The Bechdel Test

Well, I realised I hadn’t explained what the Bechdel Test is.

The Bechdel Test, Bechdel-Wallace Test, or the Mo Movie Measure, is a sort of litmus test for female presence in fictional media. The test is named for Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, and it’s generally used for films.

In order to pass, the film or show must meet the following criteria:

  1. It includes at least two women ( Some make the addendum that the women must be named characters)
  2. who have at least one conversation, (Because of quibbles regarding what length of time makes a valid conversation, some have proposed the addendum that it last at least 60 seconds.)
  3. about something other than a man or men. (The exact interpretation of this can vary; some feel that it’s okay to mention a man or men so long as they’re not the primary subject of the conversation, while others will demand a conversation where men aren’t mentioned at all. Some make the addendum that the conversation also cannot reference marriage, babies, or romance.)

Think that it sounds easy, right? Well, you’d be wrong. For example, you’d think that Disney’s Mulan, which has a strong and independent female protagonist, would pass…it doesn’t even fit criteria number one, if you consider the addendum.

However, in saying that, as explains, “the Bechdel Test is not meant to give a scorecard of a work’s overall level of feminism. It is entirely possible for a film to pass without having overt feminist themes – in fact, the original example of a movie that passes is Alien, which, while it has feminist subtexts, is mostly just a sci-fi/action/horror flick. A movie can easily pass the Bechdel Test and still be incredibly misogynistic. Conversely, it’s also possible for a story to fail the test and still be strongly feminist in other ways, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. What’s a problem is that it becomes a pattern – when so many movies fail the test, while very few show male characters whose lives seem to revolve around women, that says uncomfortable things about the way Hollywood handles gender. There are also lesser-known variations of the rule, such as the Race Bechdel Test, in which two characters of colour talk about anything other than the white leads and the Reverse Bechdel Test, with the roles of men and women swapped.

For an ongoing list of movies which are rated against the Bechdel Test, you can check out which has over 4000 films rated!



One comment

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