The Bechdel Test is a bit controversial. I’ve heard complaints that judging a book or movie based on whether it passes the Bechdel test is unfair. A good movie is still a good movie, and I tend to agree. But the Bechdel test isn’t meant to decide if a book or movie is good or not. The original Star Wars movies fail the Bechdel Test but the first two episodes of the prequel trilogy pass. The Bechdel test doesn’t even determine if a show is feminist. In fact, there are shows that are misogynistic but still pass the Bechdel test. Instead the Bechdel Test is a standard for judging female interactions in a piece of media.
For those who aren’t aware, to pass the Bechdel test:
- There must be more than one female character
- who must have a conversation
- about something other than a man
Other than a man. That does not mean the movie or book passes the test if they’re talking about their father, grandfather, brother, nephew, because those are men! The topic of discussion doesn’t matter so long as it doesn’t involve men, so it could be something stereotypically feminine, such as clothes, hair, shoes, or they could talk cars or sports, etc.
However, the definition of “conversation” can come into question. Depending on how you want to interpret the information, the last Harry Potter movie may or may not pass the test. The women do speak to each other. Professor McGonagall tells Molly “I’ve always wanted to do that,” when she brings the stone statues to life and Molly calls Bellatrix a bitch. Technically they’re communicating with another female, but if they’re talking at the character and the character they spoke to doesn’t respond–did they pass?
Some say yes. Some say no.
There are times when it isn’t necessary for a woman to appear in a book or movie, such as if the story is in a male prison, and not every movie needs to pass. The Bechdel test attempts to show how women are presented in the media. They’re often trophies or shown as obsessed with men, but men have more to them than simply being interested in women.
Other Bechdel tests have emerged as well. One is the Racial Bechdel test. To pass that one:
- There must be more than one character of color
- At least two characters of color must have a conversation
- The conversation has to be about something other than a white person
The Movie Hachi with Richard Gere passes the Racial Bechdel test. However, the Racial Bechdel test has the same flaws as the traditional one.
The most that can be said for certain of either Bechdel test is that it gets people talking.
If you write books, do your stories pass the Bechdel test? Does your favorite book or movie? Do you think the Bechdel test is good, bad, or neutral?