The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

December 7, 2009

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 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

** This video is available to be translated into other languages by volunteers like you.  Please visit the subtitling page on Universal Subs and click TRANSLATE to get started

 

 

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
Shrek
Watchmen
Bourne Supremacy
Bourne Identity
Transformers
Bruno
Hackers
Ghostbusters
The Big Lebowski
Wall-E
Wanted
Ocean’s Twelve
Clerks
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
Milk
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
Trainspotting
Mission Impossible
Braveheart
Toy Story
Gladiator
X Men
Wolverine
When Harry Met Sally
Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
Tomb Raider
Pulp Fiction
Interview with the Vampire
Seven
Home Alone
Up

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 rather the entire industry is built upon 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?

Related posts:

63 Responses to “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies”

  1. Thanks, Seed! Never knew about this. It’d be great to see/devise/use other structurally simple ways of gauging gender representation of women and men.

  2. [...] from Feminist Frequency by Anita Sarkeesian, Dec. 7, [...]

  3. hey anita, this is great!

    i reposted on my website endofcapitalism.com

    also i hope it’s ok if i list your blog on my blogroll, cause you make a lot of awesome videos!

    alex
    philly sds

    Anita Reply:

    Of course you can add me to your blogroll! I’m glad you enjoyed the video, thanks for the repost.

  4. [...] Feminist Frequency points out, passing the Bechdel test “does not mean that the movie is a feminist movie, or that [...]

  5. I was telling someone about this today and Later they spoke of this true blood show and I remembered you had a video on it that I hadn’t seen, and from there saw this site. Although I don’t see most of the shows you review, It helps when other people talk about them around me, and I have a good perspective and knowledge to speak about them. Thank you so much. I will also add you to my blogroll. Keep up the good work.

  6. [...] Presence of Women in Film An interesting post over at Feminist Frequency: the litmus test for the presence of women in film (not a test to see if its a feminist movie, or a [...]

  7. [...] For some of the many movies that have been put through the test, check out The Bechdel Test Movie List and for a super cool video on the test, check it at the Feminist Frequency. [...]

  8. [...] Auch wenn es relativ einfach klingt – nur die wenigsten Filme bestehen den Test. Anita Sarkeesian von Feminist Frequency demonstriert das sehr anschaulich und verlinkt noch ein paar interessante Texte und Webseiten. [...]

  9. [...] the thought habe ich dieses tolle Video gefunden, in dem Anita Sarkeesian von Feminist Frequency The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies [...]

  10. [...] Auch wenn es relativ einfach klingt – nur die wenigsten Filme bestehen den Test. Anita Sarkeesian von Feminist Frequency demonstriert das sehr anschaulich und verlinkt noch ein paar interessante Texte und Webseiten. [...]

  11. [...] the thought habe ich dieses tolle Video gefunden, in dem Anita Sarkeesian von Feminist Frequency The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies [...]

  12. [...] Liste der Film im Video gibt es bei Feminist Frequency. Was jetzt fehlt, wäre eine Liste der Filme, die den Test bestehen und trotzdem cool sind… [...]

  13. Frauen im Film – der Bechdel-Test…

    Anita Sarkeesian von Feminist Frequency hat einen kurzen Film zum „Bechdel-Test” gemacht. Dies ist ein Test, mit dem die aktive Präsenz von Frauen und die Komplexität ihrer Charaktere in Filmen erfasst werden kann. 1985 „erfand” ihn Aliso……

  14. [...] In the end, Katie simply exists to serve as a vessel for Kick-Ass to get out of the superhero biz, because HE NOW HAS SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR!  While searching for a still from the film of Katie to accompany this post, I checked the official site, IMDB, and Yahoo – not one picture includes any female, with the exception of Hit Girl.  A few pages of Google Image Search yielded the same result – nothing.  (The above image is a screengrab I took from the trailer.)  There’s no real dimension to any of the female characters – either they get no screen time, or when they do, it’s either cold blooded killer or doting girlfriend.  This movie certainly did not pass the Bechdel Test. [...]

  15. [...] posted at Feminist Frequency by Anita Sarkeesian and cross-posted at Gender Across [...]

  16. [...] entire industry is built upon creating films and movies that cater to and that are about men." More here. film criticism feminism Share | | Printer-Friendly [...]

  17. [...] (Via Neatorama, via Sociological Images via Feminist Frequency) [...]

  18. The Bechdel test is a perfect example of non sequitur based solely on the arbitrary terms in which it deems what is and is not a female presence. Lets pick a single movie in your list that I find major fault in, Alien 3. In this movie we have a female protagonist who acts in a leadership role to save the lives of numerous men. Ripley as a character has by far the most dialog and really all the important dialog. she is the only character in the movie with any depth (developed over the course of three movies) and if you ask anyone who has seen the movie to name a single character from Alien 3 I’m certain that the majority would only be able to name Ripley.

    But based on the arbitrary rules set by the Bechdel test, this movie lacks a female presence?

    Anita Reply:

    Just because there is one notable female character doesn’t mean that no other women can appear with any substance in the film.

