talking about either).
I’m sorry if you think I am being deliberately contrary or ‘nitpicky’ but I really believe if discussions about gender equality and deconstructions of gender in the media are *themselves *gender biased then they are not really discussion about gender equality at all ……. they is just more sexism.
The Bechdel test is biased, flawed/ incorrect, misrepresentative, shallow and above all sexist.
Applying the Bechdel test to movies without also applying a male equivalent test is also sexist.
Being sexist in the name of ‘gender equality’ or ‘gender deconstruction’ or ‘feminism’ or ‘women’s studies’ is also still being sexist.
People do need to be aware that it’s an oversimplification, but it is NOT too much to ask to have two female characters who discuss something other than a man. It just isn’t.
I can’t get behind your comparison of the Bechdel test to Nazi Germany. I see exactly zero relationship and it’s ridiculous if you genuinely think that people simply asking if feminine roles in movies are present is the same as the Holocaust.
> People do need to be aware that it’s an oversimplification
And who is going to point out this oversimplification, apart from annoying people like me? ;)
I’ve seen a lot of people promoting/ discussing the Bechdel test on the web and I’ve NEVER seen any of them point out its flaws, or offer a corresponding set of questions about men in movies.
> but it is NOT too much to ask to have two female characters who discuss something other than a man
But I can’t think of a single movie where two women discuss men!!!! They are always discussing THEMSELVES.
Men spend most of their time in movies ensuring women’s safety, wellbeing, material comfort. Name me one movie where two women discuss men in terms of men’s needs and wants (rather than in terms of the women’s needs and wants).
> I can’t get behind your comparison of the Bechdel test to Nazi Germany.
I don’t know what that means. Are you saying you DENY jews, gays, gypsies etc were subtly (and not so subtly) propagandised against using cartoons and slogans and other pernicious propaganda until German society eventually lost all EMPATHY for these groups? It was this very lack of empathy – combined with a heightened sense of German’s vulnerability – that allowed the nazi policies to be implemented.
The same thing is happening today with regard to the group ‘men’. Injustices and slurs against men are becoming invisible due to the constant narrative of male domination/ oppression / invulnerability which is quickly eroding the public’s capacity to have any empathy for men. Even men themselves are losing the ability to have any empathy for men.
The fact that you can’t ‘get behind’ my analogy simply means you don’t really care about men. So it just illustrates the point I was making.
Even I have to fight hard to care about men. When I see a man being kicked in the nuts I am aware that I don’t feel as much empathy as I do when I see a woman kicked in the going or punch on the ovaries – even though I know RATIONALLY that they are the same thing. Of course I have to *imagine* a woman being kicked in her groin because it is not something you ever see on TV (unlike men being kicked in the groin which is a staple of Hollywood comedy).
> I see exactly zero relationship and it’s ridiculous if you genuinely think that people simply asking if feminine roles in movies are present is the same as the Holocaust.
The WHOLE PREMISE of the Bechdel test is that repeatedly characterising a group in specific ways affects how society views, and thus behaves toward, that group.
You obviously think how we represent and misrepresent women in movies has an tangible affect on we as a society view and treat women (including how women view and treat themselves). And I agree with this.
Logically the same must be true of other groups like men, or jews or gays or gypsies.
History tells us that repeatedly depicting jews as dominant, powerful and invulnerable, while portraying Germans as weak, vulnerable and oppressed victims was enough to remove sufficient empathy for jews to allow for the Holocaust.
I am just pointing out that we are currently depicting men just like jews (dominant, scheming, powerful, oppressive) and women just like Germans (weak, innocent, helpless, oppressed, downtrodden, victims). This has already removed a great deal of empathy towards the group men, and heightened our empathy to women to the point that we now have campaigns about not calling women ‘bossy’ and we view ‘he for she’ as a call for gender equality!!!!
You obviously don’t share the same concern (empathy) when it comes to how representation/ misrepresentation in movies affects groups other than women. So again that proves my point.
The Bechdel test is not about gender, it is about women’s selfish interests. Not only does the Bechdel test not discuss men (who make up half of ‘gender’ as a subject), but the Bechdel test also defines unflattering portrayals of women automatically as MISREPRESENTATION of women.
