It’s one of those feminist revelations that occurs following a shift in consciousness. Once the switch is flipped, you can never look at a certain aspect of human interaction or culture in the same way. In this instance, I’m talking about film.
One would think it wouldn’t be so much to ask for to have a more than one woman in a film. And yea, those two women should probably interact. And hey, it would seem obvious that they should discuss subjects other than men, right? Wrong.
1) It must have at least two women
2) the women must talk to each other…
3) about something other than men.
In the 25 years since, hundreds of popular films (and TV shows, popular fiction, and other forms of popular culture) have been put to the “Bechdel Test.” The results may be shocking to some, but to those of us hyper-attuned to cultural sexism, they simply reinforce the incredible oppression women endemically experience.
A (small) sample of the films that did not fit the criteria:
Slumdog Millionaire, GI Joe, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, Transformers, Ghostbusters, The Big Lebowski, Ocean’s Twelve, Pirates of the Caribbean (all three), Austin Powers, Fight Club, Milk, The Wedding Singer, Reservoir Dogs, Lord of the Rings (all three), The Truman Show, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Trainspotting, The Gladiator, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and When Harry Met Sally (ughhhh).
As Feminist Frequency points out, passing the Bechdel test “does not mean that the movie is a feminist movie, or that it’s even a good movie. Rather, it shows that two women are engaging with each other about something other than men.” And look at all of the films that couldn’t even meet that “ideal”…how sad is that?
Perhaps even more upsetting was the prevalence of films marketed towards children and young adults on the list, including Shrek, Toy Story, and Home Alone. If kids are not exposed to women with agency at the young age, what message does this send to them as they grow towards adulthood? Is it really any wonder that sexism prevails in the workforce if the majority of popular films portray women as only capable of talking about men and babies?
The reasons behind this is clear: movie consumers do not want to watch women with agency (or people of color or other underrepresented groups, for that matter) when they go to the movies. A female film student at UCLA was told point-blank by her professor, “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.” Ouch. What the professor and many film consumers who write this off as a product of consumerism don’t understand is that the problem is societal. And consumer demand is shaped by perceived “societal norms,” just as film strives to portray “normal life.” Instead of writing more films without a strong female presence, filmmakers should use their incredibly industry power to upend the conventions, both in film and in society. Until that time, consider my presence at a movie contingent upon its passage of the Bechdel Test. Honestly, if a film cannot fit these incredibly lenient criteria for female agency, you should think twice before watching, as well.
Here are a few films that have passed.
And a link round-up for further reading on Bechdel and the film industry.
[Song of the day: Y-Control by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (also, a sweet Spike Jonze-directed video)]