Women-centric films — Do we need the Bechdel Test Rating?

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test?

Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

The Bechdel test (/ˈbɛkdəl/ BEK-dəl) asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Many contemporary works fail this test of gender bias.

The test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. In 1985, she had a character in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For voice the idea, which she attributed to a friend, Liz Wallace. The test was originally conceived for evaluating films but has since been applied to other media. It is also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test,[1] the Bechdel rule,[2] Bechdel’s law,[3] or the Mo Movie Measure.[4]

What’s amazing about this simple criteria for films is how many of them don’t pass this test!  This is not just an issue for American films though Hollywood does crank out a huge crop of action films and boy-behaving-badly comedies.

“Research in the US supports the notion that women are under-represented on the screen and that little has changed in the past 60 years.  Of the  top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.

Another study, by the Annenberg Public Policy Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the ratio of male to female characters in movies has remained at about two to one for at least six decades. That study, which examined 855 top box-office films from 1950-2006, showed female characters were twice as likely to be seen in explicit sexual scenes as males, while male characters were more likely to be seen as violent.”


Sweden has created an A Rating for films that  pass the Bechdel test.  This rating system can help audiences find those films that feature women-centric stories.  It’s not a rating that points out violence or nudity, but rather draws attention to films that might be allowing for a female perspective to join the clamor of male voices.  Surprisingly, some films directed by women would not get the A Rating, The Hurt Locker, for instance– but highlighting these films is a step in the right direction.

Look for the Bechdel rating at the bottom of my film blogs.

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