The representation of women in film is often troublesome at best. Hollywood films are often extremely gendered and lack adequate female representation. Male characters greatly outnumber female characters in many films, and female characters in movies are frequently underdeveloped and greatly lack any real depth.
When women are present in film, they are often presented only in relation to men. So even when there are multiple female characters in a film, they mostly only discuss their boyfriend, husband, father or brother. Because of this, cartoonist Alison Bechdel wrote a set of rules in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” that could help determine whether a film presents fully formed female characters.
Her test asks (1) are there at least two women in the film (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man? If a film has all three of these criteria, it passes the Bechdel test. The test first appeared in 1985 in a strip by Bechdel titled simply “The Rule.”
Even though it has been more than two decades since the rule was created, it is still very relevant today. Many modern films fail the test, lacking accurate and realistic representations of women. For example, many films that have come out this summer have failed the Bechdel test. “The Avengers” had more than two women in the film, but they never spoke to one another. The same is true of “Battleship.” “The Dictator,” “Chernobyl Diaries” and “Men in Black III” failed as well.
The Bechdel Test works across all genres. From action, horror and sci-fi movies to romantic comedies and dramas, films from every genre pass and fail the test. Even many films that are told from a woman’s perspective fail the test simply because the plot of the film may really revolve around men. “Chick flicks” are the most notorious example of this.
However, the Bechdel Test is not a perfect test for measuring the feminist content of a film.
A film could pass the test and still be sexist. For example, a “chick flick” or romantic comedy might pass the test because two women have a brief conversation about a stereotypical female subject like shopping. Or a film like “The Avengers” could fail the test but still have the presence of strong female characters.
Whether a film passes or fails does not clearly indicate whether the film has any feminist content.
Although the test is not perfect, it can still help to determine whether women will be properly represented in a film. The test simply indicates whether there is adequate female presence within the film. Obviously, if you only watch films that pass the Bechdel Test, you would be missing out on many excellent films, but the test calls attention to a serious problem within film.
Women, although they make up half the population, are seriously underrepresented within film. The Bechdel Test provides a simple way to determine whether a movie has realistic and developed female characters. So, if you plan on attending “The Amazing Spider-Man” or the new Dark Knight flick in the coming weeks, ask yourself if it passes “the Rule” and portrays a realistic representation of women.
Sarah Wilson is an English literature junior.