Tuesday, April 19, 2011

despite all my rage, I'm still just a chick with nothing to say

I recently learned about The Bechdel Test and now I can't get it out of my head. The Bechdel Test, born of classic queer comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, is a laughably minimal three-part test for movies:

1. It has to have at least two women in it
2. who talk to each other
3. about something other than a man.

this image is from DTWOF author/illustrator Alison Bechdel's blog here

After watching two very enjoyable and ostensibly more or less feminist-friendly movies and realizing that they both just barely passed the test (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), I decided I should do a little research.

Thank goodness for the Bechdel Test Movie List, a website that rates over 2100 movies according to the Bechdel test. They have a great icon system to indicate how a movie scores--a system I am going to borrow from shamelessly here for simplicity's sake:

= Fewer than two women
= Two or more women, but they don't talk to each other
= Two or more women, but they only talk to each other about a man
= Two or more women and they actually manage to talk to each other about something other than a man
= Passes but only just barely

Using the Bechdel Test Movie List, I have compiled the following highly academic study:


I used two sample sets for my MOVIES I AM SUPPOSED TO LIKE group: the top ten AFI Top 100 Movies and the 2011 Best Picture Nominees. Let's start with the AFI picks.

1: Citizen Kane (1941)
2: The Godfather (1972) (surprisingly not on BTML but the internet tells me it does not pass)
3: Casablanca (1942)
4: Raging Bull (1980)
5: Singin' in the Rain (1952)
6: Gone with the Wind (1939)
7: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
8: Schindler's List(1993)
9: Vertigo (1958)
10: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Wow! That's...not very many smiley faces. According to this list, women in the top ten films of all time are limited to the following topics of discussion: how to fashion a dress from curtains, whether one is a good witch or a bad witch, and what might happen when they get to Auschwitz.

captioned for those who cannot read lips very well, such as my husband: 'are you KIDDING me?'

Real talk? The only movies I've seen on this list are the ones with smiley faces next to them. ...and The Godfather.

Well, surely the 2011 Best Picture nominees will be an unblemished field of smiley faces. Right?

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone


Looking at this list only reaffirms my vehement belief that Winter's Bone should have won Best Picture this year. If you haven't seen it, see it immediately. It is breathtaking. The actual Best Picture winner, The King's Speech, only contains two short interactions between women that barely register as legit conversations: a brief introduction and a mother telling her daughters a story. Maybe that's part of why I thought it was such a total snooze compared to Winter's Bone.

The Bechdel Test is an embarrassingly low bar. It's not a test for determining whether a movie is feminist-friendly--it's merely a metric for determining if a movie treats women like human beings. Of course, not every movie has to pass the Bechdel Test--there's always a place for male- and female-centric movies. I'm pretty sure Steel Magnolias wouldn't pass the reverse Bechdel Test. But if only the occasional movie didn't pass the test, the test wouldn't exist in the first place. It is downright sickening how few popular movies from the past century pass the test.

What's so scary to me is not that many popular movies marginalize women. I didn't roll off the cabbage truck (or...whatever) yesterday. What's truly disturbing to me--what fills me with Smashing Pumpkins levels of rat-in-a-cage fury--is that the movies we hold up as the finest examples of the medium are guilty of the same sins as 1980s beer commercials. Strip away the grandiose cinematography and the heartfelt performances and you've got the same old bull we've been seeing since the beginning of time--women existing only in relation to men.

I'm ragin' like Achilles.

I know, Brit. I know.

As for MOVIES I ACTUALLY LIKE, here's a hastily assembled list of my perennial favorite movies to watch, in no particular order:

Annie Hall (1977)
Clueless (1995)
Little Women (1994)
Mean Girls (2004)
St. Elmo's Fire (1985) (not on BTML but believe me, definitely passes)
Steel Magnolias (1989)
Sound of Music (1965)

See?? It's not that hard!

awww you guys

So I'm curious. How do your favorite movies of all time stack up to the Bechdel Test? Look them up here and report back. Have any of my female readers out there experienced a similar SHOULD LIKE/ACTUALLY LIKE dichotomy? Holler back and let's talk about ladies who have better things to talk about than men. And in doing so, we'll be passing the test ourselves.

Bonus discussion question: Creative types out there, I need some advice! How do other people with creative jobs keep their creative juices flowing in their off-hours for their own projects? I've missed blogging but I'm finding it so hard to find the motivation to write blog posts after long, draining days of editing. Tips??