Spark Post: Bechdel Test in Modern Media

After our recent reading of Allison Bechdel’s graphic novel and her appearance the Queer Methods conference, I found myself delighted upon seeing this article featuring the lady herself while procrastinating on facebook. The article describes how Swedish cinemas are now placing an official letter grade rating on films that have been assessed for the balance of gender representation in their content. The basis for this evaluation comes from one of Allison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For strips from 1985.

The Bechdel Test is comprised of three questions:
1) Does the film have at least two female characters with names?
2) Do they talk to each other?
3) Do they talk about things other than men?

What do you think of the Bechdel test? Does it cover enough ground? Would you like to see this system put into action in North American cinemas or on television? Do you see any problems with the test or its implementation?


2 thoughts on “Spark Post: Bechdel Test in Modern Media

  1. amamce

    The implementation of the Bechdel test into cinema is a positive step forward for female representation in film, but even in Sweden, it only exists as one of four ratings that they give to each film, and it doesn’t really impact the release of the film or who sees it. I feel that even if the Bechdel standard was implemented in the US, it wouldn’t truly make any difference. Women would still be underrepresented in Hollywood, women would still be male-focused in movies, and men would still dominate the screen. Unless the Bechdel test was implemented during the production phase of films or television, the cinema presented would be the same. And if a person did choose to only watch movies that pass the test, they would be stuck with exactly what Bechdel said: Alien. And I don’t know about you, but I personally couldn’t just watch Alien over and over again. But I do dream of a day when the Bechdel test can be properly implemented and women are given the ability to be more introspective and less male obsessed.

  2. slaterjulia

    While I find it interesting and encouraging that certain film subcultures are taking an active interest in correcting skewed representations of women, I think the Bechdel test only covers minimal ground in the representation issues involved in cinema. As the article itself points out, women are vastly underrepresented, accounting for only 33% of all characters and just 11% of the protagonists, and setting a quota of sorts for female characters can help correct this. However, mere inclusion in media does not solve representation problems, and increased representation could be problematic. For example, Tsai described the numerous problems of increased representation of gays in the media in her essay “Assimilating the Queers:” the overrepresentation of racially and economically privileged subgroups, the exclusion of minorities, the appropriation of the gay lifestyle within heteronormativity, and misrepresentation of lesbianism to suit male fantasies. In the same way that increased representation of gays still often reinforce norms, an increase of female characters could still work within sexist frameworks if women are continually sexualized and cast as inferior to men. The final two elements of the test do not rectify this possibility for sexist representation, either, as even if women never discuss men, they could still be cast as inferior and unempowered in their personal or professional realms, or worse, demonized for their lack of interest in sexual relationships. Also, the test neglects that conversations about men are not inherently un-feminist; emphasizing the female side of relationships could even be transgressive, as it could reveal the woman side of heterosexual relationships that is often ignored in favor of the man’s. Although I am pleased that there are attempts to address feminism in cinema, representation issues usually require a much more holistic and critical analysis than a simple three-question test.


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