11 thoughts on “Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

  1. I just gave my Myth and Theory class a lesson in the Bechdel Wallace test and told them to use it on Greek Myth, where, you will not be surprised to hear, there are almost no stories that pass it. One thing about this video – it adds in that the two women “have to be named”. That’s not in the original. The original has an even lower bar – two women, even bit parts, speaking to each other about something other than a man, is all you need . The appalling thing is even so, how few films pass the test.

  2. Another interesting variation is to look at toy catalogues and see whether the catalogue

    (1) pictures girls playing with toys;
    (2) with no boys also playing;
    (3) where the toy is not a toy version of ponies, babies, or housecleaning appliances.

    In the story version, failure will sometimes just fall out of the structure, which is why there are can be very good and even (occasionally, e.g., in certain kinds of barebones romance stories, or in parodies that are focusing on this or similar issues, or in stories that deliberately have very few characters) pro-women stories that fail the test. It’s also why a surprising number of science fiction stories — not a genre known for feminist consciousness — pass it; it’s still a minority of stories, because science fiction stories often lack women almost entirely, but when they don’t, any women who are talking to each other are simply unlikely to be talking about men.

    But it shows repeated patterns we can’t seem to shake. How often do we see action movies where the main characters are a woman and her female sidekick? And when we do, it’s often last-minute and in response to chance factors. In the Alien movie, Ripley was originally supposed to be a man (to be played by someone like Tom Skerritt); the character was changed to a woman fairly late because the producers heard rumors that 20th Century Fox was interested in increasing the number of movies with strong female leads, which led to a re-casting that put Sigourney Weaver in the role. And the thing of it is, in retrospect she was far and away the better choice for the role; but it’s pretty obvious no one would have even thought of putting a women into a role like that if external factors hadn’t intervened. And despite cases like Weaver, it’s pretty clear this hasn’t really changed, and the Bechdel test is a good way to bring that out.

  3. I just wanted to mention that although, naturally, Woody Allen movies universally fail the Bechdel Test, I remember realising that at least one of them, ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’, also fails the gender-mirrored version. Ah, equality!

  4. Interestingly, a number of porn films (I guess I’m thinking more of softcore erotica aimed at couples) passes the test.

    It seems unfortunate, however, that films with small casts get cast into the “failed” pile. If there are only two named characters, one is a man, and the other a woman, and they have some sort of substantive dialogue, I think they’d merit an honourary pass. Not that I can think of any such films offhand.

  5. Try to find a woman breastfeeding in a movie or tv show….now that’s impossible to find! If movies (& media) had the occasional mother nursing in the general scenery, as a matter of course, and not the cause of some ‘freaked out’ storyline about exposing a boob or transporting mothers’ milk in an airport, then women could empower their breasts as a symbol of strength through nurturing (whether it be an infant, toddler, or anything thing they are passionate about raising up and taking care of–like our planet for instance, or an elder parent, or each other). I can see a PR campaign now: Breasts-More than a silicon object of sordid fixation and cancer time bomb threat-Suckle and CoCreate!

  6. 101 Dalmatians passed on a technicality. Discussions about other types of unpaid labour caring for dependants other than men shouldn’t count either.

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