The Bechdel test: it’s not about passing

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Bechdel test. Many people think the goal is to pass the test, but actually, that’s not it at all.

For those who don’t know, the “test” comes from a comic in which one character cleverly gets out of going to the movies with another by saying she will only go to a movie that contains two named female characters having a conversation with each other about something other than men. That rules out every movie available because, well – think about all the movies you can think of. These scenes are stunningly rare.

Make this observation in the context of discussions on how women are represented in the media, and you often get a response like: “Oh, so I’m supposed to shoehorn this stupid scene into my story so the PC police will get off my back?” But that’s a thought process short-circuited. How on earth would inserting a scene as potentially dull as the one described in the comic make a movie less sexist?

The point of the Bechdel test is something else entirely. Upon realizing how rare these scenes are, the average person is stunned enough to wonder precisely why these scenes are so rare?

Answer: because so few movies and TV shows include multiple, developed, relevant women characters who have any part in advancing the story. Imagine how hard it would be to avoid a scene in which two named men chat about something other than women. Why do you suppose that is? Because virtually every movie and TV show contains multiple, developed, relevant male characters who have some part in advancing the story. See?

Female characters are traditionally peripheral to male ones. That’s why we don’t want to hear them chatting about anything other than the male characters: because in making them peripheral, the writer has assured the women can’t possibly contribute to the story unless they’re telling us something about the men who drive the plot. That is the problem the test is highlighting. And that’s why shoehorning an awkward scene in which two named female characters discuss the price of tea in South Africa while the male characters are off saving the world will only hang a lantern on how powerfully you’ve sidelined your female characters for no reason other than sexism, conscious or otherwise.

It’s not that the audience doesn’t want to hear what “women” characters have to say, as one film pro told me (see above-linked article). It’s that we don’t want to hear what’s said by irrelevant, underdeveloped characters who have nothing to do with the plot. If this was the only role 99.9% of male characters were allowed in film, we might get the idea that male characters never say anything relevant, and should therefore just shut up and look hot.

This, by the way, is why I retain a warm spot in my heart for Xena, despite its flaws: it rarely passed the reverse Bechdel test, thus proving men are not remotely essential for exciting, action-packed stories. Like Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer featured women doing exciting things. Neither show could’ve avoided passing the Bechdel test regularly if they’d wanted to: the plots, which relied on women characters, would’ve stalled out in the first act.

Whether or not your story includes the Bechdel scene says absolutely nothing about whether it’s sexist or not. The measure of sexism is whether your story denies women the opportunity to participate in it.

Comments

  1. DSimon says

    Good points! The Bechdel test is like a lot of metrics used for measuring whether or not someone’s doing a good job; once they know the metric, they can just aim to pass it in the simplest possible way and completely miss the overall point.

    I remember hearing a story about programmers who were paid bonuses for finding and fixing bugs in their co-workers’ code. Immediate result: a black market in “bugs” sprung up.

    Also, there are stories which will fail the Bechdel test but are not sexist. For example, imagine if Wander from Shadow of the Colossus were female. There are hardly any other characters in that entire story (Mono, who says nothing; Dormin, who has no specific gender; the Chieftan, who only appears briefly in the intro and outro), so that hypothetical game still wouldn’t pass the test, despite being a very personal, powerful story about the relationship between two women!

    The Bechdel test is very useful, but only in a statistical sense; you can get a feeling for how sexist a good-sized story field is by comparing pass rates of the Bechdel test and the reverse Bechdel test, but as say, you learn almost nothing by checking whether or not one single work passes it.

    I also agree that Buffy’s a really good example of what the Bechdel test really is about; if you happen to have a story where at least some of the movers and shakers are women, chances are it’s going to have a hard time not passing the test.

  2. says

    Yes! Thank you. I can’t stand when it’s reduced to a litmus test. The original comic is so powerful, because it is the first time you sit down and realize… holy crap. In Alien, the two women discussed the monster. That’s as good as it’s gotten.

