The Bechdel Test (And Why It’s So Important To Feminism)

Happy Thursday!

According to Wikipedia, the Bechdel Test, “asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. Many contemporary works fail this test of gender bias.”

What I took away from this definition is that many popular works today (from books to movies to television) fail this test. This over time can be detrimental to woman’s rights. I think if two women just talk about a man, it takes away from the women; that’s because they definitely have more to talk and think about then their male counterparts. The sad thing is that a lot of movies nowadays don’t even pass the test, which is a little reflective of how today’s society views women’s relationships (either platonic or romantic).

It’s truly ridiculous when you think about the fact that even a 30-second conversation between women could pass the Bechdel Test if they just talked about anything else then men.

The Bechdel Test is extremely important, particularly from a feminist point of view. If the media refuses to create new and interesting character relationships between women, what does that say about the society in which we live?

I plan to do a follow-up post on this subject, but please let me know what you think!

xxoo

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40 thoughts on “The Bechdel Test (And Why It’s So Important To Feminism)

  1. I’m SO happy you wrote about the Bechdel Test, Sam! 😀 I remember first hearing about it through a TED talk on YouTube, and you’re right: it’s tragic how many works can’t even manage to have named-women characters talk about anything other than a man for more than 30 seconds. Don’t get me wrong: talking about men can be quite entertaining…but the fact that there’s no more conversation substance than “man talk” is certainly disconcerting.

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    1. Thanks Chris! I wanted to give my personal opinion, because I’m not very knowledgeable nor qualified to speak otherwise about the subject. And I definitely agree with your last point, talking about men can be fun, but only for so long! 😀

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  2. One flaw with the test is that it only works for conversations, so a piece of art can only pass the test if women are talking to each other, which some have argued undermines their individual identities as people, because women can only express an identity if there are two or three of them around to have that identity. The film Gravity, for instance, fails the test, not because women have a small role – there’s like one, female, character in it for the whole thing – but because the film itself is about isolation, so those kind of communal identities can’t be created.

    That being said, it works very well for highlighting inequality; I find that in ‘intelligent’ TV shows like Sherlock or whatever, people praise it and assume it’s all sophisticated and stuff, which it might be, without realising that all of the sophistication and complexity comes from the male characters. Sherlock is full of clever characters, but they’re almost all clever male characters, which is an oversight the Bechdel Test highlights rather well.

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    1. I agree, the conversation aspect of the Bechdel test can be considered a flaw, but I also personally feel like it’s hard to examine a relationship without conversation in some ways. I have not seen the movie Gravity, but I know that in some cases such as the theme of isolation, the Bechdel Test can prove almost impossible to pass. I was thinking about movies, books, shows, etc. that have these female characters, but they don’t utilize them in a better way.

      And I happen to love the show Sherlock, and the example you gave is absolutely correct! The main focus of the show is Sherlock and Watson, with limited screen time for Mary, Mrs. Hudson and Molly Hooper, even though there are definitely several times where they could form a relationship, even a small one. Personally, the three women are some of my favorite characters in the series, and I hope in the next season (whenever that airs), the writers will try to establish some sort of relationship.

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      1. I picked UCL partly because there are no study abroad options for English – I suck at languages, and while I’d love to learn, it’s probably not a good idea to try to pick one up in the middle of another degree. At least to me.

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      2. At my school, we’re required to at least attempt to learn another language, which in my case was Italian, so Italy was my choice! I’m studying for my first degree, so I figured it’d be a good time.

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      3. Well its only free if I earn no money later in life, so I can either lose everything in student debts, or have nothing in the first place they can take – I’m going for the latter. Also, this way I’ll have no idea what my future holds, which is rather exciting.

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  3. Interesting, perhaps better writers need to be bloodied as a lot of TV is terrible, although I read somewhere that most TV is geared to women, so either TV people think people want to see that sort of thing or they don’t have enough good ideas.

    Pride and Prejudice is an interesting case, lots of harping on about men but in a way that empowers Lizzie, if it can be written right then I see no problem but sadly modern TV/films/best selling books seem increasingly geared to the lowest common denominator and that drags the rest of us down with them in terms of choice.

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    1. Hm, I didn’t know that most TV is geared towards women, but it definitely doesn’t feel that way sometimes.

      And I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, but I know the characters, and I do think Lizzie’s position is a unique one, she uses the males around her to get ahead. Maybe writers can take a couple of tips from Jane Austen on how to write progressive female characters!

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  4. This is my first time hearing about the Bechdel test. I’m going to have to read up on this more. Last night, my wife and I were engrossed in an episode of State of Affairs which features discussions and concerns between Katherine Heigl’s and Alfre Woodard’s strong female characters about their relationship with a murdered man who was their fiance and son respectively.

    We enjoy the show because of the plausibility of it being potentially real apart from most other TV dramas that I think are so absurdly unlikely. I will not tolerate anything; however, anything in my house that promotes sexism, racism, xenophobia or homophobia in my house. That’s how I roll. So, I will have to consider abandoning State of Affairs as it may be sexist.

    By the way, during commercial breaks we we watched and discussed the inquest decision and reaction to the Michael Brown shooting.

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    1. Please note that the definition/ideas about the Bechdel Test that I wrote about are extremely simplified, however I encourage you to learn more about it! It’s a really interesting topic. I have not seen State of Affairs, but I may never watch it based on your review. Of course, there’s still a lot of be done in the ways of sexism in television, but I am hopeful that it will get better over time.

      And I also watched the decision and reaction to the Michael Brown case, which I also just posted about (it’s just a starter post on the subject).

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