Question: What do The Imitation Game, The Interview, 22 Jump Street, Robocop, and hundreds of other movies have in common?
Answer: They’ve all failed the Bechdel Test.
The Bechdel movie rule is a simple test of three criteria:
1. The movie must have two [named] women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a man.
The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called “The Rule” and has served a good indicator of movies that lack women characters for the past 30 years. Although some movies fail the test simply because of the time period when they are set, all of the movies listed at the beginning of this article are set in this century and still don’t meet the Bechdel stipulations.
While it is certainly okay to enjoy movies that earn a failing score on the Bechdel test, its important to remember why the test exists. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, females comprised only 12% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014. Twelve. Percent. Women make up the majority of our country (and our world), yet we continue to be grossly underrepresented in the media our nation consumes.
Can you imagine if the situation was switched and only 12% of roles were played by men? What would our movies and media look like? How would men cope with being portrayed as one-dimensional background characters?
Unfortunately, that will never happen, and I don’t think it should. The world is comprised of millions of different people and millions of different stories, but for a multitude of reasons, the same stories keep being told again and again! Women make up 51% of the people in the world, but our stories aren’t being told. We’re constantly written to be the ditz, or the sex kitten, or the fat one, or the bitch, but I don’t know any real women who only have one word to describe their whole self.
A famous tip that screenwriters are taught is to “not write for women… its the fastest way to lose an audience’s attention.” In order to move away from the slew of sausage-fest movies that keep getting produced, women need to break into the industry and start breaking the rules. Another writing school tip is “to write what you know”. While white men have obviously been hard at work following this rule, its time for some different voices to step up to the plate and start writing and producing their unique stories.
Next time you’re looking for a good movie to watch, consider checking to see if it passed the Bechdel test. The more time we spend watching diverse, interesting movies, the more likely they are to get produced.