How the “Bechdel Test” is going to spoil every movie for me


Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? Read no further if you wish to enjoy your movies or books (stories) anymore. Why? Well, because of this peculiar rule, I’ll now have a mental checklist every time I watch a movie! The Bechdel Test is described as follows:

The Bechdel Test, credited to Liz Wallace, was introduced in Alison Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In a 1985 strip titled “The Rule,” an unnamed female character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements: (1) It has to have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man.

This blog post introduced me to this topic and opines that the above rule exists as a litmus test for Hollywood directors to check how much they cared for their female characters. I’m somewhat bothered by this. No offense to women but isn’t this somehow destroying the experience of a movie to every one? If a story does not permit having two women, will a director or story writer be forced to introduce unwanted characters for the sake of satisfying this rule?

That said, let’s break down the rule. Firstly, it says, the story must have two women in it. That isn’t asking much considering not many stories (or movies) exist without two women. (An extension of this idea is that both these women must be named characters – that is, it cannot be a random cleaning woman who would just appear on the screen). Secondly, these named characters must share a dialogue. This is where it gets a little tricky. You have your two women, right; now why should they be forced to speak to each other? Finally, this is where it gets confusing – now that they are talking, they should not talk about men?

I remember a story that I had read in my school days – Dusk by Saki (H H Munro). It has no female characters. But a great short story nevertheless. (Read it online) My story – The Cold Rain – also fails the test. Although it has two named female characters, there is no dialogue between them.

The only sane explanation that could have an “irritated woman” come up with this rule for herself, and by extension to every other person who feels the same way is that, in the 80’s there were an exceeding number of movies that ‘used’ women in unimportant roles and all male characters drove the story. Was it the case? I do not know. I haven’t watched many movies from the 80’s.

The question is, how relevant is this test in today’s cinema? Of course, Hollywood and Bollywood, the world’s two most money-raking franchises are male-dominated, with actors being heavily overpaid than actresses. In fact, the 2012’s list of 10 richest celebrities do not feature an actress at all.

On a lighter note, here’s the list of IMDb’s top 10 movies and whether they pass this test: **

Rank Rating Title Pass
1. 9.2 The Shawshank Redemption (1994) No
2. 9.2 The Godfather (1972) No
3. 9.0 The Godfather: Part II (1974) No
4. 8.9 Pulp Fiction (1994) Yes
5. 8.9 The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) No*
6. 8.9 12 Angry Men (1957) No*
7. 8.9 Schindler’s List (1993) Yes
8. 8.8 The Dark Knight (2008) No
9. 8.8 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) No
10. 8.8 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980) No*

Notes: ** Tabulated from memory; may not be completely accurate. * Tabulated from sources; again, accuracy questionable. If you know of variations from the above, please leave a comment, I’ll fix it.