The Bechdel Test & An Animal-Friendly Film List

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Update, 3/18/10: I will see you an animal-friendly film list and raise you television, music, literature and theater. All this and more at POP! goes The Vegan.

Recently, Lindsay at Female Impersonator was struck with the notion to compile a list of films that pass the Bechdel Test. In researching the issue, she found several existing sites which essentially offer the same service, and served them up in a mini link roundup. This all got me thinking about pop culture, female representation, feminist flicks – and, from there, the non-human animal equivalents.

For those who have never heard of the Bechdel Test, it’s pretty simple. The “test” is a set of criteria which a movie must meet or exceed in order to “pass,” namely:

1. There [are] at least two named female characters who
2. talk to each other
3. about something besides a man.

The Bechdel Test – also called the Mo Movie Measure or Dykes to Watch Out For – was popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in a 1985 strip of the comic Dykes to Watch Out For called “The Rule.”

Like I said, pretty simple; and yet, precious few films pass (and many of these, just barely). For example, check out the Bechdel Test Movie List, a sort of user-generated database that rates films on each of the three criteria. It’s not a super-long list, and only about half of the icons are smiling with approval.

Feminist blogs are just as prone to misogynist trolls as animal rights blogs are to those of the speciesist variety; pop culture criticism, in particular, seems to bring the anti-feminist trolls out in droves. (Dudes do not like it when women try to encroach on “their” pop culture, I tell you what.) The mere mention of the “Bechdel Test” is enough to elicit a self-righteous wave of privileged male backlash – despite the rather low bar set by said “test.”

In defending my review of Vantage Point (which passed the test, but barely), I observed,

Rather than being “bullshit,” the Bechdel test is the minimum fucking standard that (most) movies should be held to. It’s pretty simple: two women, who utter at least two sentences to one another during the course of 90+ minutes, about something other than teh menses. Like, seriously: two women, two sentences, not revolving around men. That’s a low bar, especially when you consider that almost every damn movie ever made in the history of the world features two+ men, talking to each other, about something other than women. And yet, somehow it’s a huge fucking ordeal for Hollywood to make a film that features two women whose lives do not revolve around men.

I say “most” because, obviously, there will be the odd exception; movies set in all-male spaces, such as an all-male school or such, can be excused for not featuring (m)any female characters, just as movies set in all-female spaces may not have equal male representation.

Okay, so I was a wee bit angry, given that I was responding to a (now-banished) troll, but you get the idea.

To this, I’d also like to add that fans of the Bechdel Test, by and large, don’t expect every film, without exception, to pass; this would be unrealistic. Films set in all-male spaces, or that focus on men’s relationships with one another, are obviously less likely to pass, and with good reason. The problem lies not in any individual film, but in the overwhelming number of movies that fail the test – it’s collective. Likewise, there are very few films that predominantly feature women (so much so that the film would fail a male version of the Bechdel Test – the “reverse Bechdel,” if you will); and those that do are more often than not dismissed as “chick flicks” (whereas movies featuring a preponderance of men are simply “flicks”). Add it all up, and Hollywood, we have a problem.

(More below the fold…)