This story has been bouncing around a ton the past few days. Sweden will now be rating movies on the Bechdel Test. This is a wanton misuse of the test.
The Bechdel Test is not a test of appropriateness or equality. It is a test about female representation. It says nothing about the individual movies, but speaks to the industry as a whole based on failure rates.
This exact same think is done by TheIgnoredGender in his Misandry in the Media series.
In this series he show many commercials that show sexist tropes and stereotypes of men. There are so many commercials that do this the series now is up to 19 parts. No single individual commercial that he talks about is “bad” in isolation. In isolation, they are funny. Taken as a whole, the message of misandry the media sends, there is a huge problem.
This is the proper use of the Bechdel Test, not a rating on individual movies. It gives an overview of the medium as a whole.
Just like TheIgnoredGender’s series, the Bechdel Test has some huge issues. There are two parts to it, 2 named women that talk to each other and it must be about something other than a man.
There is a real over emphasis on names. Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club, while being a lead character and doing lots of talking, is an unnamed character. Having a name presented is not as significant as one may think, and there are many more named characters than most people think. There introduction and naming just isn’t promanant.
The second part, a conversation about something other than “a man” is problematic. What are the limits and rules around this? If two young mothers are talking about their sons, does this count as talking about “a man”. If two older women are talking about their grown son’s, does this count as talking about “a man”. Men are half of the population. If we are to exclude any conversation that has any part about anyone with a penis, we are excluding at least half of normal conversations. If two women are discussing security on a vault, and there are male security guards that must be neutralized, does this count as talking about “a man”.
Men can and should play a big role in most movies. Men are half the population. If talking about support characters or unnamed characters or groups of people that include men fails the Bechdel Test, then there is a big problem with the test.
If we tweek the rule just slightly so that we only include conversations that are actually ABOUT “THE MAN” then we have a much better test. As written the Bechdel Test is not doing a good job of highlighting gender differences, but highlighting how easy it is to manipulate and ask leading questions.
So lets redo the Bechdel Test. The movie includes two women that have at least 4 lines of dialog and 2 minutes of screen time talking about something other than the lead males or romance.
So with this test very few films fail it. There are still a few that have very limited casts or set in all male setting (like a men’s prison or submarine).
Even if we just change the second test from any aspect of the conversation including any reference to any one with a penis to a conversation centered around something other than lead males or romance, then very few movies fail.
While I do appreciate the usefulness of test like the Bechdel Test. This specific test is a poor one to use. While showing industry biases and stereotypes is a good and useful and helpful thing to do, using the test to determine the bias as ratings on individual works is a wanton misuse of the test.