Recently I have been hearing a lot about the Bechdel test or as it is sometimes known, the feminism test. For those who don’t know the test is typically applied to films but can work for most narrative based media. The test follows a few basic rules the first being does the film have at least two named female characters, do they talk to each other and is it about something other than a man. The idea being, that if it passes these rules, it can be classed as a “feminist work”.
The only problem with this is that the test doesn’t work and this isn’t me tearing down some well thought out set of guidelines but simply pointing out what the test is designed for. See the test first came into being through a comic strip which says a lot about how serious we should take the test to begin with, but even ignoring that the test simply does not work the way I see many people using it. See while the movie will tell you if screen time is given over to women it does not take anything else into account, like why.
A good example here would be ‘Snakes on a Plane’ which holds an almost two line conversation about the stewardesses final flight. Should we thus take the movie as Feminist? Another problem comes with the reasons that can and often will be attributed to almost every fail. For instance it is perhaps very easy to point out ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ as a fail but when you take into account that it is set in a male prison it sorta makes sense. Or waiting for Godot which only has two characters, or how about ‘The Dark Knight trilogy’ which is only adapting from the source material and thus is limited by what female characters are on offer. I’m not presenting these as all decent reasons mind you just off the cuff answers to why they do not pass.
See the Bechdel test doesn’t take any of this into account and isn’t intended to. To take this to its illogical extreme you can have two women discussing how much women suck for two minutes before carrying on with your movie. I would bring up the famous porno which manages to pass in the first few minutes by having girls discuss sending one of their number to try out for a certain cheerleading squad of note but I imagine that could open up the unfortunate discussion of porn and feminism and that isn’t where I want to go with this. Just like how one of the Twilight movies managed a pass only through a few second conversation on shoes and shopping. Now if these last two sugestions provoke discussion then that is only ever a good things and perhaps supports my point that the test even at best can only work across a field.
The Bechdel test is instead intended to show trends across genre or time such as last year’s Oscar nominees where only four out of the nine options for best picture managed to pass this simple test. I’m sure we can agree that due to the simple nature of the test this is a rather low number but all it shows is that the big wigs in their big offices, drinking their big drinks don’t want us to waste time on stories about women. Maybe they’ve been burned before? Maybe we don’t have a Captain Marvel or Birds of Prey movie despite the popularity of super hero movies is simply because they recall the box office return from Catwoman. Maybe they saw the reviews for Sex and the City 2 and thus we only have one Bridesmaids despite getting three Hangover movies. If this is the case of course then my advice to them would be to watch the afore mentioned movies, maybe then they would realise that they were just bad.
Does all this mean we should abandon the Bechdel test? No, of course not it just means that we need to start using it properly and before too long I can be hearing all about the Mako Mori test on facebook and the radio instead.