The Bechdel Test

I know we’ve talked about this before, but really liked this new essay on it.

Good summary of the conversation, I thought – and it was funny that it popped up a couple of days after I’d been discussing it with a screenwriter and an actress, both of a certain age …

I think the real point isn’t in whether any particular movie passes of fails, but the total numbers of movies that pass and fail, compared with the total numbers for the reverse test, and what that implies for the movie industry as a whole. It’s a useful proxy for the issue, in that it’s relatively unambiguous and objective, but it’s not the issue itself.

Well put!

Obligatory MovieBob link. (Damn, how did I ever get by without him? :slight_smile: )

Personally, the thing I find most aggravating is that THIS is what Alison Bechdel will be forever remembered for. Not handling hot-button issues with intelligence, depth, and nuance surpassing even the brilliant Tom Tomorrow. Not a rich cast of lesbians complex, endlessly fascinating, and incredibly sexy. (Seriously, you ever read a typical lesbian comic*? This is pretty amazing.) Not an in-depth look into subcultures that most of us, regardless of how we swing, would have the faintest inkling of otherwise. Not the end-of-book narratives, some of the most riveting storytelling I’ve experienced in any medium in my life. Not the two exhausting tomes she did about her parents. Not the plethora of causes she’s supported. No, when all is said and done, her entire life is going to be boiled down to one stupid “rule” she made up because she had a deadline to fill.

Hey, know why she started out with generic, interchangable characters? Because in the early days she was all over the place. She admitted it herself in The Indelible Alison Bechdel. She was fresh and new and there were a lot of things she wanted to cover: butch/femme politics, the media, religion, the relationship cycle, and, yes, movies. But in time…and if you’ve read the books, you can see that it didn’t take very long…she outgrew this model. She gained more confidence in her drawing. She’d run out of general issues like butch/femme. She wanted, no, needed something with a lot more potential. And so Mo and Lois came to be, and the rest is history**.

My point is, elevating this one cheap, knockoff, one-and-done, trivial, meaningless brainstorm-era comic to mythic status, to the point where a magazine is judging movies based on the “Bechdel Test”, strikes me as at best wrongheaded and at worst downright insulting. If you’re truly interested in her opinion of the state of the movie industry, I’m sure she’d be happy to do a proper-length dissertation on the subject. (For a fee, of course. Her time is valuable.)

Wow, I sure sounded like MovieBob here, didn’t I? Don’t worry, I consider that a compliment. :smiley:

  • Especially Hothead goddam Paisan, but I’ll tackle that one in another thread.

** Am I supposed to say “herstory”? That always sounded cornball to me. And anyway, shouldn’t it be “hertory”? Just sayin’.

I disagree. Not with everything you say. I’ve read all of Bechdel’s books and comics and I agree she’s certainly more than just the Bechdel Test. But I disagree with your argument that the Bechdel Test itself doesn’t deserve the attention it’s received. It encapsulates a wide-ranging issue - the way women are portrayed in popular culture - into a single pithy point.

I disagree that lesbian comics are “interesting.” The ones (including Ms. Bechdel’s) show female relationships which are devoid of the “bitchiness” that any casual observer of women can see when you get a group of non-related women together to do anything. That makes them unrealistic and rather dull.

As far as women being “forced” to talk about a man in films: That’s life. Women are gaining economic and personal (at least in the Western world) If they chose to allow entertainment to portray them in negative manners that’s their hard. After all, there ARE more women than men. They can vote with their dollars if they aren’t getting what they “want.”

You want change…make Hollywood change.
Don’t whine about it.

Yup, because the audience for lesbian comics is really, really small, but the audience for movies is very large. Heck, the audience for indie comics in general is already quite small even before you focus in on a particular demographic. I’m sure there are any number of other independent comic creators who are every bit as talented as Ms. Bechdel, and who will never receive any sort of widespread recognition at all.

I have the same general sentiments as the article’s author. I also have the same problem with feminists who overapply things like not having the protagonist be a woman.

I read a lot of feminist critiques of the game The Last of Us. I mean, okay, the main character’s daughter totally got fridged, no argument there. But a lot of the critiques centered around the fact that you play as the adult male and not the 14 year old girl. It’s plain just not a valid feminist critique IMO. You can’t take a statistical argument like the Bechdel Test or the lack of female protagonists and say “this work is bad/not feminist because it doesn’t have a female protagonist/pass the Bechdel test/whatever”.

I really don’t think it’s fair to say, for instance, “Thor isn’t feminist because Thor is a movie that’s not about a woman.” I have no idea if anyone ever made that specific criticism, but I see similar criticisms all the time. “Oh, another blockbuster not about a woman, let’s tear it to shreds.” It’s a systemic problem: yes, it’s important to have more major films about women, and there’s not enough right now, but it’s just plain silly to point at any particular film and criticize it for not adhering to that.

And one other thing - the Bechdel Test is not just a metric of great social and political import. It’s a handy way to pick a movie.

Sometimes women want to see movies with women in them, not just plot devices of the feminine gender. The Bechdel test is a pretty good way to find one.

Do good movies fail the test? Very often and often - but not always - with good reason.

Do bad movies pass the test? Surprisingly often. In fact, third rate horror and slasher flicks frequently pass.

Heck, I once saw the argument that Gravity failed as a feminist movie, not because it fails the Bechdel test, but because there was no excuse for the protagonist not being a lesbian.

I don’t see it the same way. I don’t regard the Bechdel Test as saying anything much about individual movies. (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Machete Kills, Sharknado, and World War Z all passed the Bechdel Test.) I see it more as a metric about the state of movies in general.

Who’s to say she wasn’t?

Nemo, you might not see it the same way, but you did just prove one of my statements.

I’m not saying the Bechdel Test doesn’t highlight a wide-spread social and cultural and economic reality, but I think you’re missing something if you just dismiss applying it to individual movies.

A movie that passes isn’t necessary good or feminist or even realistic about women, but it does have women interacting with women. Most women interact with women, a lot; it nice to see that simple reality reflected in art occasionally



I was hoping for a whoosh. Maybe the beginnings of parody comic being piloted here? Super meta, a parody comic about why we don’t need Bechdel’s comic thereby demonstrating we do? Maybe? Please?..

I presume by “bitchiness” the poster actually meant “half-naked pillow fights.”

(I really need to go to better quality movies, or at least ones made sometime after 1987.)

… mud wrestling …

Meh I’m a sexist as hell woman. I don’t WANT to see women in my movies. I go to see men doing manly things. If I want women’s conversations I’ll hang out in the brak room at work.

Brak’s a woman?

This totally changes everything I thought I knew about Space Ghost.

In his own show (as opposed to SGC2C), Brak was supposed to be a teenage boy. Sort of. With a giant mother of his own species and a tiny Latino father.

And the Brak room (his bedroom) had awesome wallpaper, as I recall.

Anyway: I’m not convinced by the 'it’s so awful that Bechdel is known only for this Test’ argument. Surely the existence of the test doesn’t keep anyone from seeking out Bechdel’s other work. In fact, Bechdel (and her work) have become known to a much wider audience than would otherwise have been the case, because of the Test’s prominence in pop culture.