A fascinating feminist movie ratings system exists,and it’s called the Bechdel Test, created by a cartoonist named Alison Bechdel in 1985. She was inspired to create it after reading 1929’s book, A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf. The book has been called the “feminist manifesto for the modern woman.”
Woolf’s observation was that a woman was not be able to be an author or artist, without “A Room of One’s Own”.
A woman in 1929 would not have had the time, the space (a room), the opportunity or the independence to invest in writing as a career. (unless they were very, very wealthy) And since few women were writing, there was very few accurate mirrors into women’s lives.Reality was not being recorded properly.
Women throughout historical literature are interpreted by primarily men – or the occasional anonymous woman.
It’s one of those, well of course that’s true, but DAMN – that’s true! – realizations.
Here’s a quote from Wolfe’s essay.
“All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. … And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. … They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were (until Jane Austen’s day) not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that ..”
Pretty powerful stuff.
Also fascinating. As we’re all working on finding more evolved ways of thinking and living, it’s a nice way to put thousands of years of communication and history into perspective.
So, back to today and the ratings….
The Bechdel Test Feminist Movie ratings rank movies according to the following 3 criteria.
1.The movie has to have at least two [named] women in it….
2. Who talk to each other…..
3. About something besides a man
If the movie does that – it’s a pass. If not, a fail. It’s a way for you to judge just how steeped in patriarchal male culture the movie is.
It’s not a perfect system. It’s very simplistic. You can poke holes in it as being incomplete. After all, a woman doesn’t have to be named to be a pivotal character blah blah blah – BUT…. it’s something. A start. A perspective.
BechdelTest.com is a user generated content site, with over 8,000 movie reviews.
Some interesting factoids gleaned from their site, tell me that in many cases, things are getting much better as far as female representation goes. (although if we evaluated how many of our “representatives” actually look like us while while they talk something other than a man, we may see a different kind of trend….but that’s another subject for another day.)
Of the 8k movies that are listed on their website…..
10% fail on all 3 criteria.
22% pass on only 1 of the questions
10% pass on 2 of the 3 questions
58% pass and get a yes on all 3 questions.
You can find some graphs here that show how the numbers have improved over the years.
Here’s a sample of recent movies, that do pass:
Avengers – End Game
Here’s some modern day movies that don’t pass
The Battle of Buster Scruggs
The Green Book
Solo: A Star Wars Story
I’m not saying every movie must represent women. I’m saying if our media doesn’t represent us, or has men representing us through their eyes…..that’s really like no representation at all, and the media model for what women could and should be? Well, that’s largely determined by men, not women.
That’s why we love Shonda Rhimes, and why she’s so wildly successful. She gets it. She gets women because…drumroll……she is one – duh.
Come to find out diversity DOES make everything better.
Well I’ll be.
Slowly but surely, we are starting to hear more feminist voices produce media. Reese Witherspoon actively supports female driven roles. She has produced some incredible ones, Gone Girl, Wild, and Big Little Lies just to name a few. Seems like women are multi-faceted and complex and make for a good story after all. I say well done Reese. Now, more please!
Click on this link to find more stats that show how women are represented both in front of and behind the camera when it comes to TV of you want to delve a bit further. Some will shock.
If we start paying attention and evaluating what we see instead of letting it be spoon fed to us, we will easily see that women have lots of stories left to tell.
If how women are represented in the media is interesting to you, I would highly suggest the documentary Miss Representation. Here’s a link to the doc’s website.
PS: If you want to learn more about the badass Virginia Woolf, check out the Virginia Woolf blog here
Reverse Bechdel Test
J Lo’s movie Hustler’s is being called the reverse Bechdel because the men don’t have names and they aren’t seen talking to each other, only to women in the film. So oddly, the woman stripper movie was….Feminist? How about them apples?
So much to think about….
1. Virginia Woolf was really deep and thoughtful.
2. Most Pre 1900’s story you’ve heard or read were created by a man or as seen through his eyes. Not a woman’s. Think about that one. It’s profound. Go back to it on your commute. Tell a friend.
3. Evaluate what you see, hear and read and consider whose perspective it’s from.
4. Hollywood is catching on. Look for more media with complex, smart, funny complicated female characters. We have years of storytelling to catch up on, and that’s exciting.
Looking for more feminist voices? Here’s 18 for you.