The Bechdel Test

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For those that weren’t aware, I consider myself a feminist. I don’t think there’s any job that a man does that a woman can’t do, nor do I think there should be any difference in pay. I think that the way our society objectifies women is reprehensible, and I am a firm believer in women’s rights.

So I’m a little embarrassed that I never looked into the Bechdel Test before last night.

The Bechdel Test is a measure of whether a movie has strong female characters in them. I’ve known about the Bechdel Test for some time, but because of the number of movies that failed to pass, I was under the assumption that it’s a complicated thing.

Last night, I found out what the Bechdel Test is. And I am appalled.

It has three criteria. That’s it.

1. The movie must have two named female characters,

2. who talk to one another,

3. about something besides men.

That is the full extent of the Bechdel Test. The conversation can be about nail polish and pass the Test. (In American Hustle, that’s the subject matter of the passing conversation.) It doesn’t have to be long. The qualifying dialogue that passes Jurassic Park is between Ellie and Lex and it’s a statement by one and a response by the other.

The movie must have two named female characters, who talk to one another, about something besides men.

And this has been a difficult thing for Hollywood to do for years and years.

Now, to be fair, according to BechdelTest.com, of the 31 movies they list as being released in 2015, all but seven pass. One of my favorite this year fails the test, because Ex Machina only has two named female characters and one of them has no dialogue at all. The female lead whispers into the ear of the other once – that’s all the conversation the two have, and it’s implied to be about the movie’s antagonist. Artistically, I understand why Ex Machina failed (the female lead only knows English and the other female character in the movie doesn’t know a word of it, and the film’s cast overall is very small) but really, how hard can it be to get two female characters to have a two-line conversation about something besides men?

Will I boycott movies that don’t pass the Bechdel Test? Not universally, though if I find that the female characters in a movie are vapid and shallow, I’ll tend to avoid it. But it is something that I’ll be looking for in my future movie watching endeavors.

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