How Methods Like The Bechdel Test Can Help Us Understand Sexism In Film

Does your favorite movie pass?

Have you ever used a film sexism test to assess how a movie or television show depicts women? 

It's well-reported that women are underrepresented on screen, as well as behind the camera. Additionally, when women are represented in film and television, their characters frequently lack complexity or appear mainly serve the male characters' journeys.

Methods such as the Bechdel Test encourage us to ask ourselves important questions about the media we consume, and whether it contributes to gender inequality in Hollywood.

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What is the Bechdel Test?

The most well-known film sexism test example is the Bechdel Test, which was inspired by a 1985 comic by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in which a character outlines the rules of the test as they relate to women in film. In order for a movie to pass the test, it must feature 1.) two or more (named) women 2.) who speak to each other 3.) about something other than a man.

This seemingly simple set of criteria has been adopted as a sort of litmus test for sexism in movies today. A disturbingly large number of popular films fail the test, showing how often women in entertainment are portrayed as side characters supporting a man's story. A chain of Swedish movie theaters even started giving A ratings to films which pass the test. Not every film which passes the test is a perfect example of gender equality on screen, but it draws attention to the problem.

What passes the Bechdel Test?

Although many of our favorite movies fail this well-known sexism in film test, there are a number of popular titles which satisfy all three criteria. A fan-edited website lists thousands of movies according to whether or not they pass. So far, titles in 2018 which have received a green check include Annihilation, Black Panther, and Ocean's 8.

Teen Vogue recently compiled a list of beloved movies which pass the Bechdel Test, including Clueless, The Princess Diaries, and recent Netflix title To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Millennial favorite Mean Girls also passes. A user on BechdelTest.com points to a lunch room conversation between the Plastics and main character Cady as an example. 

What is the reverse Bechdel Test?

Another film sexism test you can use to analyze movies is the Reverse Bechdel Test, which applies the same criteria to male characters. It asks whether two men have a conversation about something other than a woman. As is to be expected, it's easier to find movies which pass this test than the original Bechdel Test.

It's a reminder that many titles have no problem featuring numerous male characters discussing a myriad of subjects. A Reddit thread asking which films actually manage to fail this test received responses such as Juno, The Women (which features no male characters), and Mean Girls.

What other types of film sexism tests are there?

There are a number of other film sexism tests online which aim to demonstrate examples of sexism in movies and television. One such method is the Maisy Test, which examines sexism in children's media. Its creator, Thalia Kehoe Rowden, was inspired by the Bechdel Test and set out to create a more in-depth version. The test asks questions such as, "Do girls and boys get to do the same thing?" and "Can every kid see someone like them?"

Another technique, dubbed the Jane Test, comes from a Twitter account run by Ross Putman, who tweets female character descriptions from scripts, changing all the names to Jane. The examples demonstrate how often women in film and television are defined by their physical appearance. 

There's also a test to examine female representation behind the camera.The F-rating, created by Holly Tarquini, is given to films which were directed by a woman, written by a woman, or star a significant woman. IMDb even added this rating as a tag on movies which pass. 

How can these tests help improve gender representation in film?

No film sexism test will be a perfect measurement of how well women in Hollywood are represented, but they can alert moviegoers to the gender imbalance frequently on display in popular media. By asking ourselves why so many of our favorite films and television shows fail these tests, we can start to examine the issue of sexism in Hollywood, and work to change these disappointing results by supporting positive onscreen representation.

As Li Lai, founder of Mediaversity Reviews, told A Plus, "The more conscious we become as consumers, the more likely we are to recognize what an entrenched bias is, how they happen in reality, and why we should ask for something better. When we vote with our wallets in accordance with that awareness, entertainment media will follow."

Consider the Bechdel Test and similar methods the next time you watch a movie. You might be surprised by what you find.

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