The Bechdel Test

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Watch the following video...

Now, we're all on the same page, what do you think about the Bechdel test and film? Can you think of a better test for the same purpose? What well loved films can you name that fulfil or don't fulfil its criteria.

Aaaaand so on...

Ah yes, the Bechdel test. When it was made, it was to make a point about women's gross representation in movies, and now some people actually take it completely at face value.

Look, there are so many variables to decide what a good representation of women in a movie is. Fuckin' Before Sunrise doesn't pass a single aspect of the test, because it was just Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke playing layered characters talking to each other and almost no one else. It still gave a perfectly fine representation of women.

It's a fun little joke and all, but matters like these can't really be accounted for accurately by a cute little rule of thumb.

It needs to be applied to films as a whole, having one movie pass or fail means nothing. As a whole a lot of movies fail the test showing women are underrepresented, but not every movie needs to represent them. Sometimes I just want to see a B action movie with one-liners and explosions.

I want more women in important roles, but I am against shoving them in for PC. The movie should be made from that angle from the start.

Huh, I've never heard of this test and you know what?
I think more films should throw this little criteria in. Not *all* movies from here on out, just more. I would say "all", but then my favorite movie of all time doesn't make the cut.
Anyway.
Yeah, I could do with more movies throwing in those three little check-boxes.

I don't think it's a good indicator of female inclusion or whatever the hell it's for.

A film could have two awfully written female characters briefly talk to each other about shopping and pass, or a have multiple, amazing female characters that never talk to each other and fail.

It's not something that should be applied as a strict rule in all media, but it's a handy test in some situations.

Taking the test too seriously is unhealthy and can ruin your enjoyment of the film.

I agree that a movie doesnt need to pass it to be a good representation of women, its blatently possible. for example a movie exploring isolation in a female character like Moon for instance but with a woman would fail the test even if she was very deep and realistic.

However i think its slightly embarrassing that all but a few movies fail the test anyway. I think all but a few (with exceptions noted above) should pass with no excuses. I mean seriously? Lets do a reverse bechdel test. I challenge anyone here to name a movie where two male characters DO NOT TALK about anything else apart from women if at all. A movie that isnt total garbage. I think you might find one or two (Technically moon i guess) but they probably explore a single/two character/s only or deal with the theme of isolation and thus cant pass either test. Im even ignoring point 1. Find me a movie that fails any TWO of the 3 points for men. Its so rediculously given that a movie HAS to pass the LedCheb test to even BE a movie at all. Its difficult to name a movie that fails even 2 of the challenges. The fact its exceedingly laughably easy to name movies that fail all 3 bechdels is telling.

Think about how simple interaction between two dudes is. Can you possibly imagine a time where almost NO movies had two guys talking for any reason? How fucking WEIRD would that be? Why are we more forgiving that people fail that with women. Since if a whole decade of movies had no men talking to other men that would be considered weird. And kinda rightly so. Reverse it and imagine how bizarre it would be. Its equally as bizarre now.

As far as I remember Young Adult fails the test on the grounds that any time two women speak to each other it is about Charlize Theron's highschool boyfriend. So yeah it just doesn't work. Young Adult is about a successful woman who's kinda horrible. Former prom queen type. However the reason she's like that is she's deply depressed at how her life turned out and her highschool boyfriend represents a time when she was on top. It's a movie about looking at what's underneath and trying to revisit the past to feel better about the present and Charlise Theron is fantastic in it. She is an interesting, deeply flawed character with a lot of baggage.

As a look at the industry it works overall because if you swap the genders it becomes really easy to list off films that fit. But using it to critique a single film is a terrible argument.

Comicon would be 45 minutes? More like cancelled.
I'll test my three favourite films:
Wayne's World: 2 named females, Cassandra and Stacy. Dialogue? Nope.
Mad Max 2: About 2 named characters in general. Failed.
Pirates of the Caribbean: E. Swann is the only named female I can think of. Failed.
So does that make me misogynistic?
Anyway, why do we have to call it the Bechdel test? Why not the 'how many chicks are there test'?

The Bechdel Test is fine to look at this stuff in the simplest way but some people have taken it for a rule. Like a film has to have this shit or it's sexist. Anita Sarkeesian did a bit about it, actually. She misses the point but not as badly as some of her critics would want.

