Feminism is a scary word for many individuals. The word’s socially cultivated meaning reeks of extremism. Therefore, it might be understandable that lighter film romps don’t implement many feminist characters into their films for one reason or another. The Bechdel test, however, is not about feminism. It’s not about strong female characters for women to look to as role models, it’s simply about the most basic form of female representation.
The Bechdel Test, popularized in 1985, is a three point test that can be used to examine any piece of fiction, whether it be film, literature, drama or television. The simple points the work must pass are: 1) It has to have at least two named female characters, 2) Two female characters must talk to each other, 3) The conversation must be about something other than a man.
With criteria as minimal as that, it’s a shock that there are still films being produced in 2015 that will not pass even element one of the criteria. It’s more extreme than that though, with more than half of all films produced failing all three of the testing points.
Many critics cite the reason behind this is the fact that there are far fewer female directors than males.
Looking specifically at film in 2014, some of the notable films that pass the Bechdel test are Winter’s Tale, Frozen, Divergent, Veronica Mars, Gone Girl, and even less expected films like Noah, Non-Stop and Vampire Academy.
Many of the films that do pass however are a minor pass, which represents one of the major flaws in the test. Exchanging a few passing lines about a new dress might get the movie to, in essence, pass the test, but the film still would fail the spirit of the test, reinforcing stereotypes and limiting the importance of female voices being heard in film.
It’s no longer enough to simply showcase women in your film. After all, female representation is literally the least a director or producer can do. The types of women portrayed in the film must change as well.
Even though many films like The Avengers, Lucy and Kill Bill, which feature strong female characters, their strength comes from a worn out, outdated stereotype of the ‘femme fatale’. In 2015, these tropes were stale centuries ago. Women have a right to be portrayed in all of their complexity and reality that men are often played.
Of course, how can we expect any film to delve into the complex psyche of a [female] character if there are no females to ask in the film’s development. Film should not be a boy’s club, and with talented directors like Kathryn Bigelow and Angelina Jolie, any dissolution of female inability is thoroughly disproven.
The Bechdel is a fine starting point for all this. Perhaps in addition to the parental guidance logo on the cover of Blu-ray boxes and movie posters they can include their Bechdel rating? For a way to critically observe a multi-billion dollar industry, which some can assume is simply benign, the Bechdel test needs to become a standard in movie rating and reviewing.
Perhaps then, once every film features women and gives them a few lines, we can address the larger problems of systematic female oppression in film, and maybe we can dispel the tropes and routine female characters that are as paper thin and vapid as the scripts on which they are written.