The Bechdel Test: A Success?

The Bechdel Test: A Success?

All world’s a stage and anyone in the film industry worth their salt will be aware of the curious phenomenon known as the Bechdel test.  This test was first introduced in 1985 by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For and has become a topic that sparks controversy when brought up. The Bechdel test (also known as the Bechdel-Wallace test) has been touted by many as a litmus test that a movie ought to pass to be progressive and free of gender bias. It sets three criteria to be fulfilled:

  1. The movie must feature no less than two women.
  2. These women must talk to each other
  3. The topic of conversation must exclude men

The Bechdel test, however, contains fundamental flaws that severely compromise its credibility. The first major flaw will be the perfunctoriness of its proposed standards of analysis. Dime a dozen movies have passed the test based on paltry technicalities. For example, a conversation that centers around the duties of a housewife/marriage/raising children will pass the Bechdel test as long as it excludes men. American Pie 2- a movie that is unarguably full of sexism and stereotypes, passes this test. Another problem, a tad more serious than its predecessor, is that the Bechdel test doesn’t factor in any potential white-washing, racism, homophobia or xenophobia a movie may have in its script. As long as two women talk about anything other than a man, the movie is safe. Even if the conversation in question contains racist or homophobic undertones, it will pass the Bechdel test. Even if every major character is white or there are ridiculously insulting stereotypes infused in the movie, one 60 second conversation will deem it progressive and free of gender bias. It is evident that the test, therefore, caters to white feminism and ignores both, intersectionality and people of color. The final flaw that I will deal with is the discrimination against men that the Bechdel test encourages, perhaps subconsciously. The exclusion of men in the three set criteria alienate them completely from feminism and the feminist movement.  The Bechdel test, by saying that a movie is free of gender bias only if two women engage in a conversation, conveys that women cannot talk about men without being submissive or conforming to stereotypes. It indicates the very presence or mention of a man has a negative impact on reversing the gender bias in the film industry and consequently, further alienates men from the feminist movement. The rationale behind the criteria is to combat the gender bias in cinema but the implementation seeks to empower a gender by pulling another back. It can, therefore, be concluded that although Bechdel test is a good method to draw one’s attention to the lack of women in cinema, it is overly simplistic. Despite the fact that it seeks to draw attention to a crucial imbalance, it is, in its essence, a method too blunt and crude to be put to use in real life.     ———— ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Mrinalini Natarajan , our intern.

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