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The Bechdel Test, also known as Mo Movie Measure, is a method used in media criticism to gauge the degree of representation and development of female characters within a work of fiction, and therefore, any gender bias against women that may be present in it. The test simply asks whether the fictional work in question features “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.”
The concept was first introduced by author Alison Bechdel in a strip from her 1985 comic collection Dykes to Watch Out For, which credits her friend Liz Wallace for coming up with the idea (shown below).
In the strip, two women are seen walking past a movie theater as one explains to the other a set of three conditions that must be fulfilled for her to enjoy a film (shown below). The character then goes on to mention that the last film she had seen to pass this test was the 1979 sci-fi action film Alien, which was released six years prior to the publication of the comic strip.
“One, it has to have a least two women in it, who, two talk to each other, about, three, something besides a man.”
The earliest online instance of the comic was uploaded on August 16th, 2005, by Bechdel via her Flickr and Blogspot accounts. As of March 2014, the Flickr image has garnered more than 230,000 views.
Throughout the latter half of the 2000s, the Bechdel test became discussed by media critics, feminist bloggers and scholars, applying its scope to a wide range of fictional works across different genres and mediums, from films and sci-fi literature to video games and TV shows. On June 30th, 2008, Jennifer Kesler published a post titled “Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test” on the film blog The Hathor Legacy. On May 9th, 2009, first entry for The Bechdel Test on Urban Dictionary was entered by user AutumnDevi.
On December 7th, 2009, Anita Sarkeesian uploaded an episode titled “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies” to her video blog Feminist Frequency, in which she defines the standard and lists many films that don’t pass the test such as Bruno, Ghostbusters, and Clerks. As of March 2014, the video has gained over 730,000 views.
On April 11th, 2010, bechdeltest.com was created with a list of movies that pass the test, as well as others that only partially meet the requirements but not all. In 2013, a handful of movie theaters in Sweden began issuing “A” ratings to movies that passed the test.
On November 13th, 2013, IndieCritic ran a post titled "Does It Matter If the Bechdel Test “Fails” Feminist Films?" that suggests the test can let films that do not treat women well slide, while ignoring female dominated films like Sex and the City: 2. On January 7th, 2014, Slate published a post titled “The Bechdel Test Sets the Bar Too Low. Let’s Write a New One” that discussed the tests shortcomings.
On March 5th, 2013, science writer Christie Aschwanden published an article titled “The Finkbeiner Test” on the online science magazine Double X Science. In it she explained her colleague Ann Finkbeiner wanted to write a profile of a female scientist without focusing or even mentioning the fact she is female. She goes on to outline seven things a piece would have to avoid mentioning in order to not focus on a female scientist’s gender, including:
“* The fact that she’s a woman
* Her husband’s job
* Her child care arrangements
* How she nurtures her underlings
* How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
* How she’s such a role model for other women
* How she’s the “first woman to…”
On August 21st, 2013 GLADD ( which originally stood for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) published its “First annual Studio Responsibility Index finds lack of substantial LGBT characters in mainstream films” which introduced the Russo Test, a set of standards a film had to meet to be inclusive of LGBT characters. The test, named for Vito Russo, a film historian who was also one of the founders of GLAAD, consists of three standards for a film to meet including:
“1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender (LGBT).
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. the character is made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another).
3. The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline; the character should matter."
The Rep Test
In February 2014, the Representation Project, an organization started in 2011 by film maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom whose website describes it as “a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness towards change,” released a set of guidelines for a film to meet called “The Representation Test.” It was released as a checklist with points awarded for positive, well rounded representation of men, women, ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community. Points are out of 23 possible, with anything above 11 earning the movie an “A” and zero points earning the film and “F.” One of the possible points a film can be awarded is gained through passing the Bechdel test. In March 2014, the test was covered by culture site Take Part and news site Raw Story.
The Hathor Legacy – Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test