The Bechdel Test: A fun (feminist) way to watch movies

Thursday, January 15, 2015

So my sisters and I were chatting over Christmas about Mayim Bialik's distaste for Frozen and my middle sister argued that Frozen does pass the Bechdel Test. "The what?" I asked, unsure if she was referencing some modern-day pop-culture phenomenon that my 26 year-old-self had somehow missed.* Of course, my youngest sister knew exactly what the Bechdel test was.**

Essentially, it's two simple questions you can ask when evaluating movies:

1. Does the movie have 2 female characters, with names?
2. Do the two female characters have a conversation in the movie about something other than a man?

That's it. A simple pass/fail. The (not too surprising) thing is so many movies fail.

Let's start Disney:
Aladdin? Fails. There isn't a single named female character other than Jasmine.
Beauty and the Beast? This is when we start debating whether Belle conversing with a female teapot counts. Even so, do they talk about anything other than the Beast? I say fails.
Frozen? Some sister conversations between Elsa and Anna (both named) that don't revolve around boys! Passes.

The origin of this test is fascinating. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel introduced this test in her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For as, well, a joke.

*Comic by Alison Bechdel, image here

As  you can see, the requirement added after the fact was that both women have to have names. That way, a movie with two unnamed females chatting about shopping for five seconds on the sidewalk doesn't count.

This comic went "viral" (if that phrase was alive back in the 80s) and people started using it to evaluate female frequency (and relevancy) in fiction. Today, there's even the Bechdel Test Movie List website, containing over 5000 movies and their pass or fail. (Apparently, Unbroken and Amazing Spiderman 2 both fail from 2014.)

Obviously, this test isn't perfect, for example, Gravity, which has a central female figure, fails due to lack of other characters in general. But, it is an eye-opening way to think about females portrayed in fiction and gender inequality in the media. That is, if you hadn't already heard of it. If you're anything like my two younger sisters, this is old news for you. ;)


p.s. 10 Famous Films that Surprisingly Fail

*For a while, I knew Ariana Grande existed, but had no idea what she did or how she looked. Aka, I'm getting old.
**I'm practically a Neanderthal.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I used to teach a class on gender when I taught college and we would look at gender roles in in the media. This would have been fun to explore. now that I am raising a daughter, I do think about the messages she is sent in movies and TV shows etc even more. Thanks for your comment on my blog.