Is The Bechdel Test Enough? Camilla Penney argues FOR the Test

Camilla Penney 12 November 2013

Four cinemas in Sweden have introduced a new classification system to try to combat gender bias in the film industry. Films will be marked “A” if they pass the Bechdel test: does the film feature two or more named female characters? Do they have a conversation? Is it about something other than men? Shockingly few films satisfy these basic criteria.

USC Annenberg recently published a report in which they analysed the top 100 grossing films of each year from 2007-2012. They found that on average only 30.7% of speaking characters and 4.1% of film directors were female. Women are massively
under-represented on the big screen and this is not improving. The sexualisation of younger women in films has also become more significant with over half of the teenage girls in the 2012 USC sample depicted partially or fully nude. To the contrary, smaller films provide some hope for the future. Earlier this year Haifaa Al-Mansour became the first Saudi Arabian woman to direct a feature film. Wadjda, the story of a young girl growing up in Saudi Arabia epitomises the more positive finding that films made by women tend to feature more, less sexualised female characters.

Using the Bechdel test as a criterion for gender equality won’t always work. However, classifying films by whether they pass or not will raise awareness and I’m all in favour.