Why You Should Care About the Bechdel Test

bechdel test

With our changing society comes changes in the media we consume.

We’ve moved towards accepting different types of people and how they live. This doesn’t mean things are perfect, or that they’ve improved for everyone. We still have a very long way to go for equality and freedom for all people.

For women, I’ve definitely noticed a couple changes that have impacted media. Specifically, people have started caring about the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test is defined in the dictionary as, “A way of judging whether a film, book, etc. shows women as equal to men, by asking whether it includes a scene in which two women discuss something other than a man.”

Essentially, it’s a test you can use to determine whether a movie has foul play. Cinema in the past hasn’t been equitable. Old movies often incorporate many stereotyped versions of minorities and marginalized groups. When it comes to women, they tend to play the role of “damsel-in-distress” or “the wife waiting for her husband to come home.” These stereotyped roles of women are pretty messed up and make it seem like women are only present to entertain men.

Unfortunately, passing this test appears a lot more difficult than it seems. Some movies that don’t pass include The Social Network, Avatar, the original Star Wars trilogy (yes, all three movies), the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, 21 Jump Street, and The Avengers (2013).

bechdel test
via afterellen.com

Shockingly, none of these movies have scenes where there’s genuine conversation about something other than a man between two female characters. For some, there simply aren’t enough women to converse with each other. In others with more than one female character, they’re either mostly in the background or they never interact with each other.

If this isn’t proof that something is wrong in Hollywood when it comes to female equality, I don’t know what is.

I honestly found some of these hard to believe. It’s likely because I love so many of these movies that recognizing that they lack a critical female component is hard to swallow.

At the same time, it leads me to realize just how important improving female roles is. It ends up going beyond just the big screen. On the red carpet, actresses tend to get questions on their outfits and how they keep in shape, while men are asked deep questions about their character and career. The most obvious example is in this video (starting at 4:12, although the rest of it is also good) where Robert Downey Jr. is asked about Tony Stark in the same sentence as Scarlett Johansson is asked about her body.

The Bechdel Test simply holds these people accountable. It allows us all to recognize this as an issue. It’s a way to truly measure just how unfair some movies are when it comes to the roles women are forced to play.

A lot of the time, we don’t realize how often movies lack women until someone points it out. Nearly the entire crew of Lord of the Rings are guys (or elf-men and other fantasy creatures). In nearly any science fiction or action movie, the main character is a guy. It’s expected at this point. The protagonists are guys, their mentors are older men, and most of their friends and teammates are other guys. If there is a woman, she’s usually the love interest or someone with no character development who just sits in the background and makes it seem like the movie is pro-female.

bechdel test

I’ve recently seen a few blockbuster movies who’ve been changing this trend. These include The Hunger Games, Captain Marvel, and Ocean’s 8. It’s still not enough. We’ve got to push for female leads. We need to prove to the world that women are just as capable of playing hard parts as men are. Women shouldn’t just be viewed as side characters, love interests, and the people who men fight for. They should be the ones fighting.

The Bechdel Test doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. If directors and screenwriters truly took it into account when creating these movies, it could help change the tide of how women are viewed. We live in a world where we’re constantly consuming media. Even without realizing it, the things we watch and read play more of a role in how we view the world than we believe. If we stop viewing women as secondary characters and start seeing them in lead roles, it will make a difference.

We are not just things for men to use. We are more than that. We are independent people, capable of making our own decisions, fighting for our lives, and saving the world. It’s about time everyone sees us as the powerful beings we are.

Photo by GREG KANTRA on Unsplash

Also published on Medium.