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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Low-bar Bechdel Test projects perpetually 2-D film females

    I left the theater exhilarated after seeing “Frozen.” It was totally fulfilling and— yet— not a traditional love story — focusing on sisterly love rather than the romantic kind. But, unfortunately, such multi-layered portrayals of women are far and few between.

    In the film and feminist communities, there’s already an accepted set of criteria to address this problem. The Bechdel Test, created by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985, sets three guidelines for better female representation in movies.

    First, the movie has to have at least two named women in it. Second, the women have to talk to each other. Lastly, that conversation has to be about anything other than a man.

    The Bechdel Test provides some decent basic guidelines for the representation of women, but it is simply not complex enough. Briefly treating women like they are human, giving them names and a few lines, is not enough proof of realism.

    With such simple guidelines, the test seems to set a very low bar, suggesting that most movies could easily surpass them. In fact, only about 24 of the top 50 grossing movies of 2013 passed the test at all, and several of those 24 just scraped the bar. While 17 of the movies, including “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Elysium,” definitely passed, the other seven — including “Iron Man 3” and “The Great Gatsby” — were considered questionable due to the nature of the dialogue between the women.

    The truth is that women are simply underrepresented in the entertainment industry as a whole — both on screen and off. Of the top 50 grossing movies from 2013, only one had a female director. Her co-director was a man. While women purchase half of the movie tickets sold in the United States, only 30.8 percent of the actual speaking characters in films are women. A third of the women shown on screen are scantily clad.

    Female audiences are expressing their desire to see this change with their cash. Of the top 50 grossing movies last year, the 24 movies that passed the test collectively grossed a whopping $4.22 billion at the box office, while the 26 movies that didn’t pass made a total of only $2.66 billion. $1.55 billion is not a difference for companies to shake their heads at.

    If more filmmakers begin to recognize the financial incentive to pass the Bechdel Test, we might begin to see more passing films— Sweden is actually incorporating the Bechdel into its ratings system. But even if all filmmakers start using the test as their final guideline for defining whether their movies are female friendly, we’re going to keep seeing onscreen exclusion.

    Even Bechdel believes that her Test addresses concerns from 30 years ago.

    “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,” she wrote.

    Movie audiences agree.

    “It’s way too vague to be an accurate test for how gender is portrayed in a work,” Karen Cruz, a history and neuroscience sophomore, said. She’s right: good female representation means giving us characters of different races, different backgrounds and different sexualities.

    While the Bechdel Test checks for the existence of women in movies, it does not judge the complexity of their portrayals. “Gravity,” for instance, had a complex, real woman on screen for its entire run-time, but didn’t pass the Bechdel Test. “American Hustle,” which strongly sexualized its female characters, does.

    We can improve this by asking more of our movies. Do the women in the movie overcome some obstacle that is not related to their love life? Do the women form relationships other than romantic ones? Are the women diverse?

    I want to see all types of women. I want to see women I can aspire to be and women I can relate to. I want to ask myself when I come out of a movie if I’ve seen women I could be friends with or even just respect.

    We can pick our own questions, create our own tests and support movies that pass with our cash. Hopefully, that way, we can all have more “Frozen” experiences.

    —Maura Higgs is a neuroscience and cognitive sciences sophomore. Follow her @maurahiggs

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