What’s the theme of this week’s whiteboard? Why, the Bechdel Test, of course!
The Bechdel Test originated in a 1985 strip of Dykes to Watch Out For, a comic by renowned cartoonist (and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient) Alison Bechdel. In order for a movie to pass her test, it must:
- Feature two or more named female characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something other than a man
This test is admittedly a low bar—a movie can pass with just one line of dialogue between two women. However, it’s frustrating that so many movies made today fail to pass, more than twenty years after the test’s inception. It’s also an incomplete measurement. Star Wars: A New Hope really, really fails the Bechdel Test, but it introduced the world to Princess Leia, who takes over her own rescue operation after Luke, Han, and Chewie start floundering. Four decades later, most recent addition to the main Star Wars films, Star Wars: The Last Jedi barely passes the Bechdel test, but characters like Rey, Rose, Leia, and Admiral Holdo are essential to the plot.
So, what’s a girl to do? Is there any good, uniform way to tell if a movie is sexist or not? Well, when I’m evaluating a movie, I like to add Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Sexy Lamp Test,” in with the Bechdel for a more complete picture.
But what’s the Sexy Lamp Test? If you can replace a female character with a sexy lamp, and the main plot of the movie is unimpacted, then it fails the Sexy Lamp Test. Essentially, it’s a measure of how relevant a woman is to a story.
Unfortunately, there was no good way to highlight the Bechdel and Sexy Lamp tests on one small whiteboard. Still, we were dissatisfied with giving the movies we highlight a simple pass/fail grade. So we came up with the report card. We awarded movies that passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors (like Persepolis, Legally Blonde, Hidden Figures, and Thelma and Louise) an A+. Movies that passed by the skin of their teeth (like Rogue One) we gave Cs. Other movies that did a better job, but didn’t feature multiple Bechdel Conversations, we awarded Bs.
And if they failed the Bechdel Test? Then they straight up failed. No grey areas there. Because really. Women make up 50% of the world’s population. We talk about waaay more than mediocre men. We deserve to see ourselves in the movies we watch.