(UPDATE: Since this post gets a lot of readers who aren't part of my general readership let me just say... welcome! My name is Isaac Butler. I am a theater director and freelance blogger based out of Brooklyn. This site covers issues in entertainment, culture and politics. Hope you enjoy and if you like what you're reading, consider subscribing to our feed!)
For those of you who haven't heard of it, the Bechdel test comes from Alison Bechdel's germinal comic Dykes to Watch Out For. In DTWOF there's a character named Mo who will only watch a movie if it:
(a) Has two women in it who
(b) Talk to each other
(c) About something other than a man
What's so brilliant about this test is how eye-opening it is once you apply it. There's been a lot of low-key grumbling over the past couple of years about the dearth of quality roles for women in films. In fact, I was looking at the list of nominees for Oscars from last year and it really is startling when you start applying the Bechdel test and realize that few films other than Juno pass it. Then you look at this summer and it gets really bad.
The Bechdel test exposes the low grade (but pervasive) sexism of our popular culture. Reverse the test and make it about men and you'd have no problem finding an abundance of theatre, film and television options, but keep it about women and things get a lot narrower right quick.
(I will also say that one of the things that has made me fall in love with Mad Men lately is how complex and meaty the female roles in it are, despite the fact that it is a show very much about men... in other words, the creators didn't have to have really interesting, nuanced human female characters on the show to accomplish their storytelling goals, but they chose to do so anyway and to cast some really remarkable actresses in the show as well)
PS: For extra fun, apply it to plays. How many of Shakespeare's survive the cut? What about shows in your favorite theater co's last season?