As a writer, I tend to spend a lot of time researching different topics for my stories. Sometimes this research is conducted in a timely manner and I return to the story at hand within minutes. More often than not, I find myself lost in a labyrinth of information surfing random pages on the internet for hours on end. It was during one such journey that I stumbled across the Bechdel Test.
For those of you like me who had never heard of this test, let me explain. The Bechdel Test is an unofficial method of determining female representation in a fictional work of art. It can be used for anything really, but it is most commonly used for literature and movies.
The test first appeared in 1985 when the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel mentioned it in her comic strip. Since that time, it has become widely used to show how females are or are not represented in fiction.
The test is fairly simple. It requires at least two named female characters in a work. These two female characters must have a conversation at some point. The conversation must be about something other than a man or the male character.
Pretty simple, right?
As I began to research this a bit further, I was intrigued to learn that only about 58% of all movies pass all three elements of this test.
Granted, as a movie buff, I could easily think of some old war movies in which there simply weren’t any female characters. Sahara from 1943 with Humphrey Bogart comes to mind immediately. That movie was about an American tanker unit lost in the middle of the Sahara desert during WWII. Since there were no women assigned to tank units in 1943, it makes perfect sense for this to be a male dominated film.
However, with the rare exceptions such as that film, it seems problematic for other films to rate so poorly in this area. Honestly, this number seemed a bit low to me when I thought about films that had a strong female presence.
I soon learned that there was another test designed to also rate gender equality in fiction. Developed by a fan of the movie Pacific Rim, the Mako Mori test requires that a work must have a named female character and she must have a character arc that is independent of the male characters in the work.
Surely between these two independent, and albeit unofficial tests, most films would pass. Sadly, that might be a bit optimistic.
According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, of over 100 films made worldwide between 2010 and 2013, only about 30% of the named characters were female. In case you’re wondering, the latest statistics indicate that as of 2020 women make up 49.58% of the world’s population.
I began to think back to all the old classics I have enjoyed so many times. I thought back to the famous actresses I’ve watched for hours on end: Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Irene Dunne, and Maureen O’Hara. The list can go on and on. I thought back to those wonderful old films and wondered how they would stack up against these modern equality tests. Would they be able to pass or would they hover around the 58% range as well?
Each Friday, I will be discussing a classic film and how it relates to these two tests. I have no doubt that some gems will fail the tests while others may pass. Either way, it will give me a great excuse to reexamine the old movies that I love so much.
I hope that you’ll join me on this journey. Perhaps we’ll discover some new jewels or rediscover some lost treasures. What could be better?
So, until Friday…
All the Best!