When Brad Pitt’s wife in World War Z called him at the most inopportune moment possible, alerting the whole zombie world to Brad’s presence – even I, miss self-proclaimed feminist since primary school – found myself frustrated with this WOMAN for not being able to leave her man alone for like, 2 seconds, so he could save the world. Clingy much?!
This is why the Bechdel test is so important. The Bechdel test is a simple check to evaluate the representation of women in film. The Bechdel test sets the bar really low, and even then a large portion of films fail it.
For a film, book or the like to pass the Bechdel test, the following requirements must be met:
1. It features at least 2 women who have names
2. These women talk to each other
3. They talk to each other about something other than men
There are a few caveats to this, such as when the setting of the film doesn’t allow for the presence of strong female characters (Dead Poet’s Society) or when the strong female character is the only character (Gravity).
Think about whether or not some of your favourite movies pass the Bechdel test. I think you will find that a good portion of them don’t.
Why does the Bechdel test matter?
This simple, if not limited test highlights an important issue – the underrepresention of half the world’s population in media. The media is incredibly powerful in shaping our worlds. When we watch movies and read books which portray women solely in relation to men or as objects to be sexualised or saved, we rob women and men of the opportunity to see a female as a human being first. One that is able to speak about abstract ideas, feelings and heck – maybe even move the plot forward and save the day.
I often wonder about what message we are sending to little boys and girls when the dominant narrative is that boys are heroes that must be aggressive and do it on their own, and girls are objects to be sexualised or protected from the world. What message does it send to both genders when women in film are consistently side-lined and men are the aggressors or saviours?
In Britain, the leading cause of death in men under the age of 35 is suicide. In South Africa, violence against women and girls remain endemic. In the United States of America, every single mass shooting except for one has been committed by a man. The representation of women in film is not just a “woman’s issue” – its humanity’s issue, period.
The Bechdel test merely asks that 2 women who have names talk to each other about something other than men. That is something that happens every day. Men can be sensitive and nurturing, women can be leaders who are strong and athletic– and it’s about time we start expecting this from film and media.