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The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

March 17, 2010

This post is by Anita Sarkeesian and is cross-posted at the blog Feminist Frequency which is an ongoing web series of video commentaries from a feminist perspective.You can also find Feminist Frequency on Twitter and Facebook.

To read more about Alison Bechdel (of the “Bechdel Test”), check out GAB Editor Roxanne Samer’s interview with Bechdel last month.

** You can watch, comment, share and subscribe to Feminist Frequency on YouTube

*See transcript below.

The Bechdel Test is a simple way to gauge the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are.  It was created by Allison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985.  It is astonishing the number of popular movies that can’t pass this simple test.  It demonstrates how little women’s complex and interesting lives are underrepresented or non existent in the film industry.  We have jobs, creative projects, friendships and struggles among many other things that are actually interesting in our lives… so Hollywood, start writing about it!

Check out other great blogs and commentary about the Bechdel Test:

  1. The Bechdel Test Movie List: here you can find a long, long list of movies and where they rate on the Bechdel Test.
  2. Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Pass the Bechdel Test’s by Jennifer Kesler.  This is a must read – exposing the systemic problems of the film industry starting with film school.
  3. See the original comic strip “The Rule” here.
  4. You can visit Allison Bechdel’s site here and I highly recommend her graphic novel Fun Home
  5. Over at the Blog “The Angry Black Woman” she adapted the Bechdel Test to apply to race.  Take a look: The Bechdel Test and Race in Popular Fiction

The Bechdel Test for Women and Movies Transcript

The Bechdel Test or the Mo Movie Measure is a type of litmus test to assess the presence of women in movies.  It originated from Allison Bechdel’s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985.  Here’s how it works, a movie just has to pass these three simple questions: the first, are there two or more women in it who have names, the second, do they talk to each other, and the third, do they talk to each other about something other then a man.

It’s quite extraordinary actually how many movies don’t pass this test cause it’s not even a sign of whether its a feminist movie or whether its a good movie just that there is female presence in it and that they actually are engaging about things other then men.

To prove that this is actually a systemic problem and not just a few movies here and there, I can show you a couple films that don’t pass the test.

The Dark Knight
District 9
Slumdog Millionaire
Terminator Salvation
GI Joe
Bourne Supremacy
Bourne Identity
The Big Lebowski
Ocean’s Twelve
Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3
Austin Powers 1, 2 and 3
Men in Black
Fight Club
The Fifth Element
The Princess Bride
Hellboy 2
The Wedding Singer
Shawshank Redemption
Reservoir Dogs
Point Break
Quantum of Solace 007
Indiana Jones
Alien 3
Lord of the Rings 1, 2 and 3
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Truman Show
From Dusk till Dawn
Mission Impossible
Toy Story
X Men
When Harry Met Sally
Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
Tomb Raider
Pulp Fiction
Interview with the Vampire
Home Alone

Okay you get the point, this is only just a few films out of the many films that don’t pass this test.  When I call it a systemic problem what I mean by this is that it’s not just a few people here and there that don’t like women, or don’t want women’s stories told, but that rather the entire industry is built upon and creating films and movies that cater to and are about men.

Next time you go to the movies just ask yourself these few questions.  Are there two or more women in it and do they have names?  Do they talk to each other?  And do they talk to each other about something other then a man?

  1. Roxanne Samer permalink*
    March 18, 2010 9:46 am

    Last night, I finally got around to watching “Whip It,” and the first thing I thought when it finished was “now that’s a film that passes the Bcchdel test with flying colors.” The film, which came out last year and is directed by Drew Barrymore, focuses on a frustrated high school girl (Ellen Page) in Bodeen Texas, who is sick of competing in beauty pageants for her mother’s sake (Marcia Gay Harden) and serving “squealers” with her best friend (Alia Shawkat) at the local diner. Instead, she ends up secretly trying out for and competing on a women’s roller derby team in Austin (teammates are played by Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Zoe Bell and Eve, among others and her arch rival by Juliette Lewis). While there is some obligatory talking about boys, it’s pretty minimal and most of what the women discuss is their future, their frustrations and kicking ass on the roller derby ring. Anyone who hasn’t seen it and is interested in women-oriented films should check it out! It’s a hell of a lot of fun!

  2. March 24, 2010 3:09 am

    There’s a saying in Hollywood–all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun. Makes you kinda sick, doesn’t it? I think the test is great, and as the video shows, most movies fail, so IMHO, I think localized theatre from a feminine perspective will be an important way to make changes in this industry. Typically the entertainment buyers in a family are women, so the market for women exists as was seen in a number of moves geared toward women recently. We need to keep those voices alive.

  3. Mike permalink
    April 24, 2010 4:56 pm

    Does the movie Cluelees pass the Bcchdel test? If no please explain.

    • Roxanne Samer permalink*
      April 25, 2010 7:02 pm

      Yes, Clueless passes. It’s even included with a smiley face on the list Anita linked to, i.e. here:


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