Current releases vs the Bechdel Test

With Bridesmaids pushing the envelope for female casts, Josh puts the rest of the cinema’s current offerings to the feminist standard.


‘One, it has to have at least two women in it who,

Two, talk to each other about,

Three, something besides a man.’


These were the basic requirements laid out in the comic ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ by Alison Bechdel, that have since been adopted as the benchmark for how progressive (or more accurately, regressive) a film’s use of female characters is. Notable largely for how often these simple demands are not met, these three rules have garnered a cult-following since their appearance in the 1985 comic-strip, evolving like real laws to include amendments such as ‘two named women’.


So, with Bridesmaids ruling the box-office and apparently ticking every box, what better time could there be to return to these rules and see how far we’ve really come in 25 years?


Bridesmaids 3/3


Unsurprisingly, with six female leads and barely a male in sight, Bridesmaids passes with flying colours. Sure, with the entire plot centring around a wedding and by extension a man a large part of the dialogue could be negated, but with the film’s true focus on the relationships between women, there are still innumerable conversations to fill that third requirement. Crucially, getting married isn’t treated as the most important part of Lillian’s life but a very stressful part of it and with The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd appearing as practically the only named male character Bridesmaids’ only failing may be at whatever the opposite of the Bechdel Test is.


Green Lantern 1/3


Ah yes, the comic-book movie. Not universally recognised as the typical cinematic forum for female conversation, especially when they revolve around a male-dominated secret society that rule over the universe. Blake Lively and Angela Basset both play significant roles but with nary a word between them to break up the CGI battles and damsel-in-distress work, Green Lantern passes only one of the three categories.


Bad Teacher 2/3


So the plot may involve a female professional who is terrible at her job and decides she must hose herself down at a car wash and steal the proceeds to buy breast implants that will snag a man who can take care of her. Nobody said the Bechdel Test was a guarantee of positive values. What we have is Cameron Diaz and The Office (US)’s fantastic Phyllis Smith talking about the school year, the teachers’ bonus and, yes, implants. Unfortunately all of these conversations ultimately boil down to their significance in attracting Justin Timberlake and so a point should be deducted – if not for that then for depicting a qualified teacher (she has a degree!) humiliating and degrading herself in the pursuit of a wealthy man.


The Hangover Part II 1/3


From questionable values to a complete absence of them. Hangover II is a film where women are props, plot devices or prostitutes. Stu’s fiancée Lauren has the most lines but exists solely to badger him to find her brother. Won’t be winning any awards at the next feminist convention.


Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3/3


A series where the leading lady’s arse regularly debuts before her face may not be what Bechdel had in mind when writing the rules, but sure enough, there in a quieter moment in NEST headquarters, Francis McDormand speaks to Sam and his new Megan Fox-replacement girlfriend (played by a Victoria Secret’s model) about preferring they not refer to her as ma’am. Whether this empowers her or androgenises her should probably be decided by someone with more than three standards to work to.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 1/3


Scraping by the two named characters minimum, in Stranger Tides Penelope Cruz is joined by the mermaid Syrena, though the two never actually speak. Syrena herself is actually named by a male character during the film but since the rules on names are more about a character’s significance to the film we’ll let that pass.


X-Men: First Class 3/3


Scratch what we said about superhero movies. Here we have two whole exchanges between Mystique and Angel with not a mention of a man: ‘You can fly?’ and ‘Angel, no!’ Pithy, but we’ll allow it. There is also the conversation Angel has about her issues with men looking at her and Mystique’s conversation with the girl at the bar, which was arguably about Xavier. At this point we may need to decide how we’re defining ‘talk’ and ‘about’. A 2.5/3, perhaps.


The Tree Of Life 0/3


OK, a bit of a curve ball. Technically speaking nobody in The Tree Of Life is named apart from in the credits. Neither do any of them particularly speak to each other. The mother has no first name but is named ‘Mrs. O’Brien’ and talks with a neighbour about her grief over her son. Have we cheated it out of 2/3? Most likely. Still, nice to round off this run-down with the most sophisticated film being labelled the most sexist.


So what have we learned? Not much. Perhaps that a punchline in a serialised comic strip may not be the best resource for navigating the murky environment of gender discourse; that Transformers and X-Men feature prime examples for important women in movies, despite the camera’s obsession with their anatomy in both; or that six female leads would do nothing for gender roles if they were all Cameron Diaz.


Please tell us below if you have any ideas how the test could be improved, or if we’ve somehow missed the gang of intelligent, interesting women conversing somewhere in the background of Hangover II.


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1 Response to Current releases vs the Bechdel Test

  1. Pingback: The Bechdel Test: What It Is, And Why It Matters | Squarise

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