The Bechdel Test

Written by Emma on January 5th, 2011

A friend posted this article about the purpose of the Bechdel test (see the article if you don’t know what that is) and how it’s not all about ‘passing’ the test. In a nutshell, the author sums it up like this:

It’s not that the audience doesn’t want to hear what “women” characters have to say, as one film pro told me… It’s that we don’t want to hear what’s said by irrelevant, underdeveloped characters who have nothing to do with the plot.

When you start thinking about movies you’ve seen recently, you might be shocked at how few pass the test – even those that have caught your heart for their other good qualities (including stereotype breaking).

Off the top of my head, here’s some movies I’ve watched in the past few months, and whether they passed: (I’m leaving out some really obvious ones, like Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction.)

  • Inception – fail
  • Hero – fail
  • Toy Story 3 – fail (!?)
  • Love Actually – fail (another ?!)
  • Shrek Forever After – pretty sure it fails
  • The Social Network – fail
  • Chico & Rita – fail
  • Despicable Me – unless you consider the orphanage lady’s commands or a few joking lines exchanged between the 3 girls ‘conversation’, fail
  • Avatar – pretty sure this fails, even though I loved the woman scientist and the kick-ass helicopter pilot
  • How to Train Your Dragon – fails, even though it reverses gender stereotypes (a strong, competitive but cold-hearted female is taught how to care by a weak, shy male with a big heart who doesn’t want to kill and connects with animals?? WHAT!?) and does a good portrayal of disability
  • Winter’s Bone – probably a technical fail, but I’d be willing to argue its case, as the whole story revolves around a missing father, even though he is never actually IN the film. So just about every conversation is, indeed, about him. However, the main character is a woman and so are many of the supporting characters. In fact, it has some really interesting portrayals of women in this society and how they interact.

However, what happens when you take it to literature? Even with all Larsson does for strong female characters in his Millennium Trilogy (especially in the third book), it is probably a fail. Though the characters are diverse and independent, they’re also islands, connected only by Bloomkvist. When they interact, it is about Bloomkvist.

Sigh. Depressing.

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