The Bechdel Test

Tweet of the Day: On Writing – Tropes vs. Women


This post was brought to you by the letter A for Aheïla (see the Tweet of the Day), B for the Bechdel Test, and the letter F for feminist. I’ll let the lady explain what I mean:

Got that?

To recap:

In order to pass, the film or show must meet the following criteria:

  1. it includes at least two women*
    (some make the addendum that the women must be named characters)

  2. who have at least one conversation
  3. about something other than a man or men.

As the TV Tropes page points out, as does the video above, it is an easy enough test to pass.

Or is it?

Think about it for a second.


Good, now that you’re back we can proceed.

Whether in movies, television, books or video games, if we apply this test, well we would have to write off something like 70%-95% (0r more) of all media out there.

I don’t dispute the self-evident fact that most writers, producers, editors and media owners are men. Or that there is a disproportionate number of media produced for men by men. But even in media markets dominated by women (on both sides of the producer/audience spectra) most if not all fail the test as well. Even more so today when you have the new phenomenon of creating “new” sub-genres by sticking the word romance to an existing genre/sub-genre.

Clearly shoehorning female characters into a narrative won’t make them any better, especially if their presence doesn’t advance the plot in anyway, shape or form?

So what is the usefulness of the test, if any?

As a conversation starter?

A way of framing an existing, readily apparent trend?

So ladies, please lend a hand to a poor misguided male writer by answering the following question: What is it all about?


And now for something completely unrelated:

7 comments on “The Bechdel Test

  1. Hello!
    As the person sponsoring this post *laughs*, I’ll take a shot at answering your question.
    For me, the Bechdel test is just a reality check. I don’t think either men or women fully realize how small/insignificant the female presence is in pop culture stories. It’s always been like that and we don’t question it.
    Should we question it? Of course!
    Should we replace every male character by female? No!
    Should we, storytellers in any media, try to include more three dimensional, unique and meaningful women in our art? That’s up to each of us to find our answer.

    For me, this is not a guideline. This is a way to shift a decision process from my unconscious to my conscious, to further question my writing so it can be as good as it can be.
    If I don’t include meaningful female characters, I want to be my decision. Not me unconsciously following a trend I’ve been immersed in since childhood.

    For me, that’s what the Bechdel test is about.


    • Well said. I would not say that the presence of women in media is small, rather than it is contained into a small corner of expectations/gender roles and doesn’t have the same range and breath as dominant male roles.

      At the very least, it gets us thinking about it.


  2. The “fall of women” as leading characters or interesting co-stars began in Hollywood in the 1950s and has gotten horridly worse with each decade.

    Watch films from the 1930s and 40s and there is a huge difference in the quality and quantity of roles for women.

    Yes, it angers me greatly. But I remind myself that I can’t control what others do. Let alone Hollywood honchos. i can only control my own work.


  3. Just wanted to add that considering we make up 50% of the population of the world and are (along with being our lovely individual selves) : wives, girlfriends, lovers, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and have careers in everything under the sun today- our invisibility in the majority of movies is absurd.

    I read a whole range of different kinds of books, and don’t see the same problem there. Thank goodness!


    • I think the change matched a redefinition of the place of women in society. The role of women became re-entrenched in the domestic sphere during the 1950’s and it is surprising how many women participated in Hollywood on screen before the war. But I don’t know if they would pass the test as readily, since the focus was still on male characters.

      And yes, it is a shame to ignore 50% of the intellectual power, beauty and spirit of humanity.


  4. I think the usefulness of the test is in simply making people aware of overarching themes and the mindless acceptance of it. I think analyzing certain patterns in our media can show us not just themes that we’re missing, but possible markets as well. It shows a very real gap in media production and media consumption.

    It also shapes our society – it’s not question that women are more comfortable reading books that are voiced by or written by a man, where as novels written by a woman or from the perspective of women are much more often read by women. Young girls are more allowed to play with trucks than young boys are allowed to play with barbies because ‘masculinity’ is more understood and accepted than ‘femininity’ and feminine perspectives.

    Just my two pennies!


    • All true, but terribly frustrating when applied to any one piece of work, be it book, movie. It may be more applicable to long running book series or TV shows with lots of characters and in which a lack of women talking among themselves about things other than husbands, boyfriends or sons is just unacceptable because it is downright unbelievable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: