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Archive > The Bechdel and Other Tests

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message 1: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments So here is yet another thing I've heard about for the first time in this group, the Bechdel test.

Reading the Wikipedia nutshell version on it and other similar tests
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechd...

makes me realise just how many places there is subtle yet categorical sexism going on.

Have you heard of this test before? Has it helped you view cultural and other things more analytically?

And what about criticism mentioned in the article, wouldn't it be easily solved by adding a yes or no to the test "score"? Umberto Eco's rose novel is mentioned in which the setting is a monastery. For obvious reasons women don't have a place there, so why not add a "not applicable" in such a case? No reason to make things more complicated than necessary.


message 2: by Mary (last edited Mar 05, 2016 05:47AM) (new)

Mary I think the Bechdel test is lots of fun. :) But I don't think that a movie/book that fails it is inherently bad or sexist, and I don't think one that passes it is inherently good or empowering.

You mention The Name of the Rose; it's one of my favorite books! I do think the fact that the only female character is a prostitute who (view spoiler) is problematic, but I still think the book has so much to offer. To offer an opposite example, I'm pretty sure Twilight passed the Bechdel test, and you'd have a hard time finding a movie that sends a more problematic message to young women (full disclosure: I've never read Twilight; referring to movie).

I think what the test does do is help us identify patterns. One book and accompanying movie set in a monastery and failing it miserably is not really an issue. The fact that most of this year's Oscar front-runners failed it is. The fact that the original Star Wars failed it is disappointing, but the fact that the new one passes it (ok, barely, but still) after 6 movies that fail it spectacularly is hugely exciting (at least to me!) and a sign of a change in the series.

Hope that makes sense. I see it as a useful tool for discussions about cinema in general more than about particular movies. Never really used it much for books, but it could be useful there, as well.


message 3: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Mary wrote: "I think the Bechdel test is lots of fun. :) But I don't think that a movie/book that fails it is inherently bad or sexist, and I don't think one that passes it is inherently good or empowering.

Y..."


Agreed! Alison Bechdel herself has explained that the test should not be used as a blanket means for categorizing movies or other media as sexist or not. It's just an interesting way of noticing patterns and whatnot.


message 4: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments I think a "real" test might have to be a bit more scientific or something but for awakening one's mind I thought it useful indeed! :)


message 5: by Quoleena (new)

Quoleena Sbrocca (qjsbrocca) I think about the test as when such a conversation occurs, what do they discuss? Is there any depth to it, or are they talking about superficial things?

I agree that it's a fun way to reflect on all the movies and books as opposed to disqualifying works with strong female characters based on it. After all, I read the point that two women talking about shoes passes the test. I think that in concept, such a conversation doesn't reflect the point of the test and why Bechdel wrote the comic strip.

Aglaea, here's what I posted in my thread:

As I understand it, I think is it's about whether two females can have a meaningful conversation in which a man is not the topic. In considering this, I wonder if mentioning a male character disqualifies it, even though a long conversation is still about other things. At least one conversation in my book completely passes it. Since I believe the test means to focus on whether the two females have an in-depth conversation that doesn't have to do with romance/dating/being in love, I wonder about it.


message 6: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Vega (neapoulain) Hi!

I think the Bechdel test is useful in some ways, but, as others said here, I think that it's not the ultimate test to prove a movie is or isn't sexist.

The Bechdel test only requires that a film/novel/etcétera has two women with name talking about something different of men. I can recall many movies (especially comedies) that pass the test and, to my eyes, are sexist.

And many others that doesn't pass the test has powerful and round female characters, like for example, Gravity, that has only a female character or Amelie.

I think we need more information to test if a movie is sexist or not.


message 7: by Quoleena (new)

Quoleena Sbrocca (qjsbrocca) Andrea wrote: "Hi!

I think the Bechdel test is useful in some ways, but, as others said here, I think that it's not the ultimate test to prove a movie is or isn't sexist.

The Bechdel test only requires that a f..."


I agree. I think in it's purity, the Bechdel test is simple. The application and connotations have complicated it and turned it into a tool that it was never meant to be. Bechsel herself stated as much.


message 8: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Reading about the tests made me realise there is quite a bit more to sexism in movies and books than we might think of at first, though, and for that I'm grateful. Everyone in the group probably has some idea of what sexism means, but to have it defined via practical examples mentioned in the article was kind of news to me. Obviously I've seen that women often don't get major parts, but beyond that? Not so much.


message 9: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Vega (neapoulain) Quoleena wrote: "Andrea wrote: "Hi!

I think the Bechdel test is useful in some ways, but, as others said here, I think that it's not the ultimate test to prove a movie is or isn't sexist.

The Bechdel test only re..."


Yes, exactly a tool that it was never meant to be. Maybe because people took the Bechdel test way too serious and it's very simple; I have encountered people who used this test to say how feminist a movie was; I was perplexed because two women talking about something that is not men can be no feminist at all, as Dada says above me and... also... How do you weight feminism?


message 10: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Also keep in mind that the Bechdel test is applied to specific movies, but doesn't necessarily only reflect whether the movie itself is feminist... it also is meant to foster awareness of sexism in Hollywood more generally. So while Gravity may fail the Bechdel test despite having a strong female character, part of the reason it fails is because there is only the one female character. While that doesn't mean Gravity is sexist, you line it up against all the other movies with strong female characters that still fail the Bechdel test, you see that the larger systemic problem has to do with a lack of substantial roles for women.

So I'd say the Bechdel test is really only useful when viewed in a broader context. It's a basic guide meant to unveil sexist patterns in the industry. It's up to each individual to decide for themselves whether a movie meets their own personal standards of what is or is not sexist/feminist.


message 11: by Bunny (new)

Bunny I agree that the test is most useful for revealing broad patterns rather than for judging individual works of fiction. A side point, but Alison Bechdel has been trying for years to give credit for the idea to her friend Liz Wallace who actually came up with it, but somehow it never sticks. Maybe Bechdel test is just more memorable than Wallace test.


message 12: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Vega (neapoulain) Bunny wrote: "I agree that the test is most useful for revealing broad patterns rather than for judging individual works of fiction. A side point, but Alison Bechdel has been trying for years to give credit for ..."

I don't know that! Well, I always learn something new here. I've always heard that the test appeared in a Bechdel's comic, but nothing more.


message 13: by Bunny (last edited Mar 07, 2016 06:17PM) (new)

Bunny Two characters talk about it to one another in the comic, but it was based on a conversation she actually had with Liz.

Another thing that has long fascinated me is that I keep seeing these same recurring percentages of female representation in all sorts of different settings. Researchers record that between 20 and 30% of the characters with speaking roles in films are women. In crowd scenes, the same general percentages hold - between a quarter and a third of the people in a street scene tend to be women.

It also shows up in other places. 20% of the seats in the US congress are held by women. Women hold 19% of the seats in corporate boards in the US. About 30% of the judges at the state and federal level are women. About 33% of the doctors in the US are female. In research on women's participation in workplace meetings or classroom discussions the same percentage pops up, if women speak more than 30% of the time they are perceived as dominating the conversation or talking "too much."

Its just weird that this same percentage range shows up again and again. I actually thought of this just now because of the mention of Gravity. Because if you look at the percentage of women with speaking roles in that movie, even though Sandra Bullock holds the central role, its still that same percentage! Which just made me smile when I recognized it again. Hello old 30% friend...


message 14: by Bunny (last edited Mar 07, 2016 06:55PM) (new)

Bunny Dada wrote: "Well, Sandra Bullock has substantially more screen time than anyone else in the movie."

That is true. Not my point, but none the less true

My point was that it made me laugh when I suddenly realized that even in a movie which gives the lion's share of the attention, lines, screen time, focus, to the female character, she is still outnumbered by men. It's like that good old percentage is really stubborn and just keeps popping up no matter how much you try to play whack a mole with it.


message 15: by Quoleena (new)

Quoleena Sbrocca (qjsbrocca) Andrea wrote: "Well, I always learn something new here. I've always heard that the test appeared in a Bechdel's comic, but nothing more."

Bechdel has said she is pretty certain her pal Wallace got the inspiration for the concept from Virginia Woolf.


message 17: by Portia (new)

Portia Or any of her other graphic novels.

