Thursday, December 10, 2015

pass the test

The Bechdel Test (est. 1985)

  1. Two female characters (named),
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

A few weeks ago I found myself telling a new acquaintance about a film I had just seen (it was Bridge of Spies and it had been about 3 months since I'd seen any movie). Instead of telling her about the film, or whether or not I even liked it, I told her it failed the Bechdel test. Of course she had the same response any normal person would. The what? The Bechdel test. What's that? Oh, you don't know the Bechdel test? Let me tell you about it...

Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, 1985, explained "the rules" that have come to be known as the Bechdel test.

I went on to tell said new female acquaintance how a story passes the test. Two named women, onscreen at the same time, speak to each other. Oh, and it's about something other than men. And really, the characters cannot be mother and daughter. I then told her one of the best known examples of an award winning film that fails the test. A film that, a few years ago, brought the Bechdel test into the mainstream for a while. That film is Argo. IMHO, it fails the test. On this, you can trust me. Or you can go watch it and see for yourself.

So what? Whether or not a film passes this test has no bearing on whether or not the film is good. Or great. It's a separate entity. So why do we care? First, I'd like to state the obvious. We don't care. We go to the movies to be entertained. We don't ask any questions about what we see. Was the movie accurate? Who cares. Was I entertained? Well, for $12.75 I had better be.

Yet, I still think about the Bechdel test. Maybe it's because I'm a feminist. Because, well, I am a feminist. But I'm also an avid fiction reader and film goer. As someone who likes entertainment, I happen to like seeing women on screen. Together. Being complex and dynamic. And having deep friendships with one another. And so, as such, I do think that the test evaluates the depth of the female characters. And what's wrong with a little depth in our movies? 

Not long ago, I heard something interesting on a podcast. In all honesty, it was a Gilmore Guys podcast, where two guys talk at length about each and every Gilmore Girls episode. As someone who has loved the show forever (and owns every episode on DVD), this podcast is enjoyable. So when one of the hosts mentioned the Bechdel Test, I was intrigued. He commented that though many episodes of Gilmore Girls pass the Bechdel Test with female characters, the show tends to fail considerably with the male characters (aka the reverse Bechdel). And admittedly, men aren't the focus of the show. On any given episode there may not be more than one man on screen at a time and this man may never speak to another man (that we see, anyway). 

So what does this mean? I don't know. Does this mean something to you? Or is it just something to talk about at a cocktail party to appear intelligent? I'm not sure yet. Since the Bechdel test doesn't indicate a script's quality, what does it do? I've heard it increases gender bias awareness in Hollywood. But is this supposed awareness doing anything to make the situation better? Is it closing the wage gap? Only time will tell. But right now, I'd say no.

So in the meantime, go out and watch a film. Any film. And ask yourself, does it pass the test? Why? Because you can.

If you're interested in what others are saying about the Bechdel test, check out: