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July 29, 2008

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Mac

I'm now feeling very smug and enlightened, as all of my full-length plays since 2001 pass this test. Though just barely, in a couple cases.

Scott Walters

This is fascinating. I will introduce it into my Theatre of the Oppressed class this fall and use it as a starting point for discussion.

Withheld

Why does it have to indicate "sexism"? I don't think it exposes any sexism at all even though there probably is SOME present in the entire span of pop culture.

I think what it really comes down to is that those types of movies which would pass the Bechdel test rarely make a lot of money. Also, you have any idea how many truly GOOD films fail to make much of an impact at the box office, and how many films that make a huge impact on box office grosses are actually GOOD? Many, and not many, respectively.

I'm annoyed at the general lack of interest in worthwhile films than any supposed sexist undercurrent.

Please focus on the real problems instead of the theoretical conspiratorial ones. Dollars will win over prejudice any day. Support films like Juno and more films like Juno will be made. However, that shouldn't stop you from supporting other quality films which don't live up to the Bechdel test.

In addition, I have read every Dykes to Watch Out For collection, and I enjoyed the books very much. I found just as much to dislike and argue against (like Mo's film-watching criteria) as to enjoy and agree with, and I think that's a good thing. One of the things I picked up from reading those books is that Mo, herself, isn't an example to which one should aspire, but her desire to support a great many worthwhile causes (like supporting films which meet certain criteria) IS.

Chris L

So the question is, Mr. Withheld, why do the films that don't pass the test make a lot of money?

It couldn't be sexism, could it? There's nothing "conspiratorial" about something that pervades society.

Chris L

(Or, excuse me, I suppose you could be a Ms. Withheld, as well.)

Jason Grote

Hey, I have a number of plays that do this! Though in all of them the women do talk about men at some point. Not exclusively, or even all that often, but they do it. Do they still count?

Withheld

"So the question is, Mr. Withheld, why do the films that don't pass the test make a lot of money?

It couldn't be sexism, could it?"

When you say it like that, you're implying that every film that doesn't pass the test makes a lot of money which is completely untrue.

I'm going to go with "it couldn't be sexism" because I believe only a small part of the population can be fairly labeled sexist and even if they all paid to see the same movie and nobody else bought a ticket, the gross probably wouldn't top $1 million (and with the current price of movies, that's a very small amount of people). Basically, sexist people don't rate high enough to kill the performance of a film. Poor marketing, poor story, poor acting, poor directing, lack of "wow, I gotta see that", and general lack of moderate interest all amount to a majority of film-going decisions and any single reason listed in this sentence would account for a greater loss of revenue than plain and simple sexism.

All of this focus on "-isms" clouds the real truth behind most things, and it's usually something practical and simple instead of a pervasive dislike of a person's race, sex, age or whichever feature sets someone or something apart. They make for excellent headlines and easy scapegoats, but most often the real problem in the world is the quick judgements of others and an complete absence of willingness to learn the truth or listen to a different point of view which could lead to someone having to change their previously formed and often closely guarded opinion.

Movie executives suffer from a lack of vision and a resistence to change and that's the dragon you need to fight to get more of what you want on screen. I'm not saying NONE of them have a general dislike of their opposing genders, but it's not the main motivating factor in Hollywood or even a common one.

Withheld

I'm actaully a girl who believes:

#Use a guy when you NEED a guy
#Use a girl when you NEED a girl

I don't believe in creating roles to percifically HAVE a girl on stage for policatical or sexaul reasons only... This has been know to backfire too many times. But baiscally, "use the right character for the right part" pretty much sums up my opinion.

isaac

Oh here we go again...

no one is suggesting quotas, Withheld, that's a straw man argument. Don't you think it's a little peculiar that there are so few roles for women where their existence doesn't revolve around men? The Bechdel test is simply meant to highlight that (somewhat problematic) reality.

What's more interesting is how highlighting said problematic reality causes people to go into a tizzy. Why is that?

99

Wait...I know I'm late to this party, but Juno pass? Or does talking about the pregnancy not count as talking about a man? I don't mean that facetiously.

Another way to test it is to do the opposite: if you were to only watch movies that had:

A) Two men in them
B) Talking to each other
C) Not about a woman

Would you be limited in your choices? Or have a wide array?

chornbe

I just want to point out: Not even Aliens passes this test. Awesome.

Noir

I watched "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" the other day.

The Bechdel test is useless.

Kal

You know...this seems completely silly. If you get two people of the same sex together for any length of time (movies usually portray a period of time that is substantial) you WILL have a mention of the other gender at some point. We are animals and we are driven to commenting about sexual topics at some point by biology. To say that you need to judge what you watch by whether two female characters over the course of a two hour movie (which portrays a period of time longer than two hours) mention a man or not is ridiculous. Even feminist authors mention men somewhere in their work...because men represent half of the population and to ignore half the population at one time is...well...imbecilic.

John

Does this test require that the two women NEVER talk about a man, or just that they have a scene where they don't talk about a man?

If it's the latter, I'd like to point out that Alien, Aliens, and Alien 4 have scenes with more than one female character talking about subjects other than men. In each, the topic is pretty much "what do we do about these damn aliens???" Granted, all of those movies do have scenes of men talking about women.