Feminism is *by definition* women playing the role of victim and ‘damsel in distress’ and demanding men do stuff to save them, protect them, serve them and provide for them.
This is not a particularly flattering role – especially when you consider that white middle class women (who form the core of feminism, and certainly it’s most outspoken part) are the most privileged demographic to have ever existed on Earth.
Rather than attempting to grow up and start acting like full status adults with full agency, feminists instead put emotional pressure on the movie industry (shaming tactics) and demand the industry portray women in more flattering ways.
Perhaps if feminism was campaigning for women to become firefighters, front line police, garbage collectors, construction workers, miners, racing car drivers, loggers, truck drivers, security staff and generally become providers for and protectors of men they might then be able to justify demanding more active and heroic roles for women in movies…. and less passive, gossipy, narcissistic, bratty roles.
Feminism is literally obsessed with talking about men – but ONLY in terms of how men can best serve women (“he for she” etc).
This mindset is often reflected in the movies where women talk about men, but only in relation to how men serve their interests, make them feel etc.
I agree that women do not always talk about men all the time, but perhaps we should start criticising those WOMEN IN REAL LIFE who give women that unflattering stereotype – women like Emma Watson – instead of attacking the movie industry and men.
How dare you tell me I don’t care about misrepresentation of other groups–I do, and I even wrote an entire follow up to this post about it. I think men are misrepresented in movies too, creating a culture of machismo that is unrealistic for boys to see and try to live up to.
This conversation has completely derailed, and I can tell I’m never going to be able to convince you that women have fewer privileges than men because of gender, so I’ll let you move along. I appreciate you sharing your opinion and showing me a new perspective but obviously neither of us are going to change what we think.
> How dare you tell me I don’t care about misrepresentation of other groups–I do, and I even wrote an entire follow up to this post about it.
Then I apologise, and I’ll restrict my accusation to the Bechdel test itself as well as those feminists who do only focus only women’s (alleged) misrepresentation in the media.
> I think men are misrepresented in movies too, creating a culture of machismo that is unrealistic for boys to see and try to live up to.
But is it misrepresentation? In movies men are typically expected to be heros, cannon fodder and dutiful, self sacrificing protectors of women. Well that’s also the same in real life isn’t it?
Men share far more of their earnings with women than women share with men. Women control 80% of household income, even though men earn more. Men do not objectify themselves and put their bodies on display with make up, jewellery, frivolous clothes etc half as much as women do. Men do the majority of dangerous, dirty work in society and die 20 times more often at work as a result. And men have always been expected to go off and die on the battlefield for women – with women demanding that they do so.
So it’s not really misrepresentation to have men always playing the dutiful protector and provider or the macho hero is it? It might be a generalisation, it might be sexist, but it is not really a distortion of reality (even if it is an exaggeration of reality – as most movies are).
And on the subject of men going to war …. one of the foundations of feminist ‘patriarchy theory’ is women’s oppression with respect to the vote. But for the majority of history men also did not have the vote or any political sway at all.
Men had to surrender themselves to the state by agreeing to go to war for the state in order to get the vote. A split second later (in historical terms) women simply demanded the vote and got it without any obligations whatsoever.
So women getting the vote was, in reality, an act of female supremacy giving women female privilege that men were denied.
Women: had the vote and had no obligations in return
Men: had the vote and in return were obligated to fight wars for the state (and probably be horrifically traumatised, wounded or killed in the process).
Who is the more privileged sex in this equation?
How can feminists accuse men (who they insist have always been in charge of the political sphere) of oppressing women when they granted women freedom while giving men a potential death sentence?
Imagine if for the last last century we had the situation where white people could vote for wars which only black people were forced to fight. Can you see how offensive and insane it would be to have an entire social / political movement based on the idea that this situation represented blacks oppressing whites?!
Everything from the vote to being called ‘bossy’ or ‘like a girl’ or this Bechdel test is the very opposite of what feminist claim. Feminism is a mental illness – an addiction to portraying oneself and one’s own sex as weak, oppressed, inert, downtrodden, stupid, inept, retarded and victimised even when the evidence says the opposite. Women have done very well for themselves over the last century *compared to their male counterparts*.