  3. M.C. says

    I just had this thought: If a story is really well written and features only well developed characters who advance the plot, then it probably won’t pass the Bechdel test either. Because even when there’s a scene between two women talking about the plot, they are bound to mention the men since they are relevant to the plot too. (Unless there are no men in the story.)

    For example: I’ve just rewatched the second series of ‘Being Human’. The first episode is – among other things – about Nina confiding into Annie that she’s become a werewolf and Annie helping her through the first transformation. But since Nina got the curse from George, they mention him repeatedly. So even though these scenes are about Nina & Annie bonding, they don’t pass the Bechdel test.

    And the episode hardly passes the reverse Bechdel test, since it starts with George & Mitchell, the two main male characters, talking about George’s girlfriend Nina. And then they talk about vampire politics, which includes the new vampire couple that just moved into town, with one of them being a female vampire.

    • says

      But you see, they might be talking about men, but they’re also talking about something other than a man. There is no requirement in the Bechdel test that says that men can’t come up in the conversation, so long as the conversation isn’t solely about them

    • The Other Patrick says

      …but they also talk about being a werewolf. Women are not forbidden to talk about men. Where did you get that from?

      By the way, I just saw “The Tourist” out of morbid curiosity, and aside from being boring: At 1h 3m, there is a shot of two policewomen in an office. Otherwise, aside from rare background scenes in public spaces, there are no women other than Angelina Jolie in this movie. Not a single fricking one. No housemaids, no female interpol agents, not even arm candy for the bad mobster who “owns all the brothels from here to Novosibirsk”. None. But I can think of about 20 somewhat prominent male figures who at least muttered something or exchanged a look. WTF?

      • Casey says

        Well that’s….creepy.
        I guess they just wanted to focus on Jolie’s HAWTNESS by ridding the world of almost ALL women so as not to detract from her~?

        • The Other Patrick says

          no, well – they start the film with a shot of her ass, but generally, they put Jolie in soft colors and thick make-up and looks horrible and totally against her type. But the film is a mess on so many levels. Still – no women around… and Jolie is of course an undercover cop who fell in love with her mark and deserted the mission, and for the mark she then pretends Depp to be him and falls in love and deserts again, and… you know, women. That’s why she’s happy when, in the end, she’s fired.

          • Casey says

            Hmm…I heard that THE COMMON MAN liked The Tourist, but critics are giving it shitty reviews, sounds like it’s completely justified (although I must admit, I thought Angelina Jolie looked the hottest I’ve seen in a while when I watched those TV adverts…she looked delightfully retro).

        • Joel says

          I read an article with the director (I think?) of The Tourist in the Metro in December and he openly stated that he didn’t have other women in the movie because of Angelina.

          I can’t remember if the statement amounted to ‘Angelina is enough woman for a movie all alone!’ or ‘What woman could share the screen with someone as beautiful as Angelina?’ but it was one of those two, or a hybrid.

          It was clearly not an accidental omission of female characters, and rather a conscious decision. Making it, frankly, that much more damning.

    • scarlett says

      That makes me think of Tomorrow, When the War Began. (Book or movie, take your pick, it was a pretty faithful adaptation). Because there are eight central character, four boys and four girls, and pretty much all they talk about is the war and each other, I can’t think of a single conversation between two girls that DOESN’T refer to a main. But it’s usually in a strategic context, occasional romantic, and not exactly four girl sitting around all day talking about boyz and babiez. So it probably wouldn’t pass the test in the strictest sense but I think does in a broader sense for featuring a cast of half-females who all have fairly nuanced characters – certainly as nuanced as any of the boys. From memory, Fame is similar in that vein.

      I think the Bechdel test is one ofg those things that can be passed in the letter of the law while failing in the spirit, and vice versa, and shouldn’t be taken as a hard-and-fast rule about what constitutes good female characters and what doesn’t.

  4. Melissa says

    Weird question about the Bechdel test–does it count if the women talk about a man, but in a non-romantic sense? (Like a supernatural show where the villain-of-the-week is a man, or a crime show where the victim/perp-of-the-week is a man?)

