I learned about the Bechdel test at the end of my first semester taking a film class. It is a three-question test, created by feminist cartoonist Alison Bechdel, that is applied to films (and other types of popular media) to analyze gender bias. Bechdel asks whether a piece has two female characters with names, whether these female characters ever interact, and, if so, whether or not they discuss anything besides men. As you can imagine, most of the media we consume does not pass this simple test. The class in which I discovered the Bechdel Test was called “1930s on Film” and the test was paired with the 1939 film The Women, a movie without any male actors that somehow still drowns in the omnipresence of men. The film is over two hours of only women on the screen, doing nothing but gossiping about their friends’ relationships and fighting with each other over men–not even conversations between mothers and their daughters manage to stray from the topic of male love interests.
Now, nearly three-quarters of a century after this movie was released, and 38 years after Alison Bechdel created this system of evaluation, someone is finally putting a use to it. This month, a handful of movie theaters in Sweden (with the support of the Swedish Film Institute) have begun to apply the Bechdel test to the films that are being released now, giving an ‘A’ grade to films that pass. There are critics of this new system who argue that the Bechdel test is too simple and that just using this system might write off movies that are “good at” making society better/more equal. This is a legitimate critique, but as the statistics cited in this Associated Press article show, any practice that promotes more visibility for women in the media should be more than welcome.