Does The Bechdel Test Cut It?

I’m passionate about women’s rights and working our asses off (as a society) until gender equality is reached. It’s important to me as a woman, and as a human being who believes we should all have equal rights and treatment. Political rant over. Maybe.

It’s easy to think that gender issues only affect us when we’re talking about sexual harassment or assault, or the wage gap, or sexist comments. But sexism is everywhere. It’s in the books we read and the movies we watch. In 2014, only 12% of the protagonists in the 100 top grossing films were female [It’s A Man’s (Celluloid) World]. WHAT. That is beyond ridiculous, and is seriously unacceptable in this day and age.

In 1985, Alison Bechdel devised ‘The Bechdel Test’ to gauge how well women were being represent in film. There are three simple criteria a film must fill in order to pass the test:

1. The film has at least two female characters in it,

2. Who talk to each other, about

3. Something besides a man

[The Bechdel Test]

Easy right? Apparently not. Some pretty famous films fail the test. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great in their own right (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the original Star Wars trilogy, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, for example, fail) it just means that they aren’t quite there in terms of female representation.
From the 100 top grossing films of 2015, only 54 films passed [Fusion]. Sadly, 10 out of 14 Pixar films fail [A.V. Club]. Now, that’s not to say a lot of movies aren’t on their way to passing. Many will pass two out of three of the criteria. Of course, tons of movies have multiple female characters. However, a great deal of these female characters only talk about men. Think of your favourite movie. Now think of how many named female characters there are in it. Now, try and remember a conversation they have that isn’t about a man. If you can, hooray, that’s fab. If you can’t, you see what I mean.

The question is, does such an easy test really tell us anything? Just because a film has two female characters who talk about the weather or politics, not a man, doesn’t mean it’s a big step for the representation of women in film. I love Frozen, but I won’t hesitate to say that despite the fact that it passes the Bechdel test and isn’t 100% focused on getting the guy, it still does have male centric elements. I’m not saying I want films that have NO MEN in them, because that would be just as bad as films that have no women. But what we need is more films filled with empowered women whose storylines aren’t about men, who don’t need men to save them. Anna is assisted throughout the majority of the movie by Kristoff, not herself or Kristoff-ina. Yes, the Bechdel Test is a useful tool to know whether or not a movie is terrible at representing women. But it doesn’t mean that every passing film is a good film for women. 50 Shades of Grey passes because Ana has a brief conversation with her mother about graduation. But 50 Shades of Grey is primarily a film about unhealthy relationships.

So does the Bechdel Test cut it? I mean, sure, I certainly am not in a hurry to have a marathon of movies that fail the Bechdel Test. More films and filmmakers should be passing the test. But I want more. I want filmmakers to aim high, not just hit the bare minimum.
I want films to feature empowered women who can exist in a film without men, not barely scrape through by having a conversation about housekeeping rather than husbands. Even if the Bechdel Test isn’t the perfect barometer for gender equality films, maybe it’ll help us think about it more, and start dialogues with the people around us. Help create mindfulness and conscious thought around what we’re watching.

What are your thoughts on this?

xxx Lulacorn