The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test was adapted from Alison Bechdel's comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. The test is meant to bring attention to how women portrayed in movies, and involves three criteria.
  1. The movie must have at least two named female characters. 
  2. The characters must have a conversation. 
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man. 
If a movie fails to meet any of those criteria, it fails the Bechdel Test. BechdelTest.com keeps an updated list of movies and how they fare. Only about half of the movies in the database pass.


Surprisingly, a lot of popular movies don't even come close. Look at the Social Network (2010). None of the women talk to each other, rather, they exist solely as one-dimensional objects. In an interview Stephen Colbert did with Aaron Sorkin, the film’s writer, Colbert notes that the women portrayed "don't have much to say because they're high or drunk or fucking guys in the bathroom." Sorkin explains that's because women are prizes. Charming. 

Note, the Bechdel Test isn't a real test. It doesn't actually prove anything about how sexist a movie is. Take Gravity (2013). It fails right away, because there's only one named female character, but it's not a sexist movie. Rather, I think Dr. Stone is a well-protrayed three dimensional character.

Passing the test doesn't guarantee that a movie isn't sexist, either. Twilight: Eclipse (2010) passes all three criteria, but there's enough sexism in ten minutes of that to make me gag for weeks. 

The test isn't always clear. Look at the The Lego Movie (2014). Does Unikitty count as a female character? (Actually, can a lego even count as a male character?) I loved this movie, I didn't think it was sexist, but until right now, I didn't realize how few females were in it. That's the type of thing the Bechdel Test is meant to bring attention to.



It's not about checkmarks. It's about trying to get people to realize that portraying three-dimensional characters, both male and female, is an important thing. Failing the Bechdel Test doesn't mean it's a bad movie. Honestly, I don't cry when I don't see strong women in the media, I just think it's weird that having well developed characters isn't the norm, and we should represent real life better. Really, I'd just like to see better movies, not just half-assed attempts to fill quotas.

This is not what I want. 
Often, we find movies that technically pass the test, but only with cliched and superficial characters. That's why movies that fail the test generally perform better than those that pass. Most established filmmakers are male, and there's a lot of well-developed male centered stories, and a lot of good male centered movies. People know how to write three dimensional men, and audiences have been satisfied with that for awhile. 

However, things are changing. Box office sales are falling, and part of that is because women are getting tired of movies that don’t speak to them or accurately represent them. On the other hand, movies aimed at women are reaping the benefits, like The Fault in Our Stars, Frozen, and Maleficent, which made more domestically than Amazing Spider-Man 2!

Look, my life doesn't always pass the Bechdel Test. Sometimes my friends and I talk about Russian literature, and sometimes we talk about cute boys, and that's ok. What's not ok is portraying women as prizes or sending the message that only guys are people. So let's try to balance it out, shall we?



P.S. I just saw Bad Words. It fails the Bechdel Test, but I like all the characters, and it's effing hilarious. Go watch it.

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