March 30, 2017

Passing the Bechdel Test

If you're interested in studying female characters in film or tv or other pop culture representation who have significant roles that transcend the usual stereotyping, you might be interested in the following resources. The website The Bechdel Test Movie List tracks films that meet the Bechdel Test: they include at least two female characters who actually talk to each other about a subject other than a man or men. TV Tropes further discusses the Bechdel Test and other examples of it here.

The website FilmSchoolRejects lists 10 famous films that don't actually pass the Bechdel Test, including the original three Star Wars films (actually not such a surprise, considering that there's only one major female character in it), and Avatar.  Come to think of it, I think Casablanca doesn't, either.

Slate's Katy Waldman suggests the test needs an update, noting that cartoonist Alison Bechdel is somewhat ambivalent about the test's popularity and that it sets the bar rather low. But it does suggest that the audience understands the point, and it does give us something to hold on to, and that is at least something.

The A.V. Club disagrees. This particular essay is interesting, tracing the test to Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Room, and acknowledging criticism of the test. Some critics suggest that if a film fails it, that suggests the film is "sexist," or the film's message is anti-feminist. That may in fact not be true. A film's message may in fact be quite positive: the film may celebrate a woman's autonomy or agency if she is the only female character, There might not be another female character for her to discuss issues with. Similarly, she might discuss relationships (men) with female characters in order to explore and then highlight her own power. Such a film might "fail" the test, but it would demonstrate female empowerment, not fragility.Thus, the test by itself cannot be the only measure of sexism or lack of it for a film, tv, or other pop culture image.

Telefeminist Project @telefeminism, BechelTestFest @BechdelTestFest, and Bechdel Project @BechdelProjct also tweet about the Bechdel Test. If you're so inclined, follow test originator Alison Bechdel on Twitter @AlisonBechdel.

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