    • says

      I was curious too, so I did a poll to that effect on my blog last week. Asked if Batwoman discussing her ex lover Renee would fail, or if discussing never-a-possible-love-interest Batman would fail. 67% said that if it was a discussion about a lesbian romantic interest, they’d pass it, but not if it was about a non-romantic male.

    • says

      One of the points the Bechdel test points out is that the women’s lives, and this the narrative, are male-centric, not just romantically male centric. In narratives the focus of daughters is on their fathers (predominantly, anyway, as with movies like Taken and whatnot) if it is not already on a boyfriend (and often it’s focused on what their fathers think of their boyfriend, with the emphasis on the father/boyfriend relationship).

      In the example you mentioned it gets tougher. I mean, the only show like that I can really think of right now is Supernatural, which to the extent of my knowledge may have passed the test once in its entire series. I mean, like this post said it’s hard to get into specific pass-failings because that’s not really the goal. If a crime show has multiple female characters who progress the plot, at some point they SHOULD converse about something other than the men around them because the men will most likely be conversing not about the women around them. In a show like, for example, Chase, which has grown on me, there are multiple male and female main characters (I think 3 men and 2 women). So far, I haven’t been paying attention to whether it passes the Bechdel Test or not. Not because it does all the time and I don’t need to notice, but because both female characters progress the plot at least as much as their male counterparts–and so the test isn’t relevant to that show as I am watching it. If that makes sense and at all answers your question…sorry, I ramble.

    • says

      I always felt that if for example if the ladies were talking about defeating the male big bad, or about the annoying boss, or hunting down a missing man, or whatever, that passed, but if the two of them were discussing and analyzing a male main character’s motivations (especially a or the main male character) in an expository way, because they’re the sensitive women characters, that does not, even if neither of them are potential love interests.

      • Alara Rogers says

        Yeah, like if Troi and Crusher from TNG are talking about the fact that Captain Picard seems to have gone insane, and is there a medical reason, and what can they do to solve the problem, it would pass because that’s their job. He may be male, but the scene would be identical if Spock and McCoy are talking about Kirk going insane, or Chakotay and the Doctor from Voyager talking abou Janeway going insane. it’s plot driven.

        But if they talk about Crusher’s latest energy being boyfriend, then it does not pass. Or if they are talking about Wesley Crusher, because then it’s a woman talking about her son to her female friend, another “my whole life centers around other people” kind of relationship.

      • scarlett says

        Yesh, see, if it was a movie about, say, two female resistence fightsers in WWII who spend the whole movie discussing the best way to assasinate Hitler, that would have passed for me. If whatever they did as resistences fights was secondary to discussing their bushands and babies, that wouldn’t have. I think how much of the discussion in is a professional/non-romantic-or-sexual context factors in it although strictly speaking, they’d still be disgussing a men/men.

  5. Alara Rogers says

    This is why I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Star Trek Voyager, no matter how bad the writing sucked.

    The fact that, at all times, there were *three* main female characters, and one was the captain, who is the main character in any Trek series (though much less so in the series featuring the black guy captain and the series featuring the woman captain… funny how that worked out!) meant that every episode passed the Bechdel test. There wasn’t a single episode where Janeway and Torres didn’t talk about something related to engineering, as far as I can recall. And both Kes and Seven had strong relationships with Janeway of the student/mentor kind, and Seven and Torres talk to each other about their disagreements on proper engineering practices all the time, too. (Can’t recall that Kes and Torres had much to say to each other, so although I did love Kes and I wish they hadn’t gotten rid of her, I actually liked Seven much better, stupid catsuit and all.)

    Although I enjoyed the new Trek movie as an old school Trek fan, it was a slap in the face to my feminist sensibilities… now that I’ve seen Voyager, now that even the crappy Star Trek Enterprise had a strong relationship between T’Pol and Hoshi Sato, how am I supposed to deal with “there is only one woman in this story?” Okay, yeah, there’s actually four, but Gaila’s probably dead, Amanda *is* dead, and Winona vanished from the story as soon as Kirk was born. Couldn’t they have thrown in Chapel or Rand? I mean, even classic Trek, sucktastic for female roles as it was, had a scene of Uhura and Chapel hugging each other and greeting each other like great old friends.