Does anyone know when the Group Rules warning goes away on postings. Or who I should talk to about getting it removed? Tnx.


message 18: by Bunny (new)

Bunny There are two possible settings for the Group Rules. Either they go away after a member's first post, or they show every time. Since I have now seen them multiple times, I'm guessing the moderators have them set to every time. It would be up to the moderators to change that, you could ask them.


message 19: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Given the size and continued growth of this group, we need to be extra strict with the rules. So I don't think we'll be changing the settings.

If you remove your cursor from the comment box, the rule pop-up disappears, even as you're still typing. I hope that's helpful!


message 20: by Katelyn, Our Shared Shelf Moderator (new)

Katelyn (katelynrh) | 836 comments Mod
Also, I think the books mentioned above are already on the book suggestions bookshelf, but please check for them, and add them if not, by following the directions here: How to Suggest a Book


message 21: by Portia (new)

Portia Bunny wrote: "There are two possible settings for the Group Rules. Either they go away after a member's first post, or they show every time. Since I have now seen them multiple times, I'm guessing the moderators..."

Thanks. I will. This is getting annoying :(


message 22: by Portia (new)

Portia Katelyn wrote: "Given the size and continued growth of this group, we need to be extra strict with the rules. So I don't think we'll be changing the settings.

If you remove your cursor from the comment box, the r..."


Except it doesn't


message 23: by Bunny (new)

Bunny Portia wrote: "Katelyn wrote: "Given the size and continued growth of this group, we need to be extra strict with the rules. So I don't think we'll be changing the settings.

If you remove your cursor from the co..."


If it doesn't then that's a glitch. It should work that way. It does for me. If you put your cursor in the comment box the rules appear, and if you move it away to somewhere else they disappear. (Sorry to repeat, just trying to be clear).


message 24: by Portia (new)

Portia No. The yellow Group Rules box comes up every time I post (as in now) and does not go away.

I have contacted Meghan. She and I are "friends" and she has helped me with other GR problems in the past.

Thanks, though, to everyone who jumped in to help! :-)


message 25: by Jing Wen (new)

Jing Wen (v3lcr0w) | 173 comments This is funny af. Personal note to self to perform this test for next movie and see if it fits.


message 26: by Justine (new)

Justine | 40 comments Yes, I heard about the Bechdel Test before and its creation as explained by Alison Bechdel (and Bunny here). I don't think it intends to scientifically provide all the criteria to determine if one movie is unfair or offending to women, and the other way round too: if the message of a movie that passed the test still makes it okay. For instance, there is a website that takes an long list of movies that did or didn't pass the test and several titles that received its green light caused feminist protests (I'm thinking about the Hateful Eight), while other movies should be expected to do well (like movies focused on a male band, a male sports team or a couple).

But the existence of the test in itself proves its point, and with a lot of humour too. Without using it on a movie, it is very thought-provoking in the sense that it makes people realize it takes longer to come up with a movie title where 2 female characters have a conversation about something else than men than where 2 male characters do so. In fact, you'll be more guaranteed to be right about the latter by quoting one of the few titles that come to mind right now, while for the former, you'll really have to review them.

Also the 30% figure (along with the Gravity example) is very telling!!


message 27: by Aglaea (new)

Aglaea | 987 comments Hi everyone, make sure to check out the link for a handful of derived tests, too! My OP was actually a reflection of the whole package, not the Bechdel-Wallace test only.


message 28: by Bunny (new)

Bunny I often use the sexy lamp test.


message 29: by Dominic (new)

Dominic | 6 comments We had a monthly Bechdel film club in Deptford (SE London) which had brilliant programming but has seemed to have wound up now.
I went with my son to see the 1936 Imitation of Life with Claudette Colbert as it addresses mixed race issues as well as female empowerment.


message 30: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Vega (neapoulain) I didn't knew the sexy lamp test but I often use something similar when I am writing: if I can replace a woman character with a stone and the plot is basically the same, then the character is useless and I have to change everything. I find that type of test very useful when I'm working.

And as a programmer and softwarfe developer, I find very interesting the Bechdel Test for software. I actually don't know if my software has ever passed the test because I use a lot of function in libraries I have no idea who wrote, but if I only count the software I've written with my teams, a very few projects could have pass it. (First because I am the only woman in my regular teams - being the only one doesn't bothers me because I use to work with friends, but it makes me aware that the women developers are very rare).


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