My friends and family have probably gotten a little sick of me asking “How many women are in it?” when they recommend TV shows or movies to me. Trust me, I’m a little tired of it too. Why do I keep asking though? A several years ago I was introduced to the “Bechdel Test” by Alison Bechdel. Initially Bechdel created a comic that became a rule of thumb for meeting the most basic rule for gender diversity in media.
It’s pretty simple. The piece of media must have at least 2 female characters who have names, and at some point in the film, those two must talk to each other about something other than a man. Some movies I truly love don’t pass this test, including Pacific Rim, which does include a strong female character with a solid backstory.
The Bechdel Test = The piece of media must have at least 2 female characters who have names, and at some point in the film, those two must talk to each other about something other than a man.
The Bechdel test is not the end-all be-all rule of thumb for representing women, it’s a rather low standard which should be used for evaluation and critical thinking. The fundamental problem is, you can flip this test on its head, make it 2 male characters and a lot more films pass. It’s not an odd thing to see a cast of 5-10 men and one woman among them.
And you might be saying, what’s the problem with that?
The problem is, it doesn’t reflect reality. Women make up half the population.
If you follow my blog, you saw that I linked to my tumblr post about my love for the new Star Wars film a few weeks ago. That post has gotten 300+ reblogs/likes, which blows any other tumblr post I’ve made out of the water. Most of the comments were positive from other people who identified with how I felt and my love of seeing women all over the place in the new Star Wars film, and how I, as a life long female fan, finally felt truly welcome in the Star Wars fandom.
One reblogger stated, in a somewhat condescending way, how they did not understand how I could not feel welcome initially, “Have you met Princess Leia?” It took me back a bit, because, of course I knew who Leia was. I had mentioned Leia in my initial post and my love for her. At first I wanted to respond politely and re-affirm that I loved Leia and the original trilogy, but then it hit me.
I responded in a very different way.
I pointed out that sort of gate keeping mentality is exactly why women don’t feel welcome.
I pointed out that sort of gate keeping mentality is exactly why women don’t feel welcome. One female character, even a strong one, does not a warm welcome to fandom make.
My initial post has mentioned how much I loved Leia and the expanded universe novels. It clearly stated that I had been a Star Wars fan most of my life, but just because I’m a fan of something, doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with one strong female character in a film. The original trilogy gave me Leia, but the Force Awakens gave me Leia as a General, Rey, Captain Phasma, Maz Kanata and many women in background roles of pilots, resistance fighters and even storm troopers.
Because of this representation, which had me over joyed, the film was boycotted by a group of men (who I will not name, because I do not want to give them more fame than they’ve already gotten) because of the films diverse main characters. A woman and a black man. Of course, that boycott is barely a drop in the bucket. But it is still an interesting thing to look at. Why would it be upsetting to have a film more strongly reflect reality in terms of diversity?
This is truly just the start for me. I want not only more than one woman in a film with a name and an important role, I want to see the varied and interesting inner lives of women. I want to see scenes where women have friendships and relationships that do not revolve around competition for a man’s attention, because that is what my reality looks like. I have close female friends who cheer each other on, who build each other up. When I watch a film that lacks this representation, I quickly lose interest.
Not because there aren’t more women in it, but because it’s usually a story I’ve seen many times before. The women watch as the men do.
With my own writing, I hope to portray the rich inner lives of both men and women, but especially women, because I am one. I can speak to my own life and experiences as a woman. Hopefully movies like Star Wars and Mad Max symbolize a shift in the narrative, that Hollywood and other media facets will realize that women and men want more from their media. I’m happy to continue to provide those stories from my little corner of the writing world, and I hope you will consider doing so as well.