    • Angela_B says

      I completely agree with what you are saying about the Trek movie – in the strictest sense, it does pass the test thanks to one scene (the scene in Uhura and Gaila’s room where they are talking about Uhura’s work) but since they are both in their underwear and Kirk is spying on them, I’m not sure it counts, even though that conversation does further the plot down the track.

      Also, since Gaila’s name is only mentioned once in the movie (in that same scene), it very nearly doesn’t pass since if you aren’t paying attention, you don’t know her name…

      I definitely feel they could have done a better job in that sense – it very much feels like that is a token scene to say ‘yep, we pass! now back to the real story’.

      • Casey says

        OMG, I think there’s a post on this site that talks about that scene, and how a guy’s friend said the new Star Trek movie was a “chick flick” because it passed the Bechdel Test with one throw-away “check-minus” compliance scene.

  6. E Grant says

    Excellent post, but I’ve got a couple of other things to add:

    1. The Bechdel test has a different significance when applied to feature films (particularly mainstream films) than other media, because films have (arguably) the strictest stick-to-the-one-story requirements, since they are meant to be consumed in one sitting and stand alone.

    Introductory screenwriting courses will basically tell you that the only characters that really matter are the protagonist and the antagonist. If _either_ of these characters are men, the chances of the film passing the test are significantly reduced. There’s more chance for a pass with a group adventures and multi-plot stories, but still. I bet you’d be hard pressed to find a movie that fails the “reverse Blechdel,” and does not have both a protagonist and antagonist who are female.

    Other media–TV, novels, serial comics–have way more time for other kinds of scenes and for sub-plots that feature secondary characters as secondary protagonists. To me, if one of those works fails the Blechdel, despite having fewer constraints than a feature film, its might be a more clear indictment of the work.

    2. In the original strip, the fact that “Aliens” is the only passing movie is supposed to be a surprising/ironic punchline, since it’s a military sci-fi horror flick. The movie has become so well-regarded by geeks, movie fans, and popcult feminist critics, that it seems like few people realize how funny that would have been back in the mid-80s.

    • says

      Let me see if I got this.

      So you’re arguing that in order for movies to pass the test, they’d have to have female antagonists and protagonists, and… what? That would blow up the world? Cause the earth to start spinning in reverse? Rip a hole in the space-time continuum and suck life as we know it into another galaxy?

      Despite my examples, even when it comes to TV you relegate scenes involving multiple women to secondary status – “other kinds of scenes” and “sub-plots”, as if that’s the only appropriate place for female characters to be. When in fact, scenes involving Buffy or Xena were always by definition primary.

      You missed my point like it was a bus and you weren’t even in the right city to catch it.

      And I picked Buffy and Xena because they are the only well-known examples that prove women do NOT need to be relegated to “sub-plots” and “other kinds of scenes.”

      • Casey says

        I love (LOATHED) how he talked about introductory screenwriting classes even though you’ve BEEN IN FILM SCHOOL

        DAT MAN-SPLAININ’.

      • Patrick McGraw says

        Not really in his defense, but he’s right in saying “I bet you’d be hard pressed to find a movie that fails the “reverse Blechdel,” and does not have both a protagonist and antagonist who are female.”

        Because you would indeed be hard-pressed to find a movie that has both a protagonist and antagonist who are female.

        But that has nothing to do with your basic argument, right? /sarcasm

        • The Other Patrick says

          Well: Jennifer’s Body, Catwoman, Charlie`s Angels 2, (Whip it?)

          But either way, the Bechdel test is not really that much about single films – yes, single films might end up not having relevant female characters by virtue of their set-up. Like a comic called “Y: the Last Man” about the last surviving male human will be hard pressed to have more than one guy in it.

          But that’s a single film, not the template which all too many films have been based on. If there are only exceptions, that’s to be expected.