But, like I said, this is a good starting point. Do the test, see if it passes. It doesn't? Well, now we take a look at the characters properly; motivations, depth, etc. Unfortunately, some stop at the test and go no further.

Tom_green_day:
Comicon would be 45 minutes? More like cancelled.
Anyway, why do we have to call it the Bechdel test? Why not the 'how many chicks are there test'?

It's acknowledging who came up with it. Which is useful given that all kinds of people think it's either something with academic roots (or else tumblr-roots), so an easy-to-google name is useful for correcting that.

Spot1990:

As a look at the industry it works overall because if you swap the genders it becomes really easy to list off films that fit. But using it to critique a single film is a terrible argument.

Yeah, the point is pretty clearly a comment on industry as a whole.

I mean, the punchline of the original comic was "So the last movie I saw was Alien" (I think that was in the mid-80s, so the joke is that the character's moral stance had kept her from going to the movies for 7 years). People seem to forget that bit.

BiscuitTrouser:
However i think its slightly embarrassing that all but a few movies fail the test anyway. I think all but a few (with exceptions noted above) should pass with no excuses. I mean seriously? Lets do a reverse bechdel test. I challenge anyone here to name a movie where two male characters DO NOT TALK about anything else apart from women if at all. A movie that isnt total garbage. I think you might find one or two (Technically moon i guess) but they probably explore a single/two character/s only or deal with the theme of isolation and thus cant pass either test. Im even ignoring point 1. Find me a movie that fails any TWO of the 3 points for men. Its so rediculously given that a movie HAS to pass the LedCheb test to even BE a movie at all. Its difficult to name a movie that fails even 2 of the challenges. The fact its exceedingly laughably easy to name movies that fail all 3 bechdels is telling.

Since you ask: The Women (No men. Even all the animals are allegedly female. By virtue of failing the first hurdle the second two are non-applicable or de-facto fails) and the Triplets of Belleville (Movie is almost entirely silent. By virtue of this it fails both the Bechdel and reverse Bechdel on point 2 and by necessity this leads to a failure of point 3)

Not that this lessens the point in any way. I just felt obliged to answer the challenge.

Machine Man 1992:
Taking the test too seriously is unhealthy and can ruin your enjoyment of the film.

I admit, this would be a good warning to those who are watching movies just to see if said movies 'failed' the test.

Sure I would really enjoy seeing females have the bigger roles thus make a difference without being cast aside, but at the same time the movie itself and it's roles have to be good enough regardless for it to be enjoyable. Take for example the movie Brave by Pixar. Sure it passed the test since the main role is a strong, independent young woman but at the same time it wasn't that great of a movie sadly.

The plot, characters, screenshots, digital or custom effects, and everything as a whole must work in order for the movie to be great. Just my 2 cents on the matter at hand.

Most Woody Allen movies probably ace this test every time, since they're full of female characters that usually discuss their careers with each other. Hannah and her Sisters, Another Woman, Crime and Punishment, Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona...

Like the guy says in the last 30 seconds or so. It's not about whether the movie is good or not, it's about pointing out the limited female roles.

As someone else has mentioned above, though, try a gender swapped version of that test, and almost no major movies would fail.

A movie with nothing but male characters is just a movie, a movie with nothing but female characters is pretentious feminist waffle.

The test says really little over a story. Sure, if we take all movies and we would compared the amount of movies that pass with the movies that don't, we do get to see a pattern, which is a result of lazy writing overall. But condemning one story solely on the results of that test is silly. The problems with tests like these, is that they only look at certain elements of the movie and ignore the context in which those elements are found. 'Yeah, we don't have two females character, but the one we have is really really good.' sounds great, but it does fail the Bechdel test.

A better test? Maybe: can you describe this character in more than three sentences?

The Bechdel test isn't some kind of checklist a film needs to go through. It was just a way to point out the reduced role of women in films comparatively. The test itself is almost if not equally as shallow as the female roles that led to its creation.

To use it as some kind of prerequisite for all films would be unhealthy for the industry.

That said, Digimon: The Movie passes. :D

One of the major flaws to the test is that movies, and many stories, have an operating cast of about three characters on the protagonist's end. Sometimes four. There are antagonists, and background and supporting casts, but for the main thrust of the movie, you're likely looking at three for most of them. If there is a B-plot, and most movies have them, then the main and supporting cast may not, and likely won't, interact much.

