The Bechdel-Wallace Test

The Bechdel-Wallace test is - you know what? I'm just going to quote from TV Tropes here;

The Bechdel Test or the Bechdel-Wallace Test is a sort of litmus test for female presence in movies and TV. In order to pass, the film or show must meet the following criteria:

  1. it includes at least two women,
  2. who have at least one conversation alone
  3. about something other than a man or men.

    Now, by limiting yourself to shows/movies that pass the test, you'd be cutting out a lot of otherwise-worthy entertainment; indeed, a fair number of top-notch works have legitimate reasons for including no women (e.g. ones set in a men's prison or on a military submarine or with no conversations at all or with only one character). You may even be cutting out a lot of works that have a feminist tone. But that's the point: too little fiction created today, particularly in TV and movies, has independent female characters. Things have improved since the test was first formulated (the strip in which it was originally suggested was written in 1985), but Hollywood still needs to be prodded to put in someone other than The Chick.

    The Bechdel test, or Bechdel-Wallace was first suggested in the webcomic Dykes to Watch Out For, and you can see the specific strip here.

    In some cases, there is a reasonable explanation for this.  The Shawshank Redemption, for instance, is set in an all-male prison, and doesn't have two named female characters.  Ballet Shoes is the story of three girls in a predominantly female environment, and the few male characters rarely, if ever, speak to one another.   The reason the Bechdel-Wallace test is such an interesting observation is the fact that so many films, with named female characters, do not pass.  Interestingly, those films directed by women are far more likely to.

    There's a shocking article here, about a screenwriter who was told that no one wants to watch women on-screen.  I don't think that's the case for all these films, but I think that subconscious attitude may be the reason for some, if not most, of them.  This follow-up post explains it better than I could.

    So, the point of this page is to build up a list of movies which pass or fail the Bechdel-Wallace test.  I'll be adding them on an ad-hoc basis, but hopefully the page will grow over time.

    • 10 Things I Hate About You - Pass
    • 17 Again - Fail
    • American Pie - Fail, unless you decide that Vicky's conversation about orgasms is not about Kevin.
    • Ballet Shoes - Pass
    • Bad Teacher - Pass, if I recall correctly.  Elizabeth discusses teaching, and Amy, with Lynn.
    • Drag Me to Hell - Pass
    • Hard Candy - Fail, unless you want to count Hailey's phone call to her friend.
    • He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not - Pass
    • Juno - I really want to say this passes.  It does pass in principle - after all, it does have three dimensional female characters, who interact, and have more going on in their lives than romance and babies (I count procreation as man talk).  But, Juno doesn't actually talk to any of them about anything else.  She talks to the male characters about lots of things - comic books, the nature of love, music - but, to her friend Leah, to her stepmother Brenda, and to the mother of her child, Vanessa, she only talks about Bleaker and babies.

      Wait, I tell a lie; she does briefly discuss behavioural meds with a classmate, Su-Chin.  Sneak pass.

      Please feel free to contradict me, if you disagree.
    • The Princess and the Frog - Pass
    • The Shawshank Redemption - Fail
    • Tangled - Pass
    • Where the Heart Is - Pass
    • Wild Child - Pass
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