          But y’all know this, so why do I write? :)

          • says

            Because you mention things like the comic Y: The Last Man and make me <3 you?

            I love that graphic novel. I know that it's been optioned for a film. But I'm wondering how they'll do it. I mean, sure it is kinda from Yorick's perspective and he's a man, but…so many women! And it's not a rom com about a wedding or being rich and dating in New York! It makes me wonder if they'll actually do that well or if they'll focus on and glorify certain parts that [SPOILER WARNING WHOOOOOOO!] involve the few, random other men that they encounter. I mean, I can just see massive subplots focusing just on the astronauts, the scientist with the monkey….

        • Genevieve says

          Juno doesn’t have an antagonist and passes Bechdel while failing reverse Bechdel. There are several male characters (Paulie, the dad, and Mark) but they all either only talk to female characters or talk to male characters, but only about female characters.
          Waitress has a female protagonist and a male antagonist and passes Bechdel but fails reverse Bechdel, if I remember correctly. Unless you count the scene where Joe tells Earl off, but I’m not sure that was a conversation as much as a lecture.
          And here’s one more for the female protagonist/antagonist list: Deepa Mehta’s film Water. It takes place in a widow’s ashram in India, there’s only one male character of any importance, and when he talks to his male friend, it’s about his love interest.
          …yeah, I like these kinds of movies.

    • The Other Patrick says

      If what you say is true, then, Richard (E Grant) :) Why do feature films still manage to pass the “reverse Bechdel” all the time? If either protagonist or antagonist happens to be a woman, then that should be out the window, too, right?

      Of course, generally these two are men. And then there’s the best friend. And the comic relief. And the mentor. And the evil henchman. And the skeptical chief. And the random robber. And if you’re lucky, the love interest *and* either the straight-talking prostitute or the protagonist’s mom who then get to reminisce about the hero.

      What? Me cynical?

    • M.C. says

      Are there even any big Hollywood films with a female protagonist and antagonist?
      Sure, there are tv shows, novels, independetn productions, but right now I can’t think of a single blockbuster…

      Maybe that’s the (very obvious) solution: make films about women dealing with other women.

      Oh wait, that’s what this blog has been saying all over for the past few years, isn’t it?

      • says

        Tangled, currently. Which is one of those movies that isn’t quite feminist but passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

        As an aside, I saw The Tourist today, which features exactly ZERO women in even supporting roles other than Angelina Jolie while managing to have about fifty supporting male cast roles with speaking parts.

        There wasn’t even a waitress.

        • megsies says

          Yes, Tangled certainly sums up a movie passing the test, but not really doing anything feminist. I just got around to seeing it and it really bugged me in a a few places (but never when Goethel was singing, omg, loooooved her). It reminded me of a behind the scenes segment on pixar’s The Incredibles where theyshowed how they made all the background people out of one main male template. They managed to have about equal gender ratios in both the main cast and the peripheral, but I thought that was very indicative of how most people see background characters – you can even make background women out of your standard male template! I laugh, but I can forgive them for budget constraints, but it bothered me in Tangled that they had 3 main female faces – Goethel’s and Rapunzel’s were distinct (except for Rapunzel looking exactly like her mom) and kind of awesome faces. Then you had bland background woman/girl. There were at least a dozen distinct male faces, all dramatically different.

  7. Casey says

    Misinterpreting the Bechdel test is something I always have a problem with because, if the story I’m hashing out isn’t woman-centric, I usually end up trying to shoe-horn a Bechdel-qualifying scene in there via an exposition/plot-progression word dump…but that’s only because I’m a hack. :P

    • says

      HEY ME TOO!

      What has really helped me, though, is that I’ll write in female characters just because I’m still struggling with my male-centrism that I’ve grown up with, and I’m finding more and more that these extra female characters get more interesting and end up becoming integral.

      I’ve needed to do this less and less as I mature as a person and writer and really think about what I am doing, but consciously being “a hack” in a habitual way is helping me get over it. Yay being a hack!

