The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test, which measures “the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films” and “how fully developed those roles are,” is comprised of three rules:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it 
  2. Who talk to each other, 
  3. About something besides a man 

According to the Wiki, the idea is traced back to Virginia Woolf, who commented in A Room of One’s Own that, until Jane Austen’s day, female literary characters were seen “only in relation to the other sex.”  The concept was then modernized in a cartoon by Alison Bechdel’s, who describes it’s origin, amusingly enough, as  “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper.”  Fleshed out as a universally applicable film test, the concept now serves to demonstrate “how […] women’s complex and interesting lives are underrepresented or non existent in the film industry.”

Local Hero, the last movie I watched, brought the concept to the forefront of my mind, though I’m not sure why. The film fails the test pretty spectacularly, but then again, so does the one I watched before that, and the one I watched before that, and before that.  

The test isn’t without its flaws, of course.  As noted in the Wiki, Walt Hickey has pointed out that “the test does not measure whether a film is a model of gender equality, and that passing it does not ensure the quality of writing, significance or depth of female roles.”  The bigger problem today might be the lack of a portrayal of “complex and interesting” lives at all, regardless of gender.

Anyway, I didn’t really have anywhere I was going with this.  At some point, I may get around to applying the test to the movies on my list.  There’s a site called bechdeltest.com where you can look up specific titles, but the entries are user-submitted, and the first one I looked up, Local Hero, was listed incorrectly as having passed.

Simply realizing how many of one’s favorite films don’t pass the test is interesting and eye-opening in itself, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize the issue is far more complex than who’s giving the orders in the latest Mad Max movie.

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