You’d think, with all the social advances in equality for women over the last few decades that our media would more directly reflect that equality … but you’d be wrong. Quite some time ago, Alison Bechdel outlined a quick test you could use to determine whether a book or movie treated women as real people or just as foils for males:
The Bechdel test is used to identify gender bias in fiction. A work passes the test if it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Commentators have noted that a great proportion of contemporary works fail to pass this threshold of representing women. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films, but has since been applied to other media.
Pretty low hurdle, yet a vast number of books and movies fail to meet even this minimal standard. Recently a Swedish theatre chain decided to use the Bechdel Test to evaluate the movies they were showing (with Bechdel’s blessing), which has revived interest in the test itself. Bechdel talks about this on her blog:
I said sure, that sounds awesome, go for it.
So they did, and the Guardian ran an article about it on Wednesday. Which prompted a flurry of emails from radio programs who wanted to talk to me. I spoke to Marco Werman at PRI’s The World, and got to join in his conversation with Ellen Tejle, the director of the participating cinema in Stockholm. I also did a background interview with the NPR program Here and Now.
Yesterday I got a lot of other requests from other media outlets but I’m ignoring them. I feel bad about this. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong about not seizing every possible chance for publicity — if not for myself, then at least for the brave Swedish cinema consortium, not to mention the cause of women everywhere.
But inevitably in these interviews I say simplistic things, or find myself defending absurd accusations — like that the formal application of the Test by a movie theater is somehow censorious.
I have always felt ambivalent about how the Test got attached to my name and went viral. (This ancient comic strip I did in 1985 received a second life on the internet when film students started talking about it in the 2000′s.) But in recent years I’ve been trying to embrace the phenomenon. After all, the Test is about something I have dedicated my career to: the representation of women who are subjects and not objects. And I’m glad mainstream culture is starting to catch up to where lesbian-feminism was 30 years ago. But I just can’t seem to rise to the occasion of talking about this fundamental principle over and over again, as if it’s somehow new, or open to debate. Fortunately, a younger generation of women is taking up the tiresome chore. Anita Sarkeesian, in her Feminist Frequencies videos, is a most eloquent spokesperson.