      I’m almost to the point where I just dont have to worry about thinking about passing the test anymore in my own writing. Which is awesome. For the longest time I’d convinced myself that I didn’t like movies, books, anything ABOUT female main protagonists–now I’ve realized that reason is because we don’t get those/when they happen the woman centric roles and storylines are very very specifically the “safe female roles and narratives” and really it’s society in general that I don’t like :P

  8. The Other Patrick says

    What I love: on an article titled “it’s not about passing the Bechdel test”, people are trying to has out what situation would qualify as passing the Bechdel test. :)

    Solution: include multiple, developed, relevant women characters who have any part in advancing the story.

    Done.

    • Lindsey says

      Yeah, I always took the Bechdel as an emblematic guideline about whether a movie gave women anything to do that didn’t center on males in traditional gender-role sense. Strict pass/fail doesn’t give solid results in many instances, but pausing to think about it at all is really the point.

  9. Chai Latte says

    XENA FOREVER!!!! (I am so glad to see a fellow Xenite! *HUGS*) I hate having to apologize for my love of the series, but it was so awesome.

    Ayiyiyiyiyi-cheeee-aaaah!

    • says

      It was! I’m definitely sensitive to complaints that it co-opted from other cultures, because it did, and that’s unfortunate. But there was a lot of great about it, and I think one can acknowledge both without “apologizing.”

      (As for people who think the show was silly and can’t believe I loved it, I feel their assessment so completely misses the point that I just shrug it off.)

  10. Alara Rogers says

    There’s a very easy way to make any movie pass the Bechdel test.

    Movies are full of minor characters, mere spear-carriers whose job is to advance the plot by doing one thing, or perhaps just to convince us all that this world is actually populated by people. You need a random cop to hassle the hero? Make it a woman. A paramedic? Woman. Snotty bank officer who won’t give out a loan? Woman. Any character archetype short of “macho man” could be a woman.

    Then, have the hero have a sidekick or romantic interest who is a woman, and allow her to actually have conversations with someone who isn’t the hero. If the second lead, who is female, gets lines with people who aren’t the hero, and half your random extras are women, then your movie will naturally end up passing the Bechdel test, and you will not have to introduce a single scene you didn’t already have, *and* you don’t have to have icky girl cooties all over your hero or your villain.

    Of course, if you could go so far as to make the hero or the villain (or BOTH) a woman, this would become a lot easier. There are unfortunately movies with female heroes which don’t pass because the female hero never gets a chance to talk to a single random extra who isn’t a man. Just make a lot of random extras female, and you’ll get a Bechdel pass pretty easily.

    • says

      I was talking to a friend about how one of our favorite comic writers, Beau Smith, a writer with an ultra-macho persona who does action/humor books, tends to write amazingly good women and very female-friendly stories. She pointed out that one of the things he does is have background characters that are randomly female, by which I mean there’s no plot reason for them to be female, no male character to hit on them and nothing would change if the extra in question had been a man. it’s actually a shockingly rare thing once you notice it.

  11. sep332 says

    Are chick flicks really not about women? I hardly ever watch them, but I just assumed that they were pretty parallel. I mean, “guy” movies are about hilariously stereotyped guys doing super-macho things, I always thought “girl” movies were the same except, you know, with girls. I really had no idea that it was so hard to find that kind of movie, that’s just bizarre to me.

    • Casey says

      Replace “hilariously stereotyped” with “infuriatingly bullshittingly stereotyped” and you’re pretty much right…except yeah, most chick flicks are about women freaking out over menz/weddings/babies/shoes/that cheerleader bitch/menz/losing and gaining weight/menz/menz and menz (‘cuz that’s what a stereotypical woman does, apparently).

    • says

      No, “chick flicks” are about women needing men and not having men and wanting men and pursuing men, and so they fail the third part of the test ferociously. And to me they feel like they’re not actually about women at all: they’re mostly about how tragic it is to be without a man, which, you know, is just weird. I mean, sure, if you want sex/love at the moment and aren’t getting any, it sucks, but I have NEVER personally known anyone to suffer the levels of desperation women in these films express.

