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The Bechdel Test - A Representation of Women in Films and Fiction

The Bechdel test is a simple tool to test the representation of women in films or other fiction by measuring if a production meets the following criteria:

  1. it has at least two women in it

  2. who talk to each other about

  3. something besides a man.

In short - if a work features at least two women who have a conversation with each other about anything other than a man, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.

The Inspiration for the Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test is named after American Cartoonist Alison Bechdel who in 1985 was the first person to test the representation of women in her strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Later on, the discussion about the objectification of female stars like Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Angelina Jolie in the 2000s, brought more attention to the Bechdel test inspiring a number of variants.

Half of the A-List Movies Fail to Meet the Bechdel Criteria

BBC revealed with an analysis that 44 films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture - which is 49% of the total 89 films - met the criteria of the Bechdel test successfully. The study proved that in the 1930s a higher percentage of the Best Picture winners passed the test than in 2018.

A research study done in 2022 done by Doctor of Psychology, Timo Gnambs and Professor of Media Communication at JMU Wuerzburg in Germany Markus Appel found that 49,6% of the 1200 most globally popular films over the previous 40 years did pass  the Bechdel test. However, as for representation, award- winning science fiction and fantasy writer Charles Stross noted that about half of the films that do in fact pass the test, only pass because the women talk about babies or marriage.

Women in Film and The Bechdel test

Representation on the Film Set and Standards in Society

The Bechdel test is meant to highlight the state of how women are portrayed in the media. While it is useful as a factual instrument for identifying where there are opportunities for more representation, the test is not perfect as many films that pass the test often still contain prejudiced or sexist portrayals of women. 

The Bechdel Test - the representation of women in media - intersectional feminism - three girls in a car watching a movie

A Unique Lens to Identify Opportunies and Create Space

The Bechdel test raises awareness regarding the portrayal of women in film and television and offers a unique lens to observe what spaces and stories are still yet undiscovered and just waiting to be claimed. 


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