The Bechdel Test
If you’ve ever sat in a room with me for an extended period of time, you have probably heard me rave about the Bechdel Test. I can’t help it. I’m obsessed. I’ve worked at JC Video uptown for five years; I have two book cases full of movies; my dad used to play Cast Away on all of our TVs instead of grounding me. Movies are very obviously crucial to me, but as life gets busier, I struggle with watching films that disappoint me. For some time now, I’ve been searching for systems to determine if I would like a movie before I watch it. None hit the mark as frequently as this one does.
The Bechdel Test is an easy, quick way to evaluate on surface level if a movie is worth my time. Alison Bechdel coined the Bechdel Test in 1985 in her comic strip, The Rule. The comic quickly lays out the requirements of the test. For a movie to pass, it must 1) have two named female characters that 2) talk to each other 3) about something other than a man. Pretty simple, right?
It is simple. Which is why it’s so incredibly baffling that so many movies don’t actually pass the test. In a statistic done with over 6,000 movies, only 57% actually pass. A lot of people will shrug when they hear about the Bechdel Test because its simplicity makes it hard to believe we genuinely like or even watch movies that don’t pass it. Maybe those movies were made, but no one really watches them, right? Surely, we can all notice if we’re watching a movie for three hours and there haven’t been two women in one meaningful conversation. Even Anthony Michael Hall’s Weird Science, arguably one of the sexist movies I’ve ever seen, passes. That’s saying a lot about the easy nature of this test.
Because of this, many people are surprised to know that some of their favorite movies don’t pass. Movies like Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: II, Toy Story, the entirety of The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, and the original Star Wars all fail the test.
The test can even be used for things like books and T.V. shows. It’s often used as a simplistic way to determine how well women on the show are being treated. One study showed that the popular show Doctor Who suffered from a drastic drop in pass rate when the new showrunner, Steven Moffat, took over. Moffat’s pass rate was a low 57% while previous show runner Russell T. Davies had a higher pass rate of 89%
Of course, the test has flaws. For example, if two women who are merely love interests for the two male protagonists share a conversation about shoes, that’s a pass for the movie, even if it’s the only lines the women have at all. Alien passes because the two women characters share one lone conversation about the monster, while Gravity starring Sandra Bullock doesn’t. The test can’t predict how inclusive the movie will be; only that there was inclusion.
So, if you’re looking for a movie to watch and can’t help but be frustrated that not one woman spoke to Black Widow in Avengers, keep in mind the Bechdel Test. It can’t guarantee to give you a great movie, but it can guarantee that the universe the movie is set in acknowledges that women exist.