The Bechdel Test Is the Bare Minimum for Gender Equality On-Screen … and Hollywood Is Still Failing It
The Bechdel Test (also known as the Bechdel-Wallace Test), first introduced in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic Dykes to Watch Out For, is a simple and straightforward way of categorizing how a movie or TV episode is doing in terms of gender equality.
There are three rules for a piece of entertainment to pass the Bechdel Test:
Easy, right? And yet, Hollywood movies have been failing the Bechdel Test for years.
In a study of the top 50 films of 2016, one-third failed the Bechdel Test.
These included blockbusters with huge fanbases (some of which were women) like Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book and Star Trek Beyond. The University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative “found that just 33.1 percent of speaking roles in 2018’s 100 top-grossing films went to women.” A 2018 BBC study found that fewer than half of the Best Picture Oscar winners passed the Bechdel Test.
As The Verge writes, “Although the rule is no guarantee of quality — or well-developed female characters — it’s long been considered a useful tool for assessing how often entertainment excludes women, and whether they are portrayed as three-dimensional characters whose lives do not revolve entirely around men.” This shockingly simple test is essentially the bare minimum and lowest bar for representation, and films still often do not meet it.
In fact, the Bechdel Test does not even come close to addressing the magnitude of gender inequality in Hollywood. It doesn’t address the characterization of women who are represented, or whether women of color are represented, or whether women are represented off-camera in addition to on-set.
In 2017, FiveThirtyEight brainstormed what the next version of the Bechdel Test could look like, and how it could address these issues, by reaching out to women in the industry. They came up with 12 tests — all of which focus on a specific area of gender inequality in film.
You can check out every film that passes (or fails) the Bechdel Test here.
Does your favorite movie pass the Bechdel Test?
Featured image at top: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images