      Imagine if someone made an entire movie genre about men mowing the lawn and constantly talking about crab grass and wailing about how they’re gonna die if they don’t get a riding mower [I think I just invented a weird kink here, LOL], and that was all the “guy movie” genre offered men. Imagine that, and you know how I feel with “chick flicks.”

      • Casey says

        “Imagine if someone made an entire movie genre about men mowing the lawn and constantly talking about crab grass and wailing about how they’re gonna die if they don’t get a riding mower.”

        Sounds like something Hank Hill would like, LOL. :P ;)

      • Patrick McGraw says

        I have a neighbor who would probably watch those movies, but only if there were gratuitous leafblower scenes thrown into the mix.

      • says

        It seems REALLY optimistic to call action hero film characters “stereotypes” of men, doesn’t it? I mean, when I think of a stereotypical man, I certainly don’t think Ah-nuld kicking ass and talking names, or a macho spy, or a gun-toting ex-cop with revenge on his mind. So while these characters might be a stereotype of the super-macho male CHARACTER they are not really stereotypes of MEN, whereas in chick flicks the women portrayed act in ways that people truly believe women act. I know way too many guys that get really surprised when I say I don’t want kids, and in fact don’t like being around them and don’t think they’re cute, or that I am not interested in getting myself a significant other because I really don’t want to and don’t have the time for it, or that I love video games…because they think I should like flowers and that I want to get married and can’t have friends that are male because really we just want to have sex amirite? Urgh. As soon as movies like Tomb Raider or Resident Evil count as chick flicks just because they star women doing kickass things that are considered a feminine stereotype of people and not characters I might consider this comparison valid. Until then, I gotta disagree.

        • sep332 says

          Yeah, you’re right. It’s more about fantasy than stereotype. I think chick flicks are also fantasy, but they have terrible “morals”. The last chick flick I saw, *The Invention of Lying*, made me want to stab myself in the eye on multiple levels :-) Whereas, in *The Expendables*, the guys with weaker morals were less effective and ended up damaging their relationships with their friends. The situations were ridiculous, but there were “morals” in the movie that I could actually live with.

          • says

            I absolutely hated The Invention of Lying. The parts of The Expendables I saw I enjoyed. Which reminds me to go watch The Losers, which I never got around to seeing but wanted to. XD

            I always prefer “man” movies, because the action and whatnot appeals to me more. But the overwhelmingly male dominated cast never really does, and when women have roles they’re usually romantic or Michelle Rodriguez, who I love, but usually she just…er…dies. And that gets sad.

          • says

            Sorry to double post….I think a more similar comparison to chick flicks is the buddy movie, which typically stars two men in arguably normal plots who are buddies or become buddies. So, like, The Hangover, Due Date, buddy cop movies that are *more* realistic ish than anything involving spies…but maybe not, as well.

            And a typical plot in those movies is “women be bitches” who whinge and cry and are shrill. Or something.

  12. Casey says

    This reminds me of the TVTropes article on “The Room”, the conversation between Lisa and her mother regarding said mother’s breast cancer seemed shoe-horned in as a half-hearted attempt to pass the Bechdel test.

  13. Catherine says

    I think this makes a valid point, the test is not to point out a problem within any particular movie but with the movie industry as a whole. The movie 50/50 fails the test due to the fact that the women never have a conversation that don’t involve Adam, however it would be weird if they did given how grave that situation was and the circumstances of the conversation, in fact none of the conversations in the movie don’t turn around to talk about Adam and his cancer unless Adam himself is involved (and even that’s rare) or at the beginning before he finds out he has it. Moneyball is about a mens league baseball team and it would be weird if two female characters had a conversation bout something other than the team or specific member because that is the basis of the plot and those are the main characters. This doesn’t make these movie any less brilliant or poignant simply because they are male centered, what the Bechdel test does is how how many male dominated films there are versus films that have even the most basic of female involvement, and that is where the problem is. Movies can even be feminist even when they don’t pass the test, The Avengers has a very strong main female character, a strong female secondary character and a short appearance by Pepper Potts, an already established strong intelligent character. Natasha’s fighting costume, although skintight is clearly something designed for stealth and fighting, even her male counterpart also wears skin tight uniform, and her uniform doesn’t conveniently rip in revealing places, she doesn’t have sexual tension with any of the male characters or become a damsel in distress which has become the expectation of action films. She holds her own without losing her femininity which are big achievements for a female character and that doesn’t lose importance just because she doesn’t talk to other female characters.

