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Movies and the Bechdel Test

Most college students love going to the movies.  We love getting wrapped up in the movie, letting the scenes consume us and allowing ourselves to identify with the characters.  Characters in movies provoke many emotions in us – love, hate, sympathy, appreciation, etc.  Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist and author, has come up with a new way to get us thinking about the movies we enjoy and the characters in them.  The aptly named Bechdel test, which can apply to any work of fiction but is geared mainly toward movies, challenges us with three questions: Are there at least two women in it (with names), do they talk to each other, and do they talk about anything besides a man?

bechdel testBechdel’s test became popular in 1985 in Alison’s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in the strip The Rule.  This is when Bechdel first introduced the criteria and introduced something not everyone has thought about: How much are women valued in movies?  In a 2012 study of gender portrayals in American movies made from 1950 to 2006, there was an average of two women to every one man, and the women were portrayed as sexually active about twice as much as the men were.

You would be surprised how many movies do not pass this test, such as Austin Powers, The Dark Knight, and even Shrek.  According to statistics on, as of 2013, 56% films as passed all three of the test’s requirements, 11% as failed one (the women’s conversations are about men), 23% as failing two (the women don’t talk to each other) and 10% as failed all three (there are not two named female characters).  Even some movies that pass the Bechdel test only do so because the women also talk about marriage and babies.

Why is this?  For one thing, the film industry is very male-dominated; most scriptwriters and a majority of film directors, writers, and producers are male.  Additionally, in 2008 a UCLA scriptwriting student was told by her professors that most moviegoers want “white, straight, male leads” and do not want to hear women “talking about whatever it is women talk about.”

Although the Bechdel test has arguably been popular since the 1980’s, Virginia Woolf, who has had a major influence in Bechdel’s life, pointed out in her essay A Room of One’s Own her discontent with how women were portrayed in books, saying,

“All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. […] And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. […] They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that”

Even those this was published in 1929, Woolf’s ideas still ring true.  Many works of fiction, namely books and fiction, give the impression that a woman’s life revolves around getting or having a boyfriend (I’m looking at you, Twilight).  However, guys are not always at the center of girls’ lives.  Sorry, boys, but women these days have other priorities as well, such as a career, an education, and their friends.  Sure, having a boyfriend is great.  But personally, that’s not what my life is all about, and I’m sure many girls can agree.

Next time you are out at the movies, albeit with your friends, your family, or by yourself, try and see if any of the movies or trailers pass the Bechdel test.  You can even make a game out of it!  You can even apply it toward books, comics, and even video games.  This is a great way of seeing how women are represented in the media and raises the question of what value a woman brings to a movie.

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1 Comment

  1. Enjoy reading your articles ,keep up the good work.

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