Films, Reviews

The Bechdel test

I recently researched an agent to submit my book to who mentioned that she liked to receive stories that passed the Bechdel test. Intrigued, I headed to Google to find out what this is.

The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Mo Movie Measure or Bechdel Rule is a simple test which names the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. The test was popularized by Alison Bechdel‘s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called The Rule. There’s even a website that lists films and rates whether they pass or fail the test.

Without retreating back to my feminists studies at uni (I did Sociology) I like the idea of this because the lack of female centric films is noticeable especially oens that don’t focus on men. I like a good rom com as you know but sometimes I like to see some healthy female role models out there.

I recently watched two films that centred on female characters so I checked to see if they were listed as a pass or fail on the test.

4-3-2-1 is a British film about four girls who get tied up with a diamond heist – it passes the test because they do talk about things other than men. And I enjoyed the fact they were feisty and not damsel-in-distress girls but the film failed slightly for me on a more general feminist level because three of the girls appear several times either in their underwear or fully naked and it’s not really integral to the plot. It feels like the male movie makers are trying to get men to watch the film, which for me defeats the object of having a female centric film in the first place.

The second film was Thirteen, a controversial look at two teenage girls co-written by a teenage Nikki Reed. This film also passes the test and is an authentic look at the issues teenage girls can face. Although you never fully get to grips with why they behave the way they do, I liked how complex their characters were and the documentary feel to the film.

So although I like the idea of this test, I think there are more things to consider when looking a piece of work and deciding whether it is really a step forward for women in films. I am impressed that a literary agent considers this when reviewing a manuscript and I’d definitely like to read more female centric books. I love a good romance but I also like to see strong women and that’s probably why my own writing veers more to the style and issue-driven focus of Thirteen.

Are female centric films important to you? Have you seen a film lately that passed or failed the Bechdel test?




17 thoughts on “The Bechdel test”

  1. my novels all centre on the main character, lola mackay who as you know has ASD. Yes, men are involved (a rom-com!) and it’s just about lola wanting to achieve her dreams – by ways of her dream job and romantically. Surely that’s got to pass the test?!

  2. I do enjoy a female-centric film. Actually, I think I enjoy anything that breaks the role of male perceptions of females. I just read a collection of stories from around the world with female heroes, stories that get lost in a canon of damsels in distress. That is annoying. Whatever i write next will definitely pass the Bechtel test.

  3. I suppose the past few films I’ve seen although excellent for the female, would fail this test.

    However I thoroughly recommend Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec ( it’s subtitled but still a brilliant film )….

  4. I have to admit, I’ve never heard of this test. My YA fantasy would fail. I have two male teens and one female, but the girl is sassy and doesn’t take any crap.

    I like strong female roles but I like to see the girl grow from someone who is weak, abused, is shy…some sort of issue, and turn herself around, and not because of a boy, but because she realizes how amazing she really is. Those are the types of stories that really grip me.

  5. Love this post! (And that Bechdel Test website… definitely bookmarked that for further use down the road)

    Female-centric movies (and other audio/visual media) are very important to me. Having a film/video production background and education, it’s really quite mind boggling when you know the stats about the number of women working behind the scenes and how that really affects the number/kinds of women and their stories you see on screen.

    In the past year, The Help and Bridesmaid stand out to me as two films that do pass this test. While some of their female characters do talk about men (sometimes that just can’t be helped… especially in a film about a straight woman’s wedding), there was plenty of plot lines that didn’t have anything to do them. Plus, the casts of those movies were chock-full of some of the most talented women working today 🙂

  6. I had never heard of this test. It kind of makes plot lines and characters seem to derivative. I think stories should be organic and unfold as they are naturally inclined.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s