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The Bechdel Test (And Why There's No Reason to Fail It)

The Bechdel Test (And Why There's No Reason to Fail It)

The Bechdel Test (And Why There's No Reason to Fail It)

In a 1985 comic strip titled The Rule, Alison Bechdel introduced to the world what has become popularly known as the Bechdel Test. A character in the comic states that she only goes to see movies that pass the following criteria:

1.     There are at least two women in the movie, who

2.     Talk to each other, about

3.     Something other than a man

This test, originally meant as “a little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper,” has become arguably the most widely used measure to judge a movie for gender equality, gauging the presence of relevant and developed female characters.

The Bechdel Test may seem like an easy one to pass, but it’s surprising how many popular movies fail to meet the criteria. bechdeltest.com is a user-edited database of almost 6000 films that categorizes by passing or failing the test. As of June 2015, only 58% of films have passed all three criteria.

58% is admittedly a majority, but just think: what was the last movie you saw that contained less than two men? Or had men that didn’t talk to each other? Or men who only talked about girls?

It’s hard to come up with any, isn’t it?

It’s not 1985 anymore. It’s 2015, but Alison Bechdel’s message is still relevant. Women make up half of the world and more than half of movie-goers. It should go without saying that every movie should have female characters that get the respect and complex characterization that male characters do. Women deserve to see themselves depicted onscreen as human – varied and diverse and flawed, not as tropes or accessories.

Now, the Bechdel test is in no way a perfect way to determine whether or not a film is sexist. But I think it’s one of the best methods available. Because it is possible for a movie to have a complex and strong female character, but maybe just the one. It fails the test, but an argument can be made for a feminist-friendly depiction. But maybe it’s time to up the standards. Maybe it’s time to demand that movies contain more than one woman with her own story arc and motivations. The bar is already low enough: it’s really not difficult to slip a conversation into a two-hour movie.


Of course, a movie can pass the Bechdel Test and still be sexist overall. But personally, I’m a firm believer in the Test. And I’m always looking for movies that can pass it in one scene, and then another and another and another. I’m ready for girl talk. I’m here for female characters. I’m pumped for more and better characterized women in cinema. And I’m going to take a page out of the girl from The Rule’s book and hold the movies I see up to this standard until I don’t have to anymore. Until the Bechdel Test is just Common Sense.


Jessica Peng (or Jess for short) will be a high school senior this September. She likes sweet foods and bad puns and hopes for a world with a lot more diversity in the media. She's always doodling and sometimes she writes stories. Jess is also the chief editor of her school’s literary journal, as well as an art intern at Grammar Yuniversity. She has a big thing for cute cartoon shows and loves a good novel. Currently, Jess is working towards earning her IB diploma. Unfortunately, she is not very good at chemistry or math. She’s excited to have the opportunity to write for Her Culture!


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