This article first appeared as Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column, September 5, 2014
There are three reasons Alison Bechdel’s famous test–one canny gag in an indie comic strip from 1985–has been embraced by entertainment critics, theorists, and journalists as the gold standard for determining whether a film has, Feminist Frequency describes it, “significant female presence”:
- It’s dead simple.
- It quantifies the vague.
- It hilariously indicts movies that can’t jump the first bar.
The rule itself is offered by one character sick of macho “Barbarian”/”Vigilante” movie BS, and received by the other as “pretty strict, but a good idea.” At the time of its introduction, the rule was not presented as more than the preference of one woman tired of supporting an industry happy to exclude her (Bechdel’s friend, Liz Wallace.)
The Bechdel Test does not bother with shades of agency, complexity, or quality. It is simple. It is elegant. It is brass tacks.
So why do so few Hollywood movies pass it? And how can this be fixed?
(Final act spoilers ahead for movies released in 2014.)