Since most of what will be discussed will be pertinent to what's going on, then it'll generally be on the subject of one of the protagonists (even tangentially), or the antagonist; at least if the movie remains on point. Or the movie will be meandering, which is perfectly fine in a movie as character building. The downside is that, depending on how broad your definition of 'and they don't talk about a man' is, this can require that the majority of your active cast be female.

As stated as the example, Aliens more or works because the active cast winds up being Hicks (if I'm remembering the name right), Ripley and Newt, and they were probably talking about the Aliens, who are the antagonists.

None of that is to say that there's no sexism in Hollywood, because there is. The test's just not a good metric in and of itself.

That said, off the top of my head:
Cloud Atlas
X-men First Class
Alien vs. Predator
Harry Potter
The Incredibles

It's hardly a catch-all rule, but it's useful enough in illustrating broad problems with representations of women.

If you're trying to use it as a criteria for in-depth analysis though, you're probably gonna have a bad time. I'm pretty sure Black Widow wouldn't pass it in The Avengers, but there's nothing wrong with her characterisation. (The poster is a different matter, admittedly.)

1066:
One of the major flaws to the test is that movies, and many stories, have an operating cast of about three characters on the protagonist's end. Sometimes four. There are antagonists, and background and supporting casts, but for the main thrust of the movie, you're likely looking at three for most of them. If there is a B-plot, and most movies have them, then the main and supporting cast may not, and likely won't, interact much.

Since most of what will be discussed will be pertinent to what's going on, then it'll generally be on the subject of one of the protagonists (even tangentially), or the antagonist; at least if the movie remains on point. Or the movie will be meandering, which is perfectly fine in a movie as character building. The downside is that, depending on how broad your definition of 'and they don't talk about a man' is, this can require that the majority of your active cast be female.

While that is true, you'll note that the majority of movies would pass a gender swapped version of this test. So, it is telling us something.

As other people have said, the test isn't supposed to be a judgment of how how well an individual movie represents women. Really, a lot of movies that pass it probably do by dumb luck. Overall it shows just how male-centric hollywood is. You can't play the "there's a smaller female audience" excuse because practically everyone watches movies. There's the same sized audience, and for some reason the female representation in movies is still far below men's.

This page does a good job of outlining it http://bechdeltest.com/statistics/

Tom_green_day:

So does that make me misogynistic?

Of course not, not passing the bechdel test doesn't make a movie misogynisic. Even if it did, you can like movies despite problems they may have without somehow harboring mysoginistic views

Lemme apply it to my favorite games...

Mirror's Edge: Faith and Kate have a conversation about why Kate has been framed. PASS.

Tomb Raider III: Lara Croft and Sofia Leigh have a conversation about potential career choices (man, that reads weirdly) that results in an artifact vs pistol fight. PASS

Geneforge: If the player character is a female, there's dozens of conversations to be had with important women in the game. PASS-ISH.

Rayman 2: Uhhhhhhh... Ly the fairy and Uglette exist, but do not converse. FAIL.

Myst series: There's never more than one woman onscreen at any time. FAIL.

That went better than I thought it would.

It's a crap test. It's entirely possible for a film to have a strong, realistic female protagonist, who might be a president or military commander or something, who never has any meaningful interaction with another female character about anything other than a man. Yet, a silly chick flick where everyone just wants to get married to a nice handsome man could have a brief conversation about tampons between two women and pass the test.

There is no way to quantitatively measure something as qualitative as the role someone plays in a film.

thaluikhain:
Like the guy says in the last 30 seconds or so.

The guy is Mark Kermode, pretty much the UK's top reviewer. His weekly podcast is ace. Got to see him live last week with a full orchestra performing his favourite movie themes and an on-stage interview with Jeremy Irons.

I think the rule should only really apply as a guideline to a film that does have multiple female characters. I think criteria one, that you need more than one female is kind of silly to stick to. If I'm setting my drama entirely in a ditch in the middle of no man's land in World War 1, I doubt many female characters will turn up naturally. However I think the rule draws a point that female characters should have their own ideas beyond the adulation of the male characters. This doesn't mean (as silly Sarkeesian thinks) that every female has to have their own action and carry out a mission themselves to flesh it out, but that female characters (to be made 3 dimensional) should be given human WANTS and THOUGHTS beyond just men.

lacktheknack:
Lemme apply it to my favorite games...

