I tried to pass the Bechdel test in real life, and here's what happened
There’s this thing called the Bechdel test. You might have heard certain cerebral types talking about it at a dinner party or heard it floating around the feminist parts of the internet. Basically, the Bechdel test is this litmus test that gauges gender bias in films. In order to pass the Bechdel test, the film has to have three things. 1) Two female characters 2) Who talk to each other 3) About something other than a man. There are only a handful of movies each year that actually pass this test, which is kind of embarrassing. So why is it so hard for filmmakers to pass this test?
Every year when I find out only seven-ish films pass this test, I roll my eyes. Is it THAT hard for a film to have female leads talk to each other about something other than a man. I hardly talk about dudes, I thought to myself. I’m not some boy crazy lame with nothing to say, I thought. Me and my girlfriends talk about so many things besides men, I thought.
Would **I** pass the Bechdel test in real life?
I decided to do a social experiment where I try to pass the Bechdel test for A WHOLE WEEK. Basically, I couldn’t talk to my women friends about men for a WHOLE week. I know that this sounds like the premise to a terrible 2002 Kate Hudson romcom, but I honestly thought I was going to stomp all over gender bias and find out what an evolved and feminist human being I was. WRONG.
First up, I call my mom.
Ten seconds into the phone call and she wants to talk about her male boss. I groan. “Hey mom, I’m writing this article and I can’t talk about men for a whole week. Can you NOT tell me about Mike from work?” Her reply, “Okay, well can you start your man-ban AFTER I tell you this story about my boss?”
During that first conversation with my mom she started and stopped multiple times, “So, I didn’t have my report in on time and Greg…Oh, I can’t talk about him? Dammit, okay, how do I talk to you about my day without mentioning him?”
I suggested that she tell me just how her day felt. Like, if her boss was being oppressive, instead say, “Work was stressful, management is coming down on me.” But that felt, weird? It felt like we were talking around the issue at hand…her male boss.
After my mom finished her highly abridged and highly confusing story about work where she edited out all mention of her boss, she animatedly jumped into a discussion about her match.com dates. I stopped her and reminded her of my task and she sighed, “Well, I guess I’ll talk to you in a week, then.” She was joking, obviously, but we also ended the phone call. Shit, did we have nothing to talk about besides men? I just wanted to know what women talk about when we DON’T talk about men, but in this particular phone conversation, it wasn’t much.
I then tried the experiment with my friends.
The next day I met up with my friend for drinks. Right off the bat we jumped into a conversation about work, which lasted for oh, I dunno 30 minutes. Then, she asked me what was up with some guy I was interested in. I stopped her and told her about the article and her facial reaction was as if I had told her I was having twins. Exactly like my mom, she half joked/half lamented and then asked “But what are we going to talk about?!”
Let me pause right here and say that I have never considered myself boy crazy, like at all. During this week of male-convo-abstinence, I have never felt more like a horned up teenage girl at the mall like, BUT I JUST WANNA TALK ABOUT BOYZZZ.
My friend and I still had a lot to talk about, mostly career stuff. Some dream stuff. Some chit chat about our other friend who was still at work and couldn’t meet us out. Then, after a drink or two, the conversation steered back into boy territory and I didn’t stop it.
For both my mom and my friend, the jist was, “But I have to tell you about my date/tinder match/ex/friend/lover/coworker and can you just pause this article thing so we can talk about it?” So I cheated and we talked about boys. The topics ran the gamut of “I’m never downloading a dating app ever again” to “What happened to whats-his-face” to “Honestly, all guys suck” to “Oh my god, so-and-so was literally perfect.” You know, just typical drunkish, single girl bullshit. We kept jokingly remembering to stop talking about men but I didn’t want to. I literally didn’t care. I never realized how impassioned and giddy and ridiculous I get when the topic turns to men. I also realized during this conversation that so far, I’ve had two conversations with women and in both of them, it appears I only talk about work, men, and my other girlfriends. DO I ONLY HAVE THREE THINGS TO TALK ABOUT!? AM I BORING?! This experiment was under my skin.
Here’s what happened at work.
The next few days at work were fine and by fine, I mean, I passed the Bechdel test. There was zero occasion to talk to my female coworkers about men. Except for Drake. Dammit, I guess I didn’t pass the Bechdel test those days either. But when I talk about Drake am I talking about a man or an artist in this scenario? Uggh, whatever, I talk about Drake A LOT YOU GUYS.
Later that week I desperately wanted to text one of my friends about some new developments with A MAN. Uggg, men, amirite. But I knew I should abstain, you know, for the purposes of the article. But it was driving me crazy. I just wanted to send my bffs one little text, just a little “hey this thing happened and here’s how I feel about it” text. Because we all know a woman does not go on a date if her bffs don’t hear about it. If your friends don’t know you have a crush, it might as well not exist. #facts
A day after my self-imposed week of silence went by I immediately texted my friend and prefaced it with “Hey so this happened five days ago but I couldn’t tell you because of the Bechdel thing…blah blah blah boy problem boy problem boy problem.” Sure, this is cute and all, but omigod, so much of my headspace is dedicated to men. Why can’t I be consumed with something else? Why am I being so predictable?! As someone who considers herself a modern ~independent~ woman, this was eye-opening and little bit worrisome.
So, I failed?
Here comes the moral of the story. I’m not saying that the Bechdel test is ridiculous or even impossible, in fact, any film that passes the test excites and elates me. I love that an entire 120 minutes is devoted to women discussing something other than a man. But as a human, it’s harder than it seems. All women would probably have a hard time passing this test because there’s always a colleague, boss, father, son, brother…there’s a lot of men in our lives and sometimes we wanna talk about them, just like I want to talk to my girlfriends about our other girlfriends or tell my friends something about my sister.
I didn’t embark on this social experiment to prove that the Bechdel test is impossible and we should stop using it, but rather I just wanted to see what it is I DO talk about and apparently, it’s men, like, a lot. I’m not exactly happy with that revelation, but here we are.
I believe the Bechdel test for films is VERY important because how often do you see two male characters in movies talking about women? It’s rare. Even if it’s a romantic comedy, the male lead doesn’t chat about the girl to his bros. He just goes after her. Men in film talk about war and running offices and ruling kingdoms and blowing shit up and planning heists and woo’ing women, they don’t sit around talking about women and for that reason, we don’t need two women on film sitting around talking about men either.
As for my real life realization that I talk about dudes and LIKE talking about dudes, well shoot, I’m a little embarrassed by it. If a screenwriter is expected to expand their imagination and craft a scene that features two women talking about anything besides men, then maybe I can stretch the limits of my own imagination and maybe stop yapping about men all the time.
Well, I’ll start after I text my friend Tiffany this Drake gif I just found.