EVAN: So I came across a little something called the “Bechdel Test” through an article on racebending.com. It’s a test that’s supposed to rate how well a film does in terms of portraying women. That’s a rough description, anyway.
GORDON: I’ve heard of it in film criticism. It essentially asserts that for a film to have “real” female characters, it must have a scene in which (1) two women (2) talk to each other (3) about something other than a man. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be blown away by how many movies fail it…
EVAN: And the thing is, some of these movies happen to have perfectly good “strong female characters.” The site bechdeltest.com lists films that do or don’t make the cut, and in the comments section many a person states “but this female character was such and such…”
EVAN: User “lili” disagreed with the rating given Wrath of the Titans, saying:
Although conversation between the two named women was minimal, the character of the main woman was well developed with no sexual stereotyping or weaknesses. I think it passes the Bechdel test in spirit, if not in actual letter.
GORDON: See man, as much as I’d consider myself a feminist, I really don’t like the Bechdel Test and some of the assumptions it seems to make. A lot of it just really doesn’t pan out- I’m looking at the list they’ve got here, and it’s seriously twisted.
Check it out- Sex and the City 2- easily some of the most misogynistic and racist crap out there gets a free pass, and movies like The Rum Diary or Rise of the Planet of the Apes– which have way better portrayals of women- are failed…
EVAN: I mean, it’s easy to see why their criteria was picked- having the women named is extremely important, as it’s a pretty solid way of ensuring that they’re actual character and not just waitresses or other extras. Also having them talk about something other than a man. That’s pretty important stuff, I think, in maintaining that they’re not just female verbal support for the male lead.
Where it really falls apart is the second part of the test: the need for the female character to have to talk to each other-
GORDON: I don’t think you’re being quite hard enough here, dude- this is a bad test. Look at it this way-
The first criteria is that there be two women, which is dumb because it assumes that a woman’s identity is based on how she relates/matches up with/differs/etc. with other women. Totally disregards her qualities (or failings) as an individual, y’know? The second criteria is, like you say, that they have to interact which each other, which again doesn’t make much sense (see previous point). And the third point, while decent, also kinda falls apart- if two men talk to each other about nothing but women, are they not real male characters? Kinda throws relationship movies out of the window.
…Point is, the test sorta shows you when a movie drops the ball on female characters, but a “passing grade” doesn’t really mean much of anything.
EVAN: I agree with you completely. Part of the reason I’m a little less harsh is thinking about how to construct/write a single test which judges a film on something as deceptively simple as the “active presence of female character,” as Feminist Frequency would put it.
GORDON: Well, what makes a female character a female character?
EVAN: Well, I took Human Sexuality my senior year of college, so I can think of a few key specifics-