The Bechdel Test (also known as the Bechdel/Wallace Test or Bechdel’s Law) appeared in a comic entitled The Rule in 1985 as part of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip series Dykes to Watch Out For. In the strip, a woman says she only watches a film if it satisfies three basic criteria:
1) It has to have at least two women in it
2) who talk to each other
3) about something besides a man.
Even though the requirements of the Bechdel Test are seemingly basic, many films fail to pass the test. In his 2008 blog post Bechdel’s Law, Charles Stross further points out that if you ‘extend [rule 3] only slightly, to read “about something besides men or marriage or babies”, you can strike out about 50% of the small proportion of mass entertainment movies that do otherwise seem to pass the test’. This, according to Stross, confirms the importance of the Bechdel Test as ‘a diagnostic indicator for the objectification of women’ within film.
In a recent column entitled Bechdel Rule still applies to portrayal of women in films, Sarah Wilson argues that after more than two decades the Bechdel Test is still a relevant test as ‘many modern films fail the test, lacking accurate and realistic representations of women’. She also notes however that the test is not ‘a perfect test for measuring the feminist content of a film’, arguing that ‘a film could pass the test and still be sexist’. Her conclusion is that the Bechdel Test ‘simply indicates whether there is adequate female presence within the film’.
A video introduction to The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies is available on Feminist Frequency, as well as a 2012 update video which applies the Bechdel Test to the films nominated for Best Picture at the 2011 Oscars and finds the vast majority of them wanting.
The Bechdel Test Movie List holds a list of films which pass the Bechdel Test, where you can add films you’ve seen and rate them according to the Test.