Sunday afternoon my husband and I attended an appreciation reception for community theater volunteers. (To clarify, I was the volunteer being appreciated and my husband was … my husband.) The reception was held in the basement of a downtown restaurant, otherwise known as The Place Where I Bared My Belly and Danced. This time I did not dance. Instead, I parked myself on a barstool and visited, ate, and drank. I sometimes even did all three at once because I’m coordinated like that.
Anyway, while sitting on my barstool, I got to talking with some friends about the Boyhood movie I had taken my son to see (recommend!) and that got us on the discussion of movies and plays. Or maybe we got on that discussion because we were at a gathering for community theater nerds? Whatever.
Anyway! In the midst of the drinking and eating and talking about movies, my friend said, “Oh! Have you heard of the Bechdel test?”
Because I am not a true theater nerd (ha, not even close), I hadn’t. So she enlightened me.
The Bechdel test was created (by Alison Bechdel) to point out gender inequality in movies. The test has three parts:
1. The movie must have two women in it.
2. The two women must talk to each other.
3. And they must talk to each other about something other than a man.
Movies that meet these three criteria are in the minority, but they surpass the others in acting, quality, and whatever ever else makes a good movie good (or something like that).
Right away I started ticking through movies:
Monuments Men, nope.
Osage County, yes.
Captain Phillips, no.
Steel Magnolias, yes.
The Social Network, no.
The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Harry Potter II, Lord of the Rings (all of them), no, no, and no.
This test completely fascinates me. And it kinda pisses me off, too. As a kid, I loved listening to my mom visit with her friends. (Actually, I still like listening in on her conversations.) And I adore visiting with my girlfriends. When we talk, we get deep fast. Our conversations are convoluted and complex, juicy and tart. There’s nuance, and boy, do I ever enjoy me some good nuance.
This simple test has forever altered how I view my movies, thank you, Bechdel.
This same time, years previous: simple roast chicken.
I will never think of movies in the same way again! Can't wait to tell my budding princess (daughter) about this and give more fuel to her Frozen fire. I already told her how much I loved the fact that the sister saves the other sister without the help of a man.
So back in the 90s I had a test I would put films through my own little test: body count of dead women vs. women who were main characters. This measure can really shock a person and turn them off going to mainstream movies.
Hmm, one of my favorite movies is "the women" (original 30s version), which has no male cast members, but I'm trying to remember if there is a single scene where the women are not talking about a man. I might have to rewatch soon.
So interesting. It would be interesting to compare classic children's stories to classics for grown ups. (Because I suspect that the same test reveals some interesting trends in literature, not just in movies.) At the age of 36, do I still love children's books partially because of their portrayal of female friendships? Little Women & Anne of Green Gables come to mind immediately.
I think Dustin Hoffman was talking to Sally Fields…
Eh, I don't think we can apply this to classics, though. It would knock out all my favorites: Casablanca, It's A Wonderful Life, Wizard of Oz, even…
And what about Tootsie? When Dustin Hoffman is dressed as a woman and is talking to Jessica Lange, does that count as 2 women talking to each other?
The test isn't saying those movies are bad (because they're not!)—it's just pointing out how pervasive gender inequality is. We don't even think about it.
As for Tootsie, I'd say yes….maybe? (I LOVE that movie.)
She is a genius.