  19. This is a great example! Brilliant. We´re sa group of filmmakers in sweden whom been active on the issue since 1999. http://www.dorisfilm.se.
    Right now our Dorisfilm has it´s premier at the Toronto filmfestival 2 june. We´re all ready to be screened over the world.
    The Doris Manifesto
    All scripts will be written by women
    All films will have at least one female
    leading part
    All primary functions concerning artistry and decision making will be occupied by women
    All original music will be composed by women

    -A Film Project Debating Equality between Gender in the Film Industry and on the White Screen. Through the Doris Manifesto, the Doris Film Network wants to investigate whether the portrayal of women and men, on the white screen, will change with female narrators.

    The Doris Manifesto aim to explore how the film narratives develop in films made by women. The last ten years 79% of our full length film production has been directed by men. We want to change that!

    Mail me your adress and I´ll send you the Dorisfilm!!

    good work!!

  20. [...] in movies. It was created by a very smart woman named Allison Bechdel. You can read all about it here, but the basis of the test involves asking these three questions about any [...]

  21. Sweet , I hope to see more from you guys and continue that great work that really inspires me.

  22. Wow, not many people can be funny while not doing anything – I’d thought that talented was limited to Jon Stewart and Sarah Haskins – but that video was fantastic.
    I’ve been doing a lot of research on the Bechdel test applied to contemporary media because I noticed that this conversation tends to be dominated by college-age and older feminists and wanted to put together an article on how to encourage young people to investigate their preferred movies and television shows. (It’s finished now, if anyone is interested: http://teaching-media-literacy.suite101.com/article.cfm/a-bechdel-test-of-ones-own-modeling-feminist-critique-for-youth)

  23. [...] was perfect casting, and it is a sort of formulaic romantic comedy. All that being said, it passes the Bedchel test, it has an amazing supporting cast and when I saw how riled up some people on imdb got about the [...]

  24. While the focus of this test is Hollywood, what’s missing in the analysis is the second component… the consumer. After all, communication happens at three distinct points; the sender, the receiver and the message. What does this tell us about the consumer, both male and female? As Hollywood is a business having a profit motive and therefore tailors its message towards the consumer, doesn’t this really tell us more about the paying consumers of mass culture more than anything else?

    Anita Reply:

    I think it’s more important to look at Hollywood then consumers. People are going to go to the movies that are available, I would never be able to watch the vast majority of TV shows or movies if I had to wait until something that looked truly interesting with good solid representations came out. If Hollywood changed the way they made movies, people would watch those as well and those changes could include solid and complex characters who are female, queer and people of colour.

  25. [...] Eclipse does pass the Bechdel Test (just barely) that’s definitely not enough to pass as a feminist film. As Ms.blogger Carmen [...]

  26. [...] female characters serving as supporting roles / love interests. The problem is well-documented by feminist culture critics. Comic artist Alison Bechdel created something called the Bechdel Test to determine if a film has [...]

  27. [...] in my weekly Beauty in the Movies post, because although though the films can generally pass the Bedchel test, I can’t get behind Bella as a role model, I’m a child of the Buffy generation, and I [...]

  28. I was surprised by some of the movies on this list and un-surprised by others. For the most part they are what they are, movies made for and marketed to men. I’ve seen most of them, and liked most of them.

    I can’t help but feel however, that a worse perpetrator must be the Hollywood movies made for and marketed to women, the romantic comedies. I’m guessing a lot of these would fail the test as well, since the women seem to be always obsessed — and always talking about — finding a man.

    I like your site and although I don’t agree with everything you say, this one is spot on. Hollywood movies are typically misogynistic, always heterosexual, and most often white.

    So where does the root of the problem lie? I can’t help but think the producers would greenlight anything they thought would make a profit… and as far as I know, women are just as likely as men to spend their money on movies. If the movies aren’t being made because they don’t make a profit, why don’t they? Again, it would seem the audience is there.

  29. [...] 9,361 The Bechdel Test July 26, 2010, 1:00 am Filed under: Art,Books,Film,Life,Politics | Tags: fun home, alison bechdel, feminist frequency, the bechdel test, dykes to watch out for I got this from Kathryn who got it from Entertainment Weekly which got it from BoingBoing which got it from Feminist Frequency: [...]

  30. [...] 29, 2010 You may have heard of the Bechdel test for movies. If a movie has (a) two or more female characters with names, who (b) talk to each other [...]

  31. [...] love that Volver doesn’t pass the reverse Bedchel test, which means it has very few male characters, and none that are complex. It’s OK though, [...]

  32. [...] That’s hard to believe if you get your cues from the movie industry. Here’s how you can figure it out. It involves conducting the Bechdel Test (hat tip to BoingBoing). 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 is astonishing the number of popular movies that can’t pass this simple test.  It demonstrates how 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! (Feminist Frequency) [...]

  33. [...] know this movie only kinda sorta passes the Bechdel test—but whatever. The test has flaws, and when a movie is completely about relationships and all [...]

