What 's The Bechdel Test And Why Should Anyone Care?
January 12, 2018|María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Think about your favorite film and see if it passes the Bechdel Test.
With everything that’s happening not only in the film industry but in the world regarding gender equality, many terms have fortunately adhered to our everyday language. Not so long ago, feminism was a term sometimes used in academia, eventually at the news, and very rarely in everyday conversations. The same has happened with many other terms that refer to this important social goal we all want. However, besides knowing these words or using them, we should try to understand and see their context with objective eyes. One of these popular terms in today's social scenario is the Bechdel test. But what is it? More importantly, is it really relevant?
Appearing for the first time in 1985 in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, the Bechdel test has become the tool par excellence to see how equally is gender portrayed in cinema. A film passes the test if (1) it has at least two named female characters (2) talking to each other and (3) the conversation is about anything but men. Fair enough, isn’t it? Well, not really. Many of your favorite films and even those considered the best films in history fail terribly the test. But does this really determine whether a film is good or bad? I mean, films like Citizen Kane, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Casablanca, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The Shining, Goodfellas, and so many more don’t pass it and, artistically speaking, these are some of the greatest works of cinematic art out there.
I don’t think passing or failing the Bechdel test determines a film’s quality. The thing is that many are taking this so seriously to determine something that, in the end, isn't so accurate. For instance, Coco, my latest favorite animated film, passes the test only because at the end there’s a scene where Mama Coco asks her daughter why is she crying and she replies that it’s nothing. Do you see where I’m going? I mean that’s it. So, even when the movie is absolutely beautiful and heartfelt, that scene doesn’t really talk about gender equality and the story doesn’t really focus on it. Now, for instance, Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer fails horribly the test, since the protagonist is the only female character on it. However, if you think about it, the film talks about empowerment and female agency.
So, not because two women speak or meet for a minute in the film it means it has tackled gender equality or that it should be praised for doing so. We should really take into account the dialogues, the time on screen for men and women, and the length of their dialogues. Otherwise, it ends up being an inaccurate way of measuring films. I get that at this precise moment in history we need products to explore the difficulties we’re facing, and gender equality is definitely a priority. But I don’t think that focusing only on the results of the test like this one will get us near there. To be fair, not even Alison Bechdel thinks it’s a very accurate tool.
Now, this doesn’t really mean that the test is ineffective as a whole. I do believe that it’s a great step to make an audience aware of the products they’re consuming. For instance, we can't say that Casablanca isn't a great movie or we should stop watching it because it doesn't pass the test. Nonetheless, we can start asking ourselves why are women so poorly represented in cinema? And we could ask the same about other gender and racial groups.
This is the first step to make a real change, and it should start by allowing more female directors to be on the spotlight, fix the gender pay gap, and really encourage the creation of more quality stories that reflect our reality. You might be wondering why it's relevant for us, and the answer is quite simple: because art is a reflection of the society that creates it. If so many movies fail to represent women and other groups, think about real life. This is actually how we should approach the test: being aware of the reality we’re living in.
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