The Bechdel Test

Two friends discuss the following subjects over lunch: projects they’re currently working on; agenda topics for an upcoming board meeting; plans for the weekend; current events and the silent rise of China; a BBC documentary on Britain in the 1970s; The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and its impact on modern day Middle Eastern politics; The Bechdel Test.

Can you guess their gender from their conversation?

The correct answer is female, but if you write for film, television or a large percentage of book fiction, they could only be male. According to most films and TV shows, two women talking together can only discuss one subject – the men in their lives!

Enter The Bechdel Test. Put simply, for a story to pass The Bechdel Test, it must meet the following 3 requirements:

1) It must contain at least one scene with two named women in it…

2) Who talk to each other…

3) About something besides a man.

One scene. It’s not really aiming the bar very high, is it?  But it’s depressing how few films manage to achieve even that.

Here is a list of famous movies that fail The Bechdel Test. The Social Network, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Avatar, The original Star Wars Trilogy, The entire Lord of the Rings Saga, Run Lola Run. (To read why, click here.)

And here are some more popular films that also failed.  The Dark Knight, Ghostbusters, Wall-E, Pirates of the Carribbean (all), Men in Black, Austin Powers (all), The Princess Bride, Braveheart, When Harry Met Sally, Home Alone, Shrek, Gladiator, Up.

What I find depressing about the second list is how many of those films were geared towards women and children.

So, all you writers out there, I challenge you to include at least one – just one – scene in your story, whether it’s for the screen or page, that would pass The Bechdel Test.

And if you’re still reading this post… here’s an interesting article on how Shakespeare fares when you apply The Bechdel Test to his works. You might be surprised!

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6 thoughts on “The Bechdel Test

  1. I loved this blog. It gave me a lot of food for thought and has made me review my own work to see if it passes the Bechdel Test. I did know that there is an issue with how Hollywood represents women and that fifty years ago women had stronger roles than they do today but I had no idea the problem was so wide spread.
    Thanks for enlightening me.

    • It’s fascinating – and depressing – isn’t it, Maggie? I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test till last week and I’m definitely watching – and reading – everything in a different light.

  2. What an interesting way to evaluate your scenes / book! Hmm… what if one of them *thinks* about a man, but they don’t actually talk about a man? I guess the challenge with romance novels, though, is that if it is largely a romance and not something like a suspense or something like that, then everyone should be talking about everyone else in order to move the romance forward and serve a purpose in the structure of the romantic arc, right? And, what if the man they discuss isn’t a romantic interest but a father or something like that? Hmm… I’ll have to think about that…

    • There are definitely situations where it doesn’t apply – eg Sandra Bullock’s new film Gravity – and I think romance novels can be viewed a little more gently too. After all, one of the main characters is usually female, and the happy ever after ending is usually the reward for the hero/ine coming to terms with something in their lives. Also, the man in a romance novel probably doesn’t think/talk about anything other than the woman in the story either. Still, I agree it’s an interesting way to look at movies/tv, especially those geared towards children.

  3. It is amazing to learn about this. I find I too do that. What a challenge and so good to know that’s happening. I agree with Loraine too though – as I write romance – it’s hard not to talk about the ‘loves’ in your life – male or female.

    • It is interesting, isn’t it, Mary? Romance novels have to be judged a little differently because of the nature of their stories, but it’s something to bear in mind when writing mainstream.

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