I'm not implying anything, just wondering how strict this test is.

cgeye

"but most often the real problem in the world is the quick judgements of others and an complete absence of willingness to learn the truth or listen to a different point of view which could lead to someone having to change their previously formed and often closely guarded opinion."

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prejudice

Main Entry: prej·u·dice
Pronunciation: \ˈpre-jə-dəs\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin praejudicium previous judgment, damage, from prae- + judicium judgment — more at judicial
Date: 13th century
...
2 a (1): preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b: an instance of such judgment or opinion c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.

Ah-henh.

Tell me again how your quote above, applied to women, is *not* sexism. Contortion must be someone's specialty....

cgeye

Oh, and this one:

"You know...this seems completely silly. If you get two people of the same sex together for any length of time (movies usually portray a period of time that is substantial) you WILL have a mention of the other gender at some point. We are animals and we are driven to commenting about sexual topics at some point by biology. To say that you need to judge what you watch by whether two female characters over the course of a two hour movie (which portrays a period of time longer than two hours) mention a man or not is ridiculous. Even feminist authors mention men somewhere in their work...because men represent half of the population and to ignore half the population at one time is...well...imbecilic."

Heterocentric FAIL.

And an intriguing double-half-twist on the "feminist authors = MANHATERS!" hint.

Like women humans like other women humans as partners, and men might not have nothing to do with that?

Like mothers and daughters can discuss their female relatives?

NUNS? (So, okay, you have the Jesus thing, but still....)

will

cgeye, defining prejudice to people is a ridiculous way to make a point, as is coercing an implication of sexism by twisting someone's words. Contortion must be someone's specialty indeed.

As for the Bechdel test; titillating, but largely useless.

Moufawad-Paul

Definitely an interesting test, even if it's a tad bit simplistic. I'm unsure as to why some people on the string want to resist the fact that there are "isms" in society - seems like the typical "common sense" notion that oppression is something individualistic and not structural. Which is those who complain that movies/books/etc. that don't pass the Bechdel test *aren't* sexist because, hey, that's just "scapegoating"... and the author isn't at all "sexist"... It's not about individuals, it's about structures. (Fanon had that really great essay in "Towards the African Revolution" that talked about this, but regarding race.)

As for this test being a litmus test for sexism, however, I'm not entirely convinced. Someone above pointed out "Charlie's Angels" as an example of a film that passes the test but is still firmly wedded to sexist tropes. And what about those novels/movies/etc. by feminists that intentionally have a single female character in a world of men, and who may just "talk about men", but do so in order to unveil the problems of this world?

Tracey

This is a fantastic idea! Of course it's simplistic, but that's the point. It makes a shocking point about the overwhelming representation of women as compared with men in film if you do this and then the opposite (are there two men, who talk to each other, not about a woman). It also raises questions about the representation of non-hetero sexualities, and genders other than cisgender men and women in films.

Eric

It's simplistic and not terribly accurate but it's great for getting a ballpark figure going.

Also, speaking as a man who had the same kneejerk reactions about feminism some commentators here have (or have mentioned), those reactions themselves are a fairly good demonstration of the existence of it.

clarence

This "test" is useless.

It ignores the fact of whole subgenres of movies such as romantic comedies, it doesn't ask whether a film has a predominantly female or predominantly male audience, and I could easily come up with tests the would purport to show stereotypes of male characters.

Fail all around.

cgeye

Nope -- the fact that men have come here to denounce the very concept, years after this post has been made, proves that the test does its job -- making people nervous when women characters don't pay attention to male characters, no matter if they're in a romantic comedy where women characters and audience are in the majority, or in an action movie where women are toys or collateral damage.

As long as it pisses men off, and forces male-identified women to defend men's right to monopolize focus, the Bechdel Test is useful.

Wbmullins1978

...came here linked from a book review, and I am glad to have done so!

The thread discussion is a fantastic and easy to digest example of a fairly pervasive ideology and how it seeks excuses and exemptions rather than submit itself to some honest and critical thinking.

The "test" is the invention of a comic strip character, not a manifesto. Interestingly enough, the test can be a simple tool to keep in mind if a person has plans to do some critical thinking about sex and gender equality. As a simple tool, it won't teach its user critical theory or lay bare any lofty conspiracies. What it might do though, is provide a tiny lens for examining visual literature (or any cultural product) from a new angle. What it might do is plant the seed of a worthy question in the mind of someone who thinks about it.

I think that real, critical thinking begins with little practice steps like this. A thinker may never be able to completely set aside their unique (or pervasive) position, but identifying that position at all is a step in the right direction. A little idea like this test is an excellent way to practice being critical of the cultural products a thinker processes.

If you really want an engaging thought game, try applying the test criteria (loose or strict, or even user 99's sex-inverted test) to popular music. Who's singing? What are they singing about? What word choices are made, and what could be the motivations for specific word choice?

Want to really be freaked out? Try listening to yourself when you talk. What words do *you* use that indicate gender or sex? How do you use them? As much as I dislike it I find that I use "guys" the way my grandmother uses "y'all."

A never ending, and fun game of examination is the result. I have learned something from it. I bet most anyone could if they wanted to.

So yes, the test isn't a thought revolution, but I think it might have the seed of one inside it...should a thinker desire to cultivate it.

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