Yesterday I spent much of my day setting up a movie-related blog (to be launched) with my friend Jason. While we were working on it, we talked a bit about the Bechdel Test, which rates a movie on whether it contains at least two female (named characters) who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.
Sounds like it’s an easy test to pass, right? Wrong.
Here are how some of my favorite movies rated:
Don’t steal Jane’s stuff, okay?
“Thor” – passes (with debate) because the weather event Jane and Darcy discuss happens to be caused by/results in Thor’s arrival. However, the characters had no idea that Thor or his father were the cause of the event. Additionally, Jane indicates she has already observed the phenomenon before, and obviously a male did not fall out of the sky each time she observed it. Not only does it pass, it passes within the first few minutes.
“Jurassic Park” – passes. Lex and Ellie problem solve. Team computer nerd/paleobotanist for the win!
“The Princess Bride” – fails. Sadly. I kind of want to add in an extra scene just so that it passes. After all, Princess Buttercup is pretty bad ass and a pretty central figure in the film.
“Sense and Sensibility” – passes. The women chatter a lot about men and relationships, but they talk about other things, too: health, weather, housework, money. Considering the era of the original book and the subject of the film, I find this really impressive.
“Snow White and the Huntsman” – passes. In fact, I feel like the men are actually the ones caught in a power struggle between women in this movie and I wish both of the male lead characters had as much depth as Ravenna (Charlize Theron).
The two fails that bother me most are the original “Star Wars” trilogy and the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This is especially disheartening since Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto) are exceptionally strong female characters.
Additionally, they both have romantic interactions and flirtation in their movies, but they remain centered on their respective causes. This also makes me consider whether LOTR’s plot should have been further revised to highlight female characters more often, especially considering the role of Arwen (Liv Tyler) was already expanded considerably. I’m not sure how I feel about it as I love the source material and the director’s ability to stick to the authenticity of the books.
Peggy Carter 101: Responding to misogyny.
An honorable mention: “Captain America: The First Avenger.” This is a film that causes me to believe that the Bechdel Test is an excellent guideline, but not the ultimate deciding factor of female presence in movies. This movie takes place mainly in World War II era, and the females in the movie (named and not) react to this in different ways. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) even punches a guy who makes a misogynistic comment. The lack of other women for her to talk to isn’t an oversight on the part of the film’s writers – realistically, Peggy is singular.
It’s part of her character, really, even if it’s unfortunate: there might be other women around, but they are not on her professional level.
While I think the test is important, I think it’s also worthwhile to look at the spirit of the entire movie. Additionally, if more women were writing these movies, it would probably be less of a problem. If you’ll notice, “Sense and Sensibility” passed the test despite its subject matter – probably because the main characters are women. And that’s what the test is really about – not equality, but female presence.
If there were more main female characters, perhaps this test would not be needed in the first place. “Sense and Sensibility” functions as several things for the audience: it does point out difficulty and lack of equality, but also asserts that one must learn to practically live within these limitations.
When I think about my real-life conversations with other women, I realize that more than half of the time, we do not mention males (or others in general) at all. My grandfather, for example, is in a nursing home, and my grandmother always considers it polite to ask about how my husband is doing. Even so, our conversations still revolve around other things, such as our health or my job. Furthermore, if I was a character in a movie, I think, “Hey Gram, I just scored a press pass to cover a convention for a majorly important blog!” is way more interesting than “Rick’s doing well. He’s at work.”
Additionally, I notice that a lot of guys (even ones who seem to treat everyone with dignity and respect) seem to think the Bechdel Test is bullshit. At first glance, it apparently seems like those aware of the test are trying to put lead female roles in every single movie, but that’s not the case. “Thor” remains my favorite example of a movie focused mainly on male character development that still passes the test.
Tara is a lifelong geek and the founder and publisher of The Geek Initiative. Her interests were forged in an early appreciation for "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Jurassic Park," and many historical fiction and fantasy novels. Tara is a game designer, LARPer, and frequent convention attendee. The author of over 1,000 individual blogs, her content has been featured on HelloGiggles, nordiclarp.org, LARPing.org, and The Billfold. She holds a B.A. in English from McDaniel College and has attended many events as press (including New York Comic Con). Tara has a professional background in marketing and publishing. She lives in the Philadelphia area. A Marvel fan, her favorite superhero is undoubtedly Thor. View her portfolio at: tmc.pressfolios.com.
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