The Bechdel Test, a pass/fail method of determining how female-friendly a film is. Gordon and I discussed it a while back for our first E> ever, but to sum it up a movie can only pass the test if:
- it has at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man
During our discussion we arrived at the conclusion that this is by no means a perfect test. There are instances of films that pass that still do a deplorable job of depicting women. On the other hand, take The Avengers, which features both Black Widow and Maria Hill, the former of whom is arguably one of the strongest, capable heroes in the entire thing. The two never interact, but that by no means reflects on their roles as female characters.
I wrote about Pacific Rim and how much I appreciated the film not falling back on conventional Hollywood romance, but what I didn’t do was discuss how it treated women. That’s cool, though, because Vulture took care of it with a review titled “There Isn’t Much Room for Women in the Future of Pacific Rim.” I don’t really feel the need to sum up what the author’s thoughts were, but suffice to say they made reference to the film failing the Bechdel Test.
To come clean, most of the research done for this post was found by reading the follow-up article on the Vulture to the one above, “The Mako Mori Test: ‘Pacific Rim’ inspires a Bechdel Test alternative.” It turns out that there are many bloggers over on Tumblr who love the female protagonist, Mako Mori, unabashedly, and in one thread Tumblr user chaila offered a new way of rating films in light of her as a character:
Let’s propose the Mako Mori test, to live alongside the Bechdel test (not to supplant it! My point is not that we shouldn’t care about women interacting—I care about this A LOT—but that isn’t the pinnacle of feminism or the only thing we should care about). The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist. (Many movies/shows would not pass it).
And really, I think this is a step in the right direction. Probably one of the biggest flaws the Bechdel Test has is in those who consider it to be the
measure of feminism in media. chaila was actually responding above to another Tumblr user mentioning that there were women calling for others to boycott Pacific Rim on the basis that it fails the test. That is ridiculous.
Over on geekalitarian blogger Joanna helpfully shines some light on the problem with these tests in general:
Though useful and well-meaning, tests like these always focus on female characters, essentially creating more and more rules for them. More restrictions, more ways we can critique the perceived inadequacies of female characters. Taken to an extreme they can become a version of the dreaded Strong Female Character, or the equivalent to slapping the Mary Sue or Manic Pixie Dream Girl label on every fictional woman.
She goes on to talk about regulating male characters with their own tests, but what I want to focus on is her discussion on regulation of characters in general. No matter how specific our little pass/fail tests are, they’ll never be able to take everything into account.
I am deeply interested in rectifying the dearth of minority characters in popular media, but do I have a test that these characters have to pass to receive my approval? In general I fall back to the conclusion I made when writing on tropes and archetypes: “Ultimately what really matters is good writing.” I want minority characters, and heck, all characters, to be well-written, three-dimensional, living, breathing people.
chaila’s new test is great because it acknowledges that the Bechdel Test has its holes while still acknowledging it as a rough tool for gauging how a film depicts women. It broadens the criteria for strong female characters and, most importantly, states that as far as being indicative of feminism [and I think this applies to representation of minorities in general] no one rule can do the job on its own.