The Bechdel Test

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It is basically – does the movie/tv show/book have two named women who talk about something other than a man?

You’d be surprised how often this test is failed.

Now I’m the kind of woman who is not a fan of the kind of movie/tv show/book that’s deliberately aimed at women – Sex In The City/Bridget Jones kind of thing (both of which fail the Bechdel test). I like action and fantasy and sci-fi and crime. And I have noticed that in these movies this test is not passed very often.

It happens in books, sometimes. It’s happening more and more on TV – not as often as I’d like, but more than it used to. I can think of Buffy and Willow, Rizzolli and Isle, Cagney and Lacey – but they’re exceptions, Grace and the other female detectives in Waking the Dead – but these are exceptions. Often in these situations the decent, strong female character is on her own, surrounded by men. (One of whom will always resent her for being a female in charge. That’s hardly fair to men, either). If there is another woman, she is in the background, and often nameless.

And as for movies – just finding one decent female character in these genres is hard enough, let alone two. For every Katniss Everdeen there are thirty female characters who are there either to be scream in fear, be generally useless, and then get killed by the villain or sleep with the hero. Sometimes they don’t even get the dignity of a name.

Now I am as guilty as anyone else of this. My first stories had mostly men as protagonists. It was what I was used to. I had to force myself to stop, and introduce women, and more than one woman into my stories.

Now film producers say that there aren’t many women in movies because the audience aren’t interested in them. Can I just say – have you noticed that half the people walking down the street are women? Imagine the audience you’d get if you weren’t just aiming your movies at 13 year old boys! Also – Hunger Games? Hermione? Helen Mirren in Red? Women in action/fantasy/sci-fi movies can be fantastic, even when (especially when!) they manage to keep their clothes on for the whole movie.

And in the end – dialogue is dialogue. Women talk just like men talk. We are capable of having conversations about what they call cheeseburgers in Europe, or how to survive the zombie apocalypse, or if lunch is for wimps.

I recently saw an all female production of Julius Caesar. For the first couple of minutes, it was strange to have women playing all these male roles. And then it stopped being strange. I stopped noticing these were women. I just saw fantastic actors giving amazing performances with this passionate, wonderful stirring dialogue.

It’s the 21st century. Every book/play/movie/tv show should be able to pass the test. And I’m damn well going to be certain my work does.

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One response to “The Bechdel Test

  1. I feel let down when I know an author is a woman and the protagonist is not. Too often we are told that men will not read about women whereas women will read about men. I think because we hear it so much, we begin to believe it.

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