The Bechdel Test Explained

…in one handy dandy infographic!

I’ve been seeing the Bechdel Test bandied about a bit today, and while I know that no one likes the person who has to explain jokes to people, I feel like this is important.  Please feel free to share.



10 responses to “The Bechdel Test Explained

  1. I’m not sure if you’re arguing for or against the Bechdel test here – but it’s not supposed to be indicative about anything bad or critical about any one movie. It’s supposed to be used on a collection of the currently popular movies to show you the general state of the industry.

    • My point is that it’s not supposed to be used for anything. The joke was that even if a movie passed this test, it did not necessarily reflect the kind of qualities that these women were actually looking for in a film. It was a 20+ year old joke that people fairly recently began to try to take seriously as some kind of litmus test for representation in media. The example given in the comic, Alien, is used because, much like the films being parodied in the movie posters in the background, it is a violent action flick that actually has a lot in common with those movies that turn the characters off despite passing the test. Attempting to seriously consider the Rule as presented in the comic as a means to test and judge popular media because of Bechdel is as silly as seriously bringing into consideration eating Irish babies because of Swift.

      Also, hi! Welcome back to blogland!

      • Thanks for the welcome! 🙂 And sorry for the late reply – it never notified me that you had replied, I just checked on a whim when I saw your last post pop up on my feed. Weird. I’ll have to check my settings.

        I guess it still makes sense to me because of how basic a test it is – there just needs to be two women that talk to each other about something that isn’t a man. That doesn’t seem to be hard, but it is surprisingly rare. Especially since if you changed it to ‘two men,’ nearly every movie would pass. Even most rom-coms or other movies marketed towards women, eventually one guy might say to another man when the women are being ‘crazy,’ “wanna get a beer?” “sure.”

        As for it being what women are looking in a film – maybe it’s not something expressly said, but I think it is something that is appreciated. I know I’ve been frustrated by the lack of female friendships in media. Romance is the motivation for an overwhelming majority of female characters – while there are so many men duos.

        And I’m not against any one movie with this either – I like a lot of them. I love scifi and fantasy obviously, but also a lot of those buddy movies: Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour, Men In Black, etc. But I did wish growing up that there were movies like that with women.

        I actually think it works for people of color too. Maybe it was meant as a joke (I hadn’t heard that before) but I think it works as a test of the waters.

      • Well, part of the joke is that there are many big blockbuster movies which primarily feature men doing manly things, and in those films, the men are at the center and therefore any women in those films will likely be discussion things involving those men if they are there at all. One of the reasons that Alien is used as the example is that the women in Alien are, depending on your view, effectively men in an action movie, or the Alien is the stand-in for the “man” that the two women are talking about. Either way, the punchline is the ineffectiveness of the character’s hard-line test.

        I think that there are plenty of great opportunities to show women in film as something other than subbordinate to men, but I think those who seriously want to implement the “test” as a serious measurement of anything are missing the point.

        One of the problems (if you want to call it a problem) in film is that both men and women are interested in watching stories about men doing ‘male’ things while few men are interested in watching stories about women doing ‘female’ things; half of the market vanishes, so it’s much harder for that kind of movie to become as big a hit. When films show women doing ‘male’ things, you end up with a confused and muddled reaction, as much, if not moreso, from women who disapprove of such a portrayal as from men. You end up with all sorts of questions raised as to what is ‘okay’ for a female character (‘is she too sexy?’ ‘is she just a man with boobs?’ ‘is she just an unrealistic power/domination fantasy?’), so the executive decision safe road is just depict men doing manly thing while women comment on them.

        I guess the real question comes down to this: can female friendships be portrayed onscreen in stories that will appeal to a large enough audience to warrant box office releases? There are countless thousands of movies that fit the bill, but so many of them are obscure, often made for tv affairs, because they don’t have the market draw to justify big budgets and theatrical releases. Every so often, though, you get something amazing like Descent that not only passes the Test but also embodies the spirit in which some people think the Test is trying to capture. But even then, you could say “But wasn’t the whole thing about a man in the end?”

      • I guess maybe this disagreement comes down to which side of the ‘chicken or the egg’ debate you’re on.

