a) the name of that experiment you did in tenth grade involving litmus paper and petrie dishes
b) what your doctor is giving you when he checks your reflexes during a physical
c) a psychoanalytical measurement discussed in a paragraph in your Intro Psych text that you may or may not have studied while cramming for the final
d) an easy (and telling) analysis of women’s representation in film
Though I am convinced I got an A+ on The Bechdel Test in high school chemistry class, the answer is actually D. If you picked that one, there’s a good chance you’re either a screenwriter or a sociologist, or just super knowledgeable and in that case, expect a call from me when I’m prepping to be a contestant on <insert any game show title here, because I want to be on all of them>.
The Bechdel Test was actually named after its creator, Alison Bechdel. The test was derived from one of Alison’s comics printed in the ’80s and has been essentially morphed into a gauge that measures a woman’s relevance to a film’s plot.
The test is simple:
1. A movie must have at least two or more named female characters.
…okay. Well, that one’s easy.
(In the land of screenwriting, the number of named characters in your film is important, because it thus means your character is relevant to the plot in some way. Although it may get you your SAG card, the role of NURSE or GIRL IN BIKINI would not be considered a named character.)
2. These two named women must talk to each other in a scene.
…this test is a piece of cake so far, right? I mean, I can think of hundreds of films where two women talk to each other in a scene…
3. …about something besides a guy.
Try it. Bechdel Test-passers are not easy to find. Go watch your favorite movie (no, seriously, like, right now, go watch it, I’ll wait). I bet you’re thinking of about thirty possible movies right now; they’re looping through your head like a huge reel of film. Scene after scene of girl talk.
Now, I’ll be the first to tell you – I talk about boys with my girlfriends A LOT: Boy trouble. Boy love. Boy hate. Boy breakups. Boy proposals. Boy friendzones. Talking about boys does take up a lot of girl-talk time, but for as many times the word “boy” is mentioned when I’m with a girlfriend, there is an equal – if not greater number – of other topics discussed, in sometimes exhaustive detail as well (listed for your reading pleasure, here).
So why is it that girl-to-girl-conversations-about-girl-stuff gets totally get jonesed on the big screen? We have lots of great things to talk about besides boys. Why are we reduced to a plot device?
Ok, granted, as a screenwriter, I often think – “keep conversation relevant to the plot”, and thus, girl-to-girl dialogue usually involves advice or lamentation for either getting the guy or getting over the guy. Since I lean towards rom-coms and comedies, most of the time a relationship triangle IS my plot and thus conversation somehow revolves around why said relationship sucks and/or why it is awesome, mixed in with some sort of overlying bigger problem that is really just an expression of the smaller “boy-related” problem.
It’s a formula. It’s what the studios and production companies want. And according to ticket sales, it’s what we want, too.
And so I sit in front of my computer creating (hopefully) complex characters, writing (hopefully) complex scenes, reminding myself screenwriting is all about complexity, because nobody wants to pay $12 to listen to me talk about why I still don’t really know how to use my iPhone, or the adorableness of my kittens Laverne & Shirley, or why I love tea…
…or maybe they do? BRIDESMAIDS – the top R-rated female comedy of all time, so far grossing over $288 M worldwide & nominated for two Academy Awards – passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors and they talked about being friends and puppies and Wilson Phillips.
People, I could write about my BFFs, cute animals and ’90s girl groups ALL. DAY. LONG. Maybe a good film doesn’t have to be complex, it just have to have characters we can relate to. Maybe sometimes we want to listen to imaginary characters engaged in a complexity-free conversation we’ve had a million times before with our best friend because we get it, because we’ve been there, and because it makes us feel like someone else understands.
Regardless of the reasoning, I promise you this: Never again will I ever write a script that fails the Bechdel.
Humor me! Share your favorite scenes from Bechdel-passing films in the comments and check out The Bechdel Test online.
Cropped Image via Amazon