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Failing the Bechdel Test: Do Women Have Nothing Interesting to Talk About?

My colleague, Cindy Drakeman, sent me a link to an article about what a bad summer 2013 is turning out to be for women in movies.  A count of female representation from 1989 to 2013 does suggest that this is a pretty bad year, no matter how you sort the women in the films, but it is not by any means the worst year for female stars, co-stars, and so on.

The Bechdel rule comes from this 1985 strip called "Dykes To Watch Out For."

However, even fewer are passing what is known among feminist film buffs as the Bechdel test.  The term is taken from a 1985 comic strip by Alison Bechdel (which is on the left). A movie passes the Bechdel test if meets three criteria.  It must have two named female characters.  They must talk to each other, not just to the men.  They must talk about something other than men.

Now, it seems like a low bar, doesn’t it?  Well, I guess it isn’t, as lists on the internet show.  And, apparently, there are really just a couple of films that pass the test this summer, notably The Wolverine and The Heat (both of which have only just arrived in the UK).

Even more interesting is an article by Jennifer Kesler who tells how she was taught at UCLA’s film schools not to write screenplays that would pass the Bechdel test. Why?  Two reasons.  One is that the big shots who fund movies assume that the audience pays to see the white guys who populate the movies, not anyone else (so, we go to see Tom Hanks, but not Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington?).  The second is that the audience won’t watch a scene in which two women talk to each other because they don’t think women have anything interesting to talk about.  As one industry professional (UCLA has close industry ties) told her: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”

Ladies, I’m telling you.  It’s time to stop whining about how we are all victimized by advertising and socially demoted to the role of consumers–and take this bull by the balls. Women control a great deal of money as consumers–in the developed world, we make more than 80% of purchase decisions.  We need to learn to use that power.  There should never be anybody–in Hollywood or otherwise–using purchase preferences as an excuse for sexism.

So the next time your son wants money for some testosterone-overload video game? Make him go see three chick flicks first.  Dollars are as powerful as votes.  Cast them consciously.


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