Why Do We Need the Bechdel Test

Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen in "Little Women."

The Bechdel Test is a simple test to assess whether a movie sufficiently represents women in fiction. In other words, it’s a test to ensure that the female characters in movies are not limited to love interests and scantily-dressed sidekicks.

The Bechdel Test names the three following criteria:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it, who
  2. Talk to each other, about
  3. Something besides a man.

The criteria do not sound too demanding, but you would be surprised how many films fall short. In fact, the rule estimates that approximately half of all movies ever created do not pass the Bechdel Test.

Of course, it is perhaps less surprising that films created several decades ago aren’t up to scratch. Films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo are masterpieces, and yet they revolve around a male protagonist whose love interest has lines that make up a small percentage of the script.

Surprisingly though, many films from the past couple of decades also don’t make the cut. A study looking at the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 found that only 30% of the speaking characters were female. In 2016, another analysis found that in 82% of the commercial films released that year, men had two of the three speaking roles while women only had the majority of dialogue in 22% of films.

Once upon a time, the Bechdel Test was brushed off as a feminist joke but now, it is generally considered “the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books, and other media”. Unfortunately, many films do not pass the test and a lot of these films still end up taking home Academy Awards. 

In fact, if passing the test was mandatory, hit-movies from 2019 like John Wick: Chapter III and Spider-Man: Far From Home would be scrapped. 2018’s Oscar-winning Green Book would also fail.

There are plenty of criticisms of the test but generally, it’s the best rule for checking whether cinema is up to modern feminist standards. Of course, we’re not saying you should boycott any film that fails the test, but it’s something to keep in mind.