Just as feminists demanded the vote but without the unpleasant obligations that men had to accept to to get it, feminist are now demanding active and heroic roles in movies, but without actually taking on those roles in real life. Outspoken feminists with their Bechdel tests and Emma Watson badges are the last people on earth you’re going to find driving trucks for a living or operating cranes, or working in front line policing or handling garbage or sewage or performing any other active, dangerous or heroic role. The women who do these kinds of active and traditionally ‘male dominated’ jobs consider themselves to be ‘people’…..not ‘feminists’.
The systematic, deliberate oppression of the group ‘women’ by the group ‘men’ is a dangerous, destructive and offensive delusion. There is no rational argument to support it. And that is why every opportunity is taken to paint a narrative of male oppression using EMOTION and FEELINGS, not facts and logic. And as I tried to point out, history tells us what threat narratives based on emotions and feelings can lead to….
> and I can tell I’m never going to be able to convince you that women have fewer privileges than men because of gender
Not without a comprehensive list, no ;)
Why should feminism’s assertions about male oppression/ female victimhood be accepted without rigorous rational arguments and valid data? Every attempt to argue feminist theory using facts and logic has been refuted (usually revealing the exact opposite to be true) … from the ‘wage gap’ (refuted way back in the 70’s) to the vote to violence to misogyny – all refuted.
This is why feminism will never openly debate anti-feminists, and instead chooses to simply demonise them while pushing more and more emotion-based garbage like the Bechdel test or ‘like a girl’ or ‘he for she’.
Anyway I feel I’ve made my point(s) now. Thanks for a ‘lively debate’ as they say :)
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No one is represented realistically in anything coming out of Hollywood, creativity left town long ago, and that Hollywood hasn’t been able to recognize or understand what real life looks like for us unenlightened undermasses for decades. This is across the board.
I agree with your evaluation of the Bechdel test – it gets you thinking about how women are represented in mainstream Hollywood films. One of the best female fictional characters is Hermione (IMO), but she fails because she is a side kick to a male protagonist. It is one of the many anomalies to the test. However, she doesn’t talk a lot about her romantic relationship with guys, which may be a plus. I notice romance as a theme for female characters is more or less discredited by feminist critiques just because it is so cliché.
That’s true, and I haven’t thought about that. I think the issue is that the Hollywood romances we seen aren’t representative of the complexity of either member of the relationship, so feminists are quick to dismiss all romance for female characters. We just need less cliche relationships, then romance will be less cliche.
I came across the Bechdel Test when I complained in my daughter’s nursery that they had shown them a song of the Disney movie “Frozen” as I found the body shape of the protagonist worse than Barbie and totally inappropriate for small girls. The teacher then told me that Frozen is one of the rare movies suitable for children that pass the Bechdel test. I hadn’t even been aware of this test. I agree with you that it is a good starting point. I guess if we are starting to take into account how the women are represented than it gets even more depressing
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First of all, good for you for speaking up about what your daughter is watching at nursery. Those body shapes are worrisome. That said, Frozen is one of the better Disney movies (and children’s movies in general) in terms of the Bechdel test and creation of complex characters in general. I found Frozen rather revolutionary in that Disney acknowledged that people can value a type of love besides romantic love but can still have romantic love too.
I have to admit, I still haven’t seen Frozen but I read about it after the teacher told me about the Bechdel test. The storyline is definitely not that bad and I even read that it could be interpreted as “coming out” movie (all I know is that all the kids keep singing “let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore” so maybe that is true, I guess I should be watching it). But I just hate that children at such a young age are already brainwashed about the ideal shape of a woman’s body.
I agree about the body shape issue, but I don’t think the “coming out movie” interpretation is valid. If you want to read too heavily into things you can find any undertone anywhere, but I don’t think it’s well-supported for Frozen. I’d definitely recommend watching it though, since it’s such a huge thing with kids right now.
I should definitely. Especially as I keep talking about it :)
I guess kill bill vol 1 and 2 passes the test and those are two of my favorite movies. Hollywood is lazy and its only rarely that you will get interesting stories about anything not to mention complex stories about women.
I’ve never seen Kill Bill (either movie), but I agree that we need more unique characters and plotlines in general if we’re going to have better representation.
