The Bechdel Test: A Gender Bias In "Modern" America

It's the 21st century, y'all. The fact that the Bechdel Test is still so prominent a conversation topic just kills me.

What is the Bechdel test, you ask?

In short, it’s a basic test used to gauge how developed female characters are.

In long: The test was established by Liz Wallace and named for comic strip artist Alison Bechdel. It began as a base line for movies, but has since been applied to TV, books, and other various media. It has three qualifiers:

1) There are two named/prominent women.

2) They have a conversation.

3) That conversation does NOT revolve around a man/men in general.

The original frames from Al
The original frames from Al

Pretty easy, right?


(Warning: How to Train Your Dragon 2 Spoilers in the next paragraph!!)

You would be flabbergasted at how many movies don’t pass, or don’t even come close to passing. Take, for example, How to Train Your Dragon 2. (Yes, I know. Kid movie. SHUT UP.) In it, there are three major players who are women: Astrid, Ruffnut, and Hiccup’s mom Valka. Now, even though Astrid and Ruffnut are “friends”, they NEVER SPEAK to each other. Not once. Ruffnut always has some kind of witty comment, but it’s always one of the guys that quips back. Additionally, Astrid is dating Hiccup, so it only makes sense that eventually Astrid would say ‘hi’ to Valka. NOPE. Wrong again.

See what I mean?

There’s even a website devoted to movies who pass/fail the Bechdel test: http://bechdeltest.com/

So, let’s take a quick look at some movies that were released earlier this year.

  • Vampire Academy – Pass! (As does the book series, and the spinoff series, both of which I am a fan.)
  • Maleficent – Pass!
  • The Fault in Our Stars – Pass!
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Fails at #2
  • Amazing Spider-Man 2 – #1
  • Edge of Tomorrow – #1
  • Lego Movie – #2, though #3 is debatable

Now for some (potentially) surprising box office hit failures:

The Social Network

Why: the women are there for one of two reasons: 1) to be ignored, or 2) to be laid. The film’s writer, Aaron Sorkin, mentioned this in an interview and even HAD THE BALLS to say that the women were “prizes” for the men in the movie.

James Cameron’s Avatar

Why: Despite the amount of strong female characters (Dr. Grace, Trudy Chacon, Neytiri & Mo’at), the only actual conversation is between Neytiri and her mom. What do they talk about? A man. Jake Sully.

Lord of the Rings (the whole trilogy)

Why: It has strong women! Hellooo, Eowyn sneaking along and riding into battle like a total badass. But take a step back. Do they ever talk to any other women? Do they even live in the same parts of Middle Earth? That is a big, fat, resounding NO.

How can this help us improve our writing, though??

Easy: make them human!

Women aren't caricatures to be used as prizes or garnish in stories. Spend as much time fleshing out your female characters as you do your male ones. Give them physical flaws, bad habits, and bizarre quirks. Hell, make them curse! I do!

But remember, they are women. They will be emotional from time to time (whether they show it or not), they will most likely worry about their appearance or boys or whatever at some point in the story, they'll be strong some times and weak others, they'll be right and they'll be wrong, and they'll screw up. Because women aren't aliens; they're HUMAN.

Are there any other films you guys can think of? Leave a comment below and if it’s something I can’t believe I missed, I’ll add it above.

(P.S. If I accidentally poison your mind and make it impossible to watch any movie ever without automatically checking to see if it passes the Bechdel test, I apologize. Also, I know how you feel.)