What it means to pass the Bechdel test?
The entertainment industry is beginning to flip a new page towards greater racial diversity and gender representation. As they emerge from the stereotypical archetypes and portrayals of women in film, they are attempting to offset the patriarchy and develop stronger, more independent female characters. However, people need to start re-examining what truly qualifies as female representation in film. Even simple tests are still difficult to pass.
There have been numerous studies and tests conducted to quantitatively determine the measure of representation in fiction. Specifically, the Bechdel Test presented basic criteria to analyze the fairness of women’s representation in a film. With films only having to meet three components to pass, the test is rather simple.
There must be two (or more) named female characters
They must talk to each other
Their conversation has to be about anything other than a man
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, most films actually don’t seem to live up to one or two of these standards, let alone all three to pass the test.
Why is it so difficult to have two women speak to each other about something other than men? Women continue to be used as mere plot devices to propel male characters. This test doesn’t evaluate whether or not a woman character has their own opinion or distinct personality-- in fact, any film that has female representation should easily pass this test. The validity and effectiveness of the Bechdel Test are debatable-- film critics and reviewers are continuing to use this test to rate and measure the levels of representation in films.
Undoubtedly, the film industry is becoming more transparent in terms of women’s representation-- informing audiences through objective tests is indeed beneficial and progressive in nature. However, simply using the Bechdel Test indicates the least a film can include passing.
Especially with an ever-growing activist society, holding films to these elementary standards will result in stagnation and minimal effort to properly represent female characters. Women can still be entirely dependent upon a male character and be stereotypically characterized while somehow passing the Bechdel Test. Even if women aren’t talking about men, films can still subtly include traits that feed into the idea of domestic femininity.
Representation is complex-- it isn’t meant to be added randomly into a scene for brownie points. In order to bolster this sense of boldness and bravery, films often use the trope of the independent woman to fulfill their female representation needs. These “female empowerment” movies may contain multiple female leads that never interact with one another or a single lead that doesn’t have a strong support system. Such films underplay the relationships between women-- thus, even these feminist-themed movies are failing the Bechdel Test, which in of itself is flawed.
The Bechdel Test is a one-size-fits-all type of evaluation. It doesn’t consider plot, narrative, or character development. If film directors and producers believe that they’ve cracked the code bypassing the Bechdel Test, then they’re feeding into the prevailing issue of gender misrepresentation in the cinematic universe. Tests should be personalized and individualized according to the genre and/or specific movies.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be so black and white-- rather than pass-fail, there could be spectrums of evaluations and grades that take into consideration the topics of conversations and character interactions. As film engrains itself into a child’s emergence into the real world, it’s crucial that anyone, no matter their gender, race, or sexuality, sees characters like themselves to relate to and find that sense of belonging at an early age. Evaluations need to account for the complexities and purposefulness behind proper representation in order for movies to truly be a cinematic experience for everyone.
Writer - Simone Sharma
Graphic Designer - Samira Wali