The Bechdel test has been featured in the news again recently, because four Swedish theaters began rating movies according to its guidelines.
If you haven’t heard of it, the Bechdel test is a measure of gender balance in movies based on three rules: the movie must feature at least two named women, those women must talk to each other, and they must talk about something other than a man.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy and all but one of the Harry Potter movies fail the test. So do nearly all superhero movies, the original Star Wars trilogy, Avatar and pretty much every other movie ever made. It’s interesting to think of popular movies and realize that they don’t even meet these three simple criteria.
Do you think that gender balance in movies affects the way women perceive themselves?
Media portrayals of women affect us in good ways and in bad. Young girls must experience a greater impact from a lack of strong, independent role models. I believe that women in the media have an insidious effect on women’s self-worth by creating a harmful standard that perpetuates hegemonic masculinity. But I also think that is fair to say of men in the media, too.
Those who study the social dominance of masculinity say that it grants sex-based benefits to men, such as better wages, career advances, political advantages and laxer sexual and social standards. These power relations begin in early childhood and are easily visible in boys’ and girls’ toys, literature and movies.
The recent discussions on the Bechdel test had me going through all of my favorite movies in my head. Very interestingly, the recent movie Thor: The Dark World is one of the only superhero movies to ever pass this test. The previous Thor movie, the Avengers movie, all of the Iron Man movies and so many others all failed. The Dark World, on the other hand, presented an intelligent and compelling female character, Jane Foster, who, though lost in a world of gods remained capable and independent. What does it say of us that most movies create female characters defined by their sexuality or weakness?
Media depictions of masculinity also affect men, I think; men are expected to maintain the privilege of social dominance by behaving in certain ways, which can lead to bullying or devaluing of outsiders. Men also can face discrimination purely on the basis of sex.
What do you think of the Bechdel test? Is it necessary? Does it reflect the state of sex and gender in our society?