The feminist movement has gained popularity in recent years as a positive, inclusive movement for women’s rights. Which is great because it IS a positive and inclusive movement. At almost any moment now you can find something pro-feminist across many media platforms – books, twitter, the news, music, comic books – it seems like everyone is getting in on feminism. The word “feminism” has come a long way from being associated with man-hating-bra-burners.
A product of the feminist movement is the Bechdel Test.
Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t until a few weeks ago.
What is the Bechdel Test?
The Bechdel (Beck-Dell) test is a simple 3-point checklist you can apply to any movie to score how well women are represented in it. It was developed by comic book writer Allison Bechdel back in 1985.
The Bechdel Test goes like this:
Are there more than 2 women?
Do they talk to each other?
Do they talk to each other about something OTHER than a man?
If you can answer yes to all three questions then the movie passes.
When I first heard of this I thought, “There can’t be very many films that fail the Bechdel Test.” The requirements are so basic. Just have two women talk about something that isn’t a guy. How rare is that?
But then I got to thinking about it. I started applying the test to some of my favorite movies (by memory) and quickly ran through about five that didn’t pass. Then I did some research of my own; watching movies and applying the Bechdel Test to them. I quickly realized it was easier to find movies that fail the test than it was to find movies that pass.
That’s when I decided to put together this list of 10 Movies that Pass and Fail the Bechdel Test. There were a lot of different angles I could use to attack this list – highest grossing, release year, genre, award winning. I ultimately decided to look at movies that most people have probably seen. There are multiple genres spanning many years. Truth be told, most of these are movies that are close to my heart or culturally relevant to me. (**Spoiler alerts, use disgretion**)
Let’s start with the failures!
5 Movies that Fail the Bechdel Test
- There’s only one woman in this entire movie and she’s killed off in the first 10 minutes. Not even any of the dogs are girls. That ostrich-thing Kevin doesn’t count because we don’t even find out she’s a female until the end.
- Yes, but barely. Katie Holmes was released from captivity to play Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s friend/first love. We also have Martha Wayne, who gets murdered right away and a secretary, however, she’s a throwaway character. Martha is an important character though so I’ll give it a pass. Otherwise, the movie is a sausage fest.
- Negative. The two female characters don’t even share a screen together let alone speak to one another, and that’s over the course of a two and half hour movie!
- The main character is werewolf-hunting-vampire Selene. There is one other significant female character, Erika, who’s kind of like her handmaid I guess except they hate each other.
- Yes. It’s not a lot, but the only two fleshed out females in this film do speak to each other on two separate occasions.
- Not really. The two times the lady vamps talk to each other are in reference to a man or motivated by love/interest in a man. (Kraven and Michael) I’m gonna say it fails on this front.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
- Sarah Connor is the badass feminist heroine in the Terminator franchise. There are two other female characters (Tarissa Dyson and foster-mom Janelle Voight) in small but necessary roles in this film, so I’ll give it a yes.
- There’s a scene where Sarah Connor and Dyson’s wife are in the same room while the Terminator is giving his backstory, but the two women don’t actually talk to each other. Give this one a big ol’ “F”.
- There a lot of hardcore ladies in this one. There’s Rogue (my personal fave), Dr. Jean Grey (who brings all the boys to the yard), Storm (who will light yo’ ass up) and Mystique (Magneto’s right hand).
- Near the halfway mark of the movie, Jean is briefing everyone about Wolverine’s powers and the adamantiam fused to his bones. Storm asks one question. Jean answers her but…
- The question and answer are both about Wolverine! Even though female characters have some decent screen sharing time, they never talk to each other except for the brief Q&A about a man. X-Men comes close but fails the test.
5 Movies that Pass the Bechdel Test
- The main characters are sisters Ana and Elsa. (If you don’t know this by now you should check your pulse.)
- The sisters both talk AND sing to each other, which is the measure of any true relationship.
- A big YES to this one. They talk about building snowmen, their parents, their relationship and accepting each other. Ana and Elsa only talk about a man once, very briefly, when Ana says that she wants to marry Hans after just meeting him. Like any good big sis, Elsa quickly shuts that down and proceeds to ice everyone out.
- This movie features more female characters than male characters. Most notably we have main character Elle Woods, defendant and member of Delta Nu sorority Brooke Taylor Windham, Elle’s collegiate and romantic rival Vivian Kensington, manicurist and BFF Paulette and the intimidating Professor Stromwell.
