By Pamela Eapen:
Are you confused as to how to determine whether a movie supports gender equality or not? Are you looking for an easy way to make that decision?
Look no further – the Bechdel Test will fulfil some of the most ardent of your activist needs when you want to dole out judgement on a sexist Hollywood.
The Bechdel Test, a way to indicate the presence of gender inequality in a movie, was introduced to mainstream culture in 1985 by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ comic, in the episode “The Rule“.
The Bechdel Test’s requirements for a movie are simple:
1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it …
2. … who talk to each other …
3. … about something besides a man.
Simple, right? After all, how hard is it to make women talk to each other?
Apparently pretty hard – because people can make jokes about how women talk incessantly, but they can’t let them have even one decent conversation in a movie. According to bechdeltest.com, of the 5932 movies listed on the site, 42.4% did not pass one or more of the conditions of the Test. That’s 2515 movies where women either don’t talk about something besides a man, or don’t talk at all. Cue stomping of foot.
However, we must also remember that the test isn’t actually fool-proof. You would think that films with strong female characters would obviously pass this test – but a lot of the time, these characters don’t ever talk to other female characters. Consequently, the ‘Star Wars’ series, ‘Harry Potter Deathly Hallows II’, and the entire ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy – all with their abundance of strong female characters – don’t make the cut. Hermione Granger would have a fit. (And then campaign about it.)
On the other hand, a surprising set of movies do pass the test. When one considers movies like ’50 Shades Of Grey’ and ‘Twilight’, the first thing one thinks of is hardly female empowerment. But they pass the Bechdel Test! Both of these movies fulfil all three requirements, which brings us to wondering whether the conditions of the Bechdel Test need some serious revision.
Geena Davis suggests two easy steps for filmmakers to boost female presence in their movie: firstly, to look at their script and change random character names to female ones; and secondly, to stipulate that 50% of the extras in the movie need to be female. Simply requiring at least half of a film’s cast to be female (as is half the world’s population) would in itself eliminate a good deal of the sexist representation of women we see in the media – if only because there would be more women available on screen to have meaningful conversations about things other than the lead male character. And perhaps we could also consider including the significance of conversation topics – many movies that pass the Test do so because their characters were talking about babies and motherhood, or the female body in some way; as opposed to the actual plot of the movie.
The Bechdel Test is certainly not a terrible way to determine sexual equality (Sweden instated it as a compulsory screening process for A rated movies, to mixed reactions), but it isn’t the best either. I’d propose these new amendments to the Test:
4. At least half the cast should be women…
5. …and the female lead should have more involvement in the plot than being someone’s romantic interest.
And hey, you never know – with more women talking onscreen, the ones complaining about the lack of female presence in movies might finally shut up.