The Bechdel Test: Is It Still Relevant Today?

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast that mentioned a concept I had never heard of before: the Bechdel Test. I carried out some research and decided that I wanted to share it on my blog, to express my views in support of gender equality and allow readers to consider their opinion on it.

The Bechdel Test originated from Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic, seen above. To satisfy the test, a film must:

1. Have at least two named female characters

2. Who talk to each other

3. About something other than a man

I’d like to stress that applying the test to a film does not determine the quality of it, but it encourages audiences to understand the male dominance within the film industry and consider any underlying messages that are being portrayed through this form of entertainment.

I had always been aware of the lack of representation that women face within the film industry and the generic stereotypes that female characters often embody, but I had never thought about the specifics. When considering the Bechdel Test, I have undoubtedly seen countless films in which the female characters only talk about men. Often, the main problem that a female protagonist faces is her relationship with a man. Of course, these films can be fun to watch at times and we may think nothing of it, but realistically there is more to women than their romantic relationships.

The data shown above is taken directly from the Bechdel Test website, demonstrating that of 8,076 movies in their database, more than half of them meet all three requirements. However, the test is quite lenient in the sense that a film could include just one scene where two named women talk about something other than a man, and this will deem the film as having passed the test entirely. The data does not tell us whether the female characters are important to the plot or if they undergo significant character development.

Although the Bechdel Test can be construed in a way that allows films to ‘pass’ it at a bare minimum level, it is seen as the best method we can use at the moment to determine the role of women in films. I love the concept, but whilst the three requirements are crucial, they simply provide basic obligations for filmmakers to fulfil. I think that when observing gender equality in this context, critics should look beyond the test. We should decide for ourselves whether or not a storyline is executed in a way that represents women competently, rather than simply using the basics of the test to determine this.

Do you think that the test is still relevant today? Has the film industry reached a suitable standard for gender equality or is there still a long way to go? Feel free to comment your opinions below, but please be respectful!

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