  34. I usually post devil’s-advocate comments, but I must say this was one of the most brilliant and eye-opening posts I’d ever seen on any blog.
    It has permanently made me more cognizant of how women are “used” in movies — only as props — and how little they are actually portrayed and developed as full characters.
    Remarkably, this same issue came up with the Twilight book series, as you noted in a later post. (Doubly sad, since one would expect higher standards for literature vs movies, but also since it was authored by a woman).

    Please keep up the great work here, and i’m looking forward to reading more. And please come up with more “Tests”! I think they are so powerful in that they are so simple, and yet the results are so shocking that it really makes a lasting impression!

  35. [...] Try this next time you watch a movie. Enlightening to say the last… [...]

  36. [...] I should add an explanation of what it is for those who don’t know. There’s also a video if that [...]

  37. [...] A surprising number of films don’t pass, as described in this video (a transcript of the video can be found here): [...]

  38. [...] stehen im Mittelpunkt, ihre Geschichten werden erzählt. Ich glaube nicht, dass einer der Filme den Bechdel-Test bestehen würde. Darüberhinaus sind die meisten Figuren gesund („ablebodied“ – [...]

  39. [...] friendship, which passes the Bechdel Test, drives the film forward, rather than their [...]

  40. [...] – Why Strong Female Characters are Bad for Women Feminist Frequency – The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies The Bechdel Test Movie [...]

  41. Actually, the only action adventure genre movie that does pass this test that I can think of is Zombieland. Featuring two nick-named (we don’t know anyone’s real name) who talk to each other about not trusting other people and survival in a world overrun with zombies.

    It also shows the archetypal male heroes as independent and struggling to get along whereas the female heroes are innately cooperative, at least with each other. Showing the characteristics of both genders as different but equally powerful.

    As if I needed another reason to love Zombieland.

  42. I know a guy who works on films (BBC) and he was the first to make me realize that movies are a mens world. He said: Look, for 5 men on screeen, you see one woman. And it doesn’t even mean she has a role, really. Ever since he said that to me, I can’t stop thinking about it, when I watch a film. :( Annoying.

  43. Hi, I have been following your site for a while now. I am an Indian women and your comments about American pop and media have increased further my fury when I watch Indian media – cinema, TV shows and newspapers.

    Really Inspired! I hope to use your line of analysis to do some on Indian media! I hope that is alright and I have also added your blog to my blogroll.

    Keep up the good work!

  44. [...] For more on the Bechdel Test check out the Bechdel Test Movie List or the totally rad Anita Sarkeesian, and her website Feminist Frequency. [...]

  45. [...] in pop culture, and I really enjoy it so I wanted to share. She’s talked about the Bechdel test, and the Oscars, and marketing to girls and boys. She recently began a series called Tropes vs. [...]

  46. [...] Re: I have heard of the Bechdel Test I had not, until yesterday. The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies | Feminist Frequency [...]

  47. [...] more examples of the Bechdel Test, see this Feminist Frequency video!   Share this [...]

  48. [...] of The Bechdel Test, why aren’t women minimally represented in more texts? Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency writes, “It’s quite extraordinary actually how many movies don’t pass this test cause it’s [...]

  49. [...] (from Feminist Frequency) [...]

  50. [...] of the Apes does not even come close to passing the Bechdel Test. Unless we count the one lady chimp who – SPOILER – dies in the opening of the film (you know, [...]

  51. [...] of my favorite video’s from feministrequency.com is The Bechdel Test. Before I’d watched the video I’d never heard the term before, but ever since then I mentally [...]

  52. [...] Recently, I came across a clip at the feminist frequency blog. The woman who runs the blog is brilliant, creating little excerpts which highlight contemporary patriarchal prevalence. One of her gems explains the Bechdel Test. [...]

  53. [...] The introduction of Captain Gates means that more Castle episodes will probably pass the Bechdel test, but it also falls into the trope of pitting two women against each other to compete — even [...]

  54. This is pretty amazing! I also noticed that the a lot of exceptions I could think of that actually passed this test were women who were directly related to the main character or female lead (mother, grandma, or sister). To me, that’s still a bit of a failure.

  55. ‘It won’t tell you if any given film is bad or good, but it is an interesting tool to look at just some of the messages mainstream culture is feeding us.’ Read more on the Bechdel Test at http://www.squarise.comhttp://squarise.com/2011/09/bechdel-test-is-matters/

  56. [...] Sometimes I wonder how much of life would pass The Bechdel Test. [...]

  57. [...] See Bechdel’s comic episode The Rule from Dykes to Watch Out For,  The Bechdel Test site with a list of movies, and The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies on feministfrequency.com. [...]

  58. [...] Bechdel Test is a simple way to evaluate the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just [...]

  59. [...] can’t believe I even have to defend this: We’re finally getting more women characters on television, talking to other female characters about things that aren’t ma…, and someone has the audacity to say, “You know what? There aren’t enough white [...]

  60. [...] about anything other than a man for more than 60 seconds (the last part is an addition suggested by Feminist Frequency). This movie passes, but just barely. If you look at the total dialogue in this movie, at least 80% [...]