- As a matter of fact, Elle speaks to all of the characters listed above multiple times.
- Though her ex-boyfriend is brought up a lot, Elle talks to her supporting ladies about the court case, loyalty, pets and not letting a man direct your life. Although this is kind of a silly movie, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Fifty Shades of Grey
- There’s our awkward main character Ana, her roommate Kate, her mom and her boo’s mom, “Mrs. Grey.” That’s literally how she’s listed in the lineup. There are a few other women too, though their appearance is minor.
- Oh yeah, there’s multiple woman-on-woman convo in this film.
- Surprisingly, even though the film centers heavily on Ana’s infatuation with Christian, she manages to discuss college and valedictorian speeches with the other women in her life.
- Our heroine is smart/weird girl Casey, her “friends” Marcia and Claire, Dr. Fletcher the psychiatrist (who easily could have been made a male, so props) and I’m going to count Miss Patricia, one of the bad guy’s personalities. She may be in a man’s body but she identifies as a woman, and that’s good enough for me.
- Indeed they do. Casey, Marcia, and Claire talk to each other and to Miss Patricia. Dr. Fletcher doesn’t get a chance to talk to women other than her weird neighbor though.
- The girls talk about escape plans and survival, Casey exchanges a couple lines with Miss Patricia that aren’t about the Beast or Dennis, and Dr. Fletcher talks to her weird neighbor about dissociative identity disorder.
- The film centers on two female main characters: larger than life, showbiz loving CC Bloom and serious, career-minded Hillary Whitney. CC’s mom Leona and Hillary’s daughter Victoria also have significant roles.
- CC and Hillary start out as childhood friends and pen-pals and then become roommates, so a lot of the dialogue is between the two of them. CC also talks to her mom and she and Hillary both talk to Victoria.
- Victoria and CC talk about their parents, their dreams, their struggles and job opportunities. Just like real life women! Of course, they talk about the men in their lives too, but that’s minimal compared to everything else they discuss. CC discusses her personality with her mother and how lame she looks on tv with Victoria. Hillary and Victoria talk about CC, vacations and the cat.
Importance of the Bechdel Test
So what does the Bechdel Test mean? Am I not supposed to like movies that fail? Am I not a feminist if my favorite movie doesn’t pass the test?
The Bechdel test is just a really good tool to raise awareness about how women are presented in the film, and how we’re portrayed to the world. It’s something to think about. Maybe go a step further and think about how it would be if things were flipped and men were the underrepresented and were largely ever shown talking to each other about a woman. How would that change your perception?
As Americans we spend a lot of time watching movies, they’re a big part of our lives. If you’re reading this, chances are your parents had a TV when you were a kid, and you’ve probably said something like “I grew up watching that,” or “I watched that all the time when I was a kid.” Movies become a part of our lives, of our history, even our identity. So it goes to reason that the movies we watch can shape our points of view and how we look at the world.
So, if you “grow up” watching a lot of movies you might begin to think “huh, men are really heroic. They take risks, they don’t break under pressure, they fight for what’s right.” And you might also be akin to think “huh, women love fighting over the guy. They’ll really go above and beyond for a man’s attention. Even the really strong ones can’t do it without a man.”
Those are fairly innocuous assumptions and they both have a ring of truth to them. But women and men are way more complicated and varied than that. Which is why it’s important to show equal representation of both sexes in our movies; because our movies shape our expectations.
You can still like movies that fail the Bechdel Test. It doesn’t make you a misogynist if your favorite movie doesn’t pass. The test exists to raise awareness and maybe eventually affect change.
If you’d like to learn more about the Bechdel Test check out these great links:
- Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Pass the Bechdel Test
- The DTWOF: The Blog
- The Bechdel Test
- Feminist Frequency
So what do you think about the Bechdel Test? Share in the comments below!
Thanks for reading! =)
This was really well written! I’ve long known that movies and tv are where kids get their first impression of many aspects of life ( sisters, brothers, dogs, dating, nerds, hunting etc.). The fact that most movies don’t show women being independent is probably having a huge subliminal effect! Tv and movies are “normalizers”. They make things seem normal and realistic. The more people get used to seeing women simply do things on their own the less they will have to adjust in the future.
Thank you! I’ve done work on the representation of women in film before, but never framed through this particular test. My expectations of high school and college were set up by movies and boy, was that a totally different experience. Like you said, what we watch definitely makes an impression.