        What I’m referencing here is the idea that both males and females prefer to see men doing ‘manly’ things, while men are unwilling to watch females do female things.

        Putting aside the whole what is masculine/feminine debate, I think the heart lies at who is most often the focus of the story – which is usually white men. Is this because white men are inherently more interesting? Not only to themselves, but to the wider world?

        My thoughts are no, that it’s because we’ve been raised with that bias. I learned pretty quickly that it’s my own bias – often when I start to write a story, if I don’t want the focus to be romance, the main character is defaulted to a white man. I have to shift my own mentality, because nearly every story I grew up loving is about a white man.

        And is this because they are more interesting? No, it’s because it’s what was accepted as the norm, and white men never needed to adapt to look at things from a different point of view. As a female, if I wanted to read fantasy or sci fi or action or adventure novels, as I did, (changing now, but when I was growing up) I had to learn to relate to a male protagonist. Males, meanwhile, could pick pretty much any genre and see themselves represented, they wouldn’t have to broaden their horizons. Now many have become so stubbornly attached to that idea that they refuse to allow others in, as seen in the reactions to black Spiderman, black main character for a Star Wars movie, etc.

        But there’s hope. I have a brother who is much younger than me, and his father is very, very heavy into the ‘traditional Christian family.’ I have been sad to hear some of the things that have been said around him regarding gender roles, and a few things directed at me. So it’s been unsurprising to me that my younger brother has repeated these same phrases, and always picks the male character, etc. etc.

        However, when asked who his favorite character from the new Star Wars movie is, that he absolutely loved? Rey!! Even with his background, simply having that exposure to other viewpoints is really important, and he is certainly not incapable of finding female leads interesting.

        Historically there just hasn’t been enough, and females and people of color have learned to how to relate to the stories that are available. So it feels like white men have just gotten comfortable and can say, ‘well that movie is about a woman, it’s not for me.’ Women, if we wanted to branch outside of the romance genre, really didn’t have that option.

  2. Wow, the Bechdel test is literally about two lesbians talking about the lack of lesbian representation in movies! Lesbians have little representation to begin with, but it’s especially lacking in Blockbuster hits, which would have to appeal to the masses, and let’s face it, when’s the last time you saw a movie about women whose lives weren’t about men (therefore their dialogue wouldn’t be about men either)? She notices that lack of representation as a lesbian and has a (pretty lax) rule about what media she will consume on these grounds: that a movie have 2 females talking about stuff other than a male. It’s setting the bar pretty damn low, and yes, it is critical in its core. Critical of the industry for this lack of lesbian characters, lack of developed female characters who aren’t just extensions to a man. So yeah, the two lesbians decide to just go home and save money!

    I mean, I don’t know why anyone would try to say the Bechdel test means nothing, but I guess when you separate the context of the comic literally called DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR, in which this comic makes a criticism of the movie industry, then yeah, you can say the Bechdel test means whatever you want… Thanks for continuing to erase lesbians!!

    • I’m sorry you missed the point of this.

      Yes, they would like better representation. But the joke is that simply meeting the thin criteria that one character has put forward STILL does not mean that a film will have the sort of representation that they’re looking for.

    • Have you seen the Girls und Panzer movie? Great show, great action, there is one male character with <1minute of screentime. The final duel is one of my all-time favorite scenes in any movie, all that tension with zero dialogue. The K-On movie might be up your alley too, five assertive women taking their rock music across borders, or Mouretsu Pirates, that has butt-kicking space pirate women and even some lesbians.

      Maybe you should expand your horizons instead of condemning others for your lack of experience.

  3. I was a fan of the Dykes to Watch Out For strip when this first came out.

    The subtext of that conversation is:
    A: I want to have sex with you, come watch a movie so we can have an excuse to have sex.
    B. I don’t want to watch a movie.
    A. Let’s skip the movie and have sex at my house.
    B. Yes.

    The typical punchline of that comic strip revolved around lesbians needing elaborate workarounds to make sexual propositions. The “Test” was just more camouflage.

    • While I haven’t read a lot, I really enjoyed what I’ve read. And yeah, pretty much, though the “Let’s have sex at my house” seems to be more the rimshot than the punchline in this case.

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