The Bechdel test

The Bechdel test designed by Alison Bechdel is a test used to indicate presence of women on screen and whether it is significant or not.

Also known as the Bechdel–Wallace test. The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in whose comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For it first appeared in 1985. Bechdel credited the idea to a friend, Liz Wallace, and to the writings of Virginia Woolf.

It has three requirements:

  1. There must be two named female characters on screen
  2. They must talk to each other atleast once during the course of the film
  3. They must talk about something other than boys/men

Sounds simple right?

But you would be surprised at how many films fail this test.

Here are some famous films that fail this test:

note: I have copied this part from 10 Famous Films That Surprisingly Fail The Bechdel Test

  • The social network

Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies spend two hours screwing over each other and everyone else around them in pursuit of Facebook billions, apparently in an attempt to prove that nerds can’t have friends.

Why it fails the test:

None of the women in the movie ever talk to each other. In fact, they’re kinda just flat characters who the male characters ignore or bang in bathrooms when it’s dramatically appropriate. Aaron Sorkin, the film’s writer, actually commented on the lack of three-dimensional female characters in an interview with Stephen Colbert, saying that the women are “prizes”. Aw, Sorkin, you charmer, you.

  • Harry potter and the deathly hallows part 2

Harry and his friends (several of whom are female) begin making their final moves to take down Lord Voldemort. They confront him, defeat him, age weirdly, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Why it fails the test:

None of the female characters in the film actually have a conversation. They trade quips a few times, like when Prof. McGonagall makes a comment about “always wanting to use that spell” to Mrs. Weasley when she brings the stone statues to life, or when Mrs. Weasley calls Bellatrix a bitch…but no one actually responds and, y’know, talks. They might as well be talking to themselves (or, more likely, the audience

  • The Star Wars trilogy (original)

A kid on a distant planet finds out about a magical “force” from an old man and he learns to be a Jedi and they fight against the Empire and yada yada. Honestly, if you don’t know this, then I hope that 35-year coma was really peaceful and lovely.

Why it fails the test:

There are only three named female characters in the original trilogy with speaking roles – Princess Leia, Aunt Beru, and Mon Mothma, one of the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. In three films, none of them says a word to each other. Seriously, George, why is the whole galaxy a sausage fest? Do those bacta tanks grow babies, too?

An extra big kick in the nuts to Star Wars fans: The prequel trilogy actually passes the test (partially). Padme speaks to Shmi Skywalker in Episode I and to her handmaidens at various points in Episode II, and in both cases, they discuss things other than men. (Episode III does still fail, though. No females speak to each other in that one.)

  • The Entire Lord of the rings trilogy

A hobbit gets caught up in a huge war when he has to take a magic ring right to the bad guy’s front door. If you’re behind on this one, too, then I’m honestly kinda surprised you even know what movies are. Why are you here?

Why it fails the test:

Despite having three strong female characters in Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel, they’re all in completely different parts of Middle Earth and they never even meet, much less talk to each other. Seriously, in the entire 10-hour trilogy, no two female characters ever actually speak to each other. Considering the fact that the entire population of New Zealand is in these movies, it kinda seems statistically impossible.

So you see, it doesn’t matter if you have strong female characters in the movie also because they never speak to each other and that’s statistically impossible. No women goes a day without speaking to another women.

People may disagree with me saying that movie goers do not care about these issues nor is it relevant but you should.

At its core, the Bechdel test gives you an insight about gender disparity in cinema. And I’m amazed by why people wouldn’t notice the fact the absence of women interaction in the film as much as they would notice a man’s absence.

Take Steel Magnolias for instance, a film that has an entire female cast and revolves around women hood and the challenges surrounding it. A man watching the film would immediately notice that the overwhelmingly female cast has little to no men in any frame. While we never even notice that there are seemingly few women in major blockbusters like the above mentioned ones. We would demand that there be more of a role for men rather than they just stand around pandering to their wives.

Some barely pass the test like Iron man 2 where there is only a single line that is exchanged between Pepper Potts and Natasha Romanoff.

At the heart of it all, what I find is that the major number of directors and scriptwriters are male and thus turn a blind view to female representation. After all its not their fault. Men get to save the day in movies and survive difficult relationships and undergo drama while women are relegated to being someone’s wife, sister, mother. They simply serve to be arm candy or propagate the male character’s qualities or the storyline. Their entire existence revolves around men and they are very flat in character.

Of course its not to say that we shouldn’t see or enjoy movies that fail this test. All of Christopher Nolan’s movies fail this test but that doesn’t mean that they are any less amazing.

I just find it surprising that most movies fail to incorporate these basic requirements and I think it reflects the kind of inherent sexism that we are now used to.

An all male cast movie with a few female characters interspersed would be watched by all but a majority female cast movie would be seen by only a handful of women and even then box office sales usually never recover profit. That’s why we need to encourage more women in directing and script writing. We need more women centric films so that a decent film can be made.

There are of course many films that do pass the Bechdel test but you would have a hard time listing them out. I give you an exercise to list atleast 10 films that pass the Bechdel test. I had to really think hard after 5 films.

All in all, the Bechdel test I feel is less of a reflection on movie makers and reflects more on us : the audience. After all, they follow our lead. If we are not bothered there is going to be no change.

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