Bechdel Test : A feminist methodology to judge a movie

Feminism is one of the most discussed topics on social media today. Almost every major action or event which is in the public eyes gets judged through its lenses. Movies, being a huge part of our pop culture and day to day life, cannot shy away from it. In the recent times Hollywood has been in the news a lot on account of sexism – starting from sexual harassment stories to instances of massively unequal payment for male and female actors for equal volume of work.

Bechdel Test is one methodology which few feminists are using to judge a movie on the parameter of ‘gender equality’. Also known as the Bechdel–Wallace test, the test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in whose comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For it first appeared in 1985. Bechdel credited the idea to a friend, Liz Wallace.

To pass the Bechdel test a movie must meet three criteria:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it whose characters have names
  2. There should be at least one scene where two woman characters talk to each other
  3. They should talk about something besides a man in any of those scenes

According to a study, almost 42% of the Hollywood movies are said to fail this test, while almost 10% movies fail to meet any of the three criteria. One famous movies series which fails badly is ‘Lord of the Rings trilogy’.

Here is an interesting fact about Lord of the Rings trilogy.

“Despite having three strong female characters in Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel, they’re all in completely different parts of Middle Earth and they never even meet, much less talk to each other. In the entire 10-hour trilogy, no two female characters ever actually speak to each other.”

Here are 10 another famous movies, from different genre including animation,  which fail the Bechdel test:

  • The Social Network
  • Avatar
  • 12 Angry Men
  • Gravity
  • The Avengers
  • Citizen Kane
  • Finding Nemo
  • (500) Days of Summer
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • Ratatouille

However, there are many feminists who despise Bechdel test being used as a test of gender equality in movies. They point out following two limitations as the main reason why this test is not foolproof:

  1. It prioritises quantity over quality:

The Bechdel Test only looks at numbers, and in no way determines whether or not the female characters that allow a movie to pass said test are “strong” or even “good” characters. A work may pass the test and still contain sexist content, and a work with prominent female characters may fail the test. For example only 3 out of 8 movies nominated for ’Best Picture’ category in 2014 Academy Awards pass the test, including a great movie like Birdman while a movie like American Pie 2, a sex comedy based on objectification of women passes the Bechdel Test.

  1. Using the Bechdel Test to rate feminism in media confirms the worst stereotypes about feminism, or as it is called ‘feminazi’:

The second step of the test, where the two women have to talk to each other, essentially says that women are only valuable or treated well when they’re around another woman, which is absurd. There surely can be a better way to judge a movie.