Another great movie is “the descent”. Its a horror movie starring all women and is probably one of the best horror movies made in the last 15 years.
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The problem with the test is that it forces you to look at every movie with that lens regardless of relevancy. Saving Private Ryan would fail miserably, but so what? Detailing the horrors endured on Omaha Beach isn’t misogynist; to call it so is missing the point. The Bechel Test may start the conversation, but like every any other, there’s a time and a place to have it.
At any rate, the best way to further the presence of strong female leads in a male-dominated industry is to write a screenplay and get it produced.
And that’s the important thing about the Bechdel test–it has limitations and shouldn’t be applied to every situation. There’s definitely a time and a place to have that conversation.
Very interesting. Now I will see of every movie I watch passes or fails, and whether I liked the movie or not!
Yes! Know that you know about the test it’ll be hard not to think about it when watching movies.
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Reblogged this on Right, write! and commented:
Hmmm, scratches chin and looks diagonally to sky. Makes mental note to self to figure out a practical manner in which to affect change in this area. This will take some work.
I read about the Bechdel Test on Jezebel.com. I totally agree with your post. It’s not a lot to require from a film. The most recent film I watched failed the test- Equaliser. Thoroughly enjoyed it and it had females but not talking to each other.
It really isn’t a lot to require! I’ve never heard of Equaliser but it proves that even good and enjoyable movies can fail the Bechdel test.
The Bechdel test was what really alerted me to the persisting prevelance of patriarchal normativity in popular culture… it’s so simple and silly as criteria that it’s doubly shocking to realize the implications of such a low “pass rate.” Of course you’re right to point out that the test itself posits certain preconceived norms for movies, and there is no real correlation between the test and how feminist or non feminist(?) a movie is.
p.s. did you mean “the movie Gravity” with Sandra Bullock? ;) I think you wrote Galaxy! I love galaxies too… completely understandable mixup :)
WHOOPS I did–I’m surprised no one else caught that…gotta edit it now.
The problem is Hollywood. The whole thing should be torn down, and rebuilt into something worth watching — or even worth paying to see. The lack of women in films is a symptom of the overall lack of creativity characteristic of the current crop of Hollywood writers, directors and actors. I don’t have a solution other than you should vote with your seat. Don’t watch their stupid movies.
And I pretty much don’t–I hardly ever watch movies–but one person voting with their seat doesn’t do anything, which is why we also have to talk about Hollywood’s misrepresentations.
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To be honest, I never heard or read about Bechdel test until I found your blog. Very interesting concept.
Glad I could teach you something new!
Indeed the joke in the original strip was that the last movie Clarice (I’m pretty sure that character was Clarice) was able to see was Alien. Yes, it passes the test, but it’s not exactly feminist fare. The test should be the starting point, not the goal. We’re still at the point where if a producer sniffs that a treatment passes the test, they pass on the treatment.
I’ve never seen Alien but I feel like using it as an example in the strip is powerful because it’s blatantly not feminist (or so I’ve heard) despite passing. It’s definitely a starting point.
Reblogged this on Joe Jots and commented:
The last movie I saw in the theatre was Magic in the Moonlight which confirmed for me that Woody Allen has little or no use for women (or at this point character development). I’m about 90% sure it didn’t pass the test. The last movie I saw that did pass the Bechdel test? Frozen. That was a surprise.
Yes, the test was originally part of a satire, but it’s still not a bad starting point when creating a movie. Damn sad that it still seems to be a point to change when taking a script from paper to screen.
Reblogged this on concealedwriter and commented:
This happens way to often…girls portrayed as the damsel in distress.
One of the reasons I like NCIS and the new NCIS: New Orleans is the way they represent women. The former is TV’s top drama, so clearly a show with good values and capable, professional women can be very successful. Madam Secretary seems to be headed in good directions as well.
I’ve never seen those shows but I’m glad to hear that a program that shows successful women is successful itself!
wow great post and congratz!
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Hi Sabina this is a nice little nugget of information thank you for sharing ,it makes me for one think and anything that makes me think is to my mind good for me , I am going to apply it lightly to some novels I have read, thank you for sharing looking forward to reading more of your posts.
Kind Regards Kathy
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