Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Bechdel Test

On Tuesday, Cassy mentioned the Bechdel Test, but I'm going to dive a little deeper into it for you today.

The test originated in a comic strip by Alison Bechdel called Dykes to Watch Out For. In a 1985 strip titled "The Rule," an unnamed character defined the Bechdel Test as her criteria for choosing movies to watch. It's intended to test movies, but I think it applies equally well to any narrative form, including TV episodes and novels.

The test is very simple. In order to pass, a movie must meet the following criteria:
There must be two female characters.
They must talk to each other.
The conversation must be about something other than a man.
(Told you it was simple.) Many people have suggested that it should also require that the characters have names, but this isn't always applicable.

The Bechdel Test is not perfect and doesn't really mean much. A movie can still be horribly sexist and pass the test. It can still be of extremely poor quality and pass the test. It can be prejudiced or offensive in thousands of other ways, and still pass the test.

It's just a fun exercise. It's not done to judge any qualities of the movies, but just to start a dialogue about the role of women in popular media.

Harry Potter series: Usually fails. I just watched the last two again, and they both failed. There are a handful of female characters, but they never have conversations about anything, not even men. (One-liners like "I've always wanted to use that spell" and "Not my daughter, you bitch" don't count as conversations.)

Lord of the Rings series: Not actually surprising, but huge fail. There are three female characters, and they're never anywhere near each other. (This goes for The Hobbit too, except there's only one female character in part one...)

Star Wars trilogy: Faaaaaail. It takes a real fan to even name a female character other than Leia (hint: there are two; secret: I didn't even know that much). Fun fact: the prequels actually pass the test, because of Padme's handmaids.

Brave: Pass! Merida and her mom talk about things other than boys (even though they also talk a lot about boys). Merida also talks to the witch, and boys aren't even mentioned.

Hunger Games: Pass! Katniss talks to her mom, Prim, Effie, and Rue (and only with Rue does she discuss Peeta as a love interest).

Men In Black: Fail. But to be fair, it has the word "men" right there in the title. The sequels also fail.

Ha! Look at those cell phones.
Clueless: Pass! The girls talk about things like clothes, shopping, exercise, driving, sex, grades, teachers, and parents... and also boys. The same goes for Mean Girls... they talk about other girls, and fashion, and the talent show... plus boys. Which brings me to a good point...

Like I said, passing the Bechdel test promises nothing about a movie, other than what it actually tests. It can still show women as vapid or jealous or mean or moody or any of a hundred other negative stereotypes. The thing is, using the test usually brings these facts to the foreground, making you think more critically about the ways women are portrayed in film. Interesting, right?

Check some of your favorite movies... do they pass the Bechdel test? What about your favorite TV shows and books? (Remember: This doesn't mean anything bad; it's just for fun!)

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