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The Bechdel Test: women in film


Sarah Macshane
WVoN co-editor

When you watch a film do you notice the lack of strong female characters?

Perhaps not, as most films do tend to have the stereotypical female lead – damsel in distress or femme fatale.

The lack of strong female characters was pointed out by Allison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. She decided to only watch films when:

1. There are two female characters

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something other than a man

The Bechdel Test is a simple way to evaluate the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are.

The number of films that do not pass this test is incredible and demonstrates just how under-represented or mis-interpreted women are in the film industry. We do have interests other than men… sorry about that guys!

You would think, with the increase in feminist theory, women’s empowerment and better representation in the media, politics and business, that women would be better represented in films in 2012 than back in the 1980s.

Unfortunately not – 88 per cent of the Bechdel Test 2540-strong film database failed to pass.

When films pass the test you don’t hear a big cheer from the feminist community because this is not just a bit of fun, it’s about reaching equal levels of representation in one the world’s most important and influential industries.

Is it really so hard to get two female leads, who talk about something other than a man? Apparently so. But we need to keep trying and break the boundaries, for example The Help or Bridesmaids.

Even though The Help raises issues about the portrayal of racism in America it has a strong female cast who give fantastic performances and shouldn’t be dismissed.

The Bechdel test does not gauge the quality of the film or tell us whether it is a feminist film or not, instead it acts as a useful tool to identify the lack of relevant and meaningful female roles as a larger pattern in the film industry as a whole.

  1. More than a little depressing that i’m not shocked that only 12% of the films tested passed. And of course most of those won’t be at all feminist.

    I’ve tried to think of non-stereotypical (and dependent on a male character) Hollywood representations of women before and only got as far as the Alien franchise and Angelina Jolie’s Salt!

  2. You think THAT’S depressing? How about this:

    Name a film that contains 1) two women 2) who talk to each other 3)about something other than a man and



    (I hate the film industry.)

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