Mirror's Edge: Faith and Kate have a conversation about why Kate has been framed. PASS.

Tomb Raider III: Lara Croft and Sofia Leigh have a conversation about potential career choices (man, that reads weirdly) that results in an artifact vs pistol fight. PASS

Geneforge: If the player character is a female, there's dozens of conversations to be had with important women in the game. PASS-ISH.

Rayman 2: Uhhhhhhh... Ly the fairy and Uglette exist, but do not converse. FAIL.

Myst series: There's never more than one woman onscreen at any time. FAIL.

That went better than I thought it would.

Not sure if it works with games. Games are USUALLY driven solely by one character, only seeing things from their perspective. If they're male and don't drop in on a conversation between two other female characters, it won't happen.

What about movies that are set in time periods where women weren't supposed to speak up? Would you blame them for not having vocal female characters even though it's simply a reality of that period?

What about war movies? The US military used to be men only.

electric_warrior:
It's a crap test. It's entirely possible for a film to have a strong, realistic female protagonist, who might be a president or military commander or something, who never has any meaningful interaction with another female character about anything other than a man. Yet, a silly chick flick where everyone just wants to get married to a nice handsome man could have a brief conversation about tampons between two women and pass the test.

There is no way to quantitatively measure something as qualitative as the role someone plays in a film.

Probably why the test has nothing to do with it, as explained in that clip and several times already in this thread. Again, it is not about whether a movie is good and bad in of itself, it is about noticing a trend in movies as a whole.

Similarly:

Images:
I think the rule should only really apply as a guideline to a film that does have multiple female characters. I think criteria one, that you need more than one female is kind of silly to stick to. If I'm setting my drama entirely in a ditch in the middle of no man's land in World War 1, I doubt many female characters will turn up naturally.

OlasDAlmighty:
What about movies that are set in time periods where women weren't supposed to speak up? Would you blame them for not having vocal female characters even though it's simply a reality of that period?

What about war movies? The US military used to be men only.

Missing the point. It's not about individual movies, it's about trends.

Yes, a particular historical movie set in a time and place where there wouldn't be women shouldn't have women. That has nothing to do with how movies overall tend to portray women,

OlasDAlmighty:
What about movies that are set in time periods where women weren't supposed to speak up? Would you blame them for not having vocal female characters even though it's simply a reality of that period?

What about war movies? The US military used to be men only.

All good points why it doesn't work. Didn't want to add a poll in the end since I thought it takes away from discussion.

Men In Black (The greatest movie ever made) fails. The reason it fails though is because for the most part, people's genders are irrelevant.

thaluikhain:
Like the guy says in the last 30 seconds or so. It's not about whether the movie is good or not, it's about pointing out the limited female roles.

As someone else has mentioned above, though, try a gender swapped version of that test, and almost no major movies would fail.

A movie with nothing but male characters is just a movie, a movie with nothing but female characters is pretentious feminist waffle.

Hardly, Hanna was a great movie and the cast was overwhelmingly female and the male characters are morally gray at best. Nobody in their right wind would accuse this movie of being "pretentious feminist waffle".

Helmholtz Watson:
Nobody in their right wind

But what about everyone else?

(Alright, might be being overly flippant here)

As others have already mentioned the test is mainly useful when analyzing general trends in filmmaking. I wish more people* understood how the test actually works.

*(=more people in general, most people in this thread seem to understand how the test works)

The test isn't intended to be the final say on a film's representation of women.Yes, it doesn't apply to war films, etc. Yes, a film can technically pass whilst still failing to accurately represent women. Not the point. The point is to address a broad failure on the part of the movie industry to successfully and consistently represent women as three-dimensional human beings. Far too many films fail the test because the people writing them aren't able to conceive of a female character with motivations beyond romance, or because so many films include only a token female amongst an entirely male cast.

Images:

Now, we're all on the same page, what do you think about the Bechdel test and film? Can you think of a better test for the same purpose?

I think it was good for a joke, but a serious test it is not.
Any test Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS can pass but Star wars can't should not be considered a benchmark for judging if a film is sexist.

"Can you think of a better test?"

I can try:

Is there a reason this charter is a woman?
If the answer is something along the lines of boobs then the movie fails.
If you genuinely can't answer the movie gets a pass with a gold star

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