  14. Gabriella says

    I was thinking about the Australian movie Oranges and Sunshine today. It technically passes the test (the lead female – actually, the *films* lead – has several short conversations scattered through the film with her female superiors and various female victims about the abuse perpetrated by their governments/churches) though I’d say 75% of her interactions are with her husband and another 10% with men. But in the context of the film, it would be silly for her husband, another counselor/crusader, NOT to be her primary confidante. It doesn’t take away from what a strong, compassionate, persevering woman she was, or how she exposed the corruption and coverups of two governments and a bunch of churches. (Think Erin Brokovich, but on a bigger scale.) So I think this is an example of not tossing in interactions with other women (even though they WERE there) and having her primary relationship be with a man but still having this very strong, nuanced character.

  15. says

    Catherine,

    I wouldn’t say that Natasha is a secondary character. She gets the third highest amount of screen time in the movie, and she’s probably the character who does the most to advance the plot (tricking info out of the trickster god, stealing an alien vehicle, shutting down the magic doohickey, and so on).

    Other than that, I agree with you. The problem isn’t individual movies, it’s the industry as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with a movie that focuses on men, it’s the lack of a movie that focuses on women to balance it out.

  16. The Other Anne says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    One issue I had with Natasha is how much of her motivation revolves around men. Where other characters have much more internal motivations, hers is all about the men around her, be they Barton or her superiors. She’s an awesome character and fighter and is notable in her lack of superpowers, holding her own with men who do, but her own motivation matters even more to me because she’s the only major female character.

    She’s important, surely, but too much of her is in service of men for me. She is the eye candy for the male gaze, and her self is wrapped up in the men around her.

  17. says

    The Other Anne,

    I personally didn’t see that. I thought Natasha was the most goal-oriented of any character except perhaps Fury. She had internal motivation, to atone for her past and “balance her ledger”, and there’s nothing in the text to indicate anything more than that in her interactions with Hawkeye and with SHIELD (subtext, yes; text, no). I also thought she was less invested in the men around her than they were with each other.

    I think that most of the “Natasha is just eye-candy and service for men” comes from fandom projection rather than the movie itself. Was Natasha’s catsuit really any tighter than Captain America’s spandex? Is her taking orders from Fury really that much worse than Coulson doing it? Because what I saw was Natasha Getting It Done, a quality I much admire. There are two distinct points in the movie when Natasha directly thwarts Loki in a way no one else does – and for the interrogation, I’d argue no one else could have done it.

    I totally agree, however, that since she’s the only woman with more than a dozen lines it’s important she live up to a higher standard. If three of the six Avengers were women, Natasha could have more flaws without representing all of womanhood.

  18. Chris says

    Sassinak:
    Silence of the Lambs, anyone ?

    As the author said, the test itself is not some kind of measure of whether or not a film is sexist, it is a demonstration of a problem that impacts the industry as a whole. Silence of the Lambs only has one named female character, so it is not going to pass the test regardless of the fact that the character is a strong and developed person.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Surprisingly few movies pass this test, but three out of the four Aliens movies do. In Aliens there are four named women characters – two Marines, Ripley, and Newt: and the Bechdel moments in Aliens are when Dietrich and Vasquez talk to each other about Ripley (Dietrich is the cool Marine pilot who flies the first lander) and when Ripley talks to Vasquez about the monster: and of course Ripley and Newt talking to each other. (I didn’t find out for years that in the original full-length version, Ripley had a daughter who was Newt’s age when Ripley left and who was dead by the time Ripley returned.) [...]

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