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The Bechdel Test. Coming to a (Swedish) cinema near you.
November 6, 2013 3:17 AM   Subscribe

Cinemas in Sweden are introducing a new rating to highlight gender bias, or rather the absence of it. Bio Rio is one of four Swedish cinemas that launched the new rating last month to draw attention to how few movies pass the Bechdel test. Most filmgoers have reacted positively to the initiative. "For some people it has been an eye-opener," said Tejle. [...]For some, though, Sweden's focus on gender equality has gone too far.
posted by AlienGrace (46 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool.
posted by pracowity at 3:20 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


For some, though, Sweden's focus on gender equality has gone too far.

Of course it's important to get the viewpoint of sexists, for balance.
posted by iotic at 3:30 AM on November 6, 2013 [65 favorites]


I really would prefer the Mako Mori Test over the Bechdel test.

I mean, the Bechdel test is a good start, but you can have a film where two women talk, and still have it be an utter sexist fail.

Maybe a sliding scale, where you get an M if you pass the Mako Test, and a B if you pass the Bechdel test, and only get an A when you pass both. Then I'd totally eat up those movies (except for, as the commenters in The Guardian point out, The Iron Lady, which should be an automatic H for Hagiography-Of-The-Woman-Who-Destroyed-The-Country.)
posted by Katemonkey at 3:30 AM on November 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


The A rating has also been criticised as a blunt tool that does not reveal whether a movie is gender-balanced.

All movie ratings are "blunt tools" but that doesn't mean they aren't generally pretty useful. (Though I wish they'd try harder to differentiate between sex and violence: is Invasion of the Mantis Women rated "18 and over" because it shows a happy couple fucking or because she then dislocates her jaw and bites his head off?)
posted by pracowity at 3:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beliefs about women's roles in society are influenced by the fact that movie watchers rarely see "a female superhero or a female professor or person who makes it through exciting challenges and masters them", Tejle said, noting that the rating doesn't say anything about the quality of the film. "The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens," he added.

This follows a similarly odd discussion in Sweden about setting quotas for female participation on corporate boards (as they have in Soviet Norway.)

I say it is odd because in Sweden - my home for almost 20 years - what one notices is not the lack of women on corporate boards or as superheroes in films, but the EXTREMELY LARGE NUMBER OF MEN PUSHING PRAMS.

In a nutshell, Sweden has focused and achieved an unparalleled level of gender-equality from the bottom-up. Men share the burden of family life, of raising children, cleaning house, shopping for food, preparing meals... doing those tasks which have traditionally fallen to women. This is supported by boring stuff like lavishly-funded state-run daycare, 390 days of parental leave with full pay (up to the national average income), and a culture where men are expected to change diapers and clean up the dishes. By doing these practical things, Swedish women have been able to pursue opportunities outside the home. Not all Swedish women choose to do so and this grates on "feminists" who honestly are missing the fucking point.

"Feminism" should not be about making women more like men: it should be about making men more like women. Encouraging women to adopt the worst behavior of men is a view which only benefits an elitist (and generally childless) few and harms the vast majority of women who will never sit on a corporate board or star in a film. It's a pernicious 1970s feminism completely out of touch with modern life and it has no place in Sweden.

A properly Swedish rating would be a measure of how many men in films are seen doing traditional "women's work", but that would be as meaningless to American "feminists" as this Bechdel rating will be to working Swedes.

And now I have to run to pick my kids up from school.
posted by three blind mice at 4:04 AM on November 6, 2013 [25 favorites]


"Feminism" should not be about making women more like men: it should be about making men more like women.

Does it have to be one or the other?
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:23 AM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


Does it have to be one or the other?

I think three blind mice means that instead of making feminism all about women being allowed and encouraged to do men's work, there should also be encouragement of men doing women's work. Tasks and jobs are still quite strongly defined by gender nowadays - look at the gender proportions in engineering, nursing, STEM research, kindergarten teaching etc....
posted by Alnedra at 4:37 AM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


pracowity: All movie ratings are "blunt tools" but that doesn't mean they aren't generally pretty useful.

I like the way Kids In Mind breaks it down on a 0-to-10 scale in three categories (Sex & Nudity, Violence & Gore, Profanity). You can even drill down to a completely emotionless recitation of every instance of each of those things in the movie, which is often quite funny to read, i.e:
"A superhero knocks an alien deity off a ledge, they crash into a tree and the two fight: they fight while flying through the air, dragging one another along a rock face, slamming each other into trees in a forest, and one squeezes the metal arm of the other. An alien deity fires a glowing staff toward a man and the beam is blocked by a superhero's shield; the deity and the superhero fight with punches and kicks. An alien deity slams a hammer onto a superhero's shield and a large ring of energy is emitted causing superheroes and the deity to fall to the ground and the vegetation around them to be destroyed. A giant green superhero chases a woman, she flips through small passageways to avoid him, she shoots a pipe that sprays steam in his face, he hits her and she is thrown into a wall."
posted by Rock Steady at 4:38 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


At first I assumed that the phrase "Bechdel Test" was a simplification used for making a headline out of some more interesting grading system, but no.

As many have already pointed out, the problem with the Bechdel Test is that it doesn't tell you whether a movie is good or not. The test (whether a movie has (A) two women, who (B) have a conversation about (C) something other than a man) also has a serious fudge-factor issue when it comes to deciding what counts as "a conversation."

Despite the assertion made in the comic that introduced it, the critical function of the Bechdel Test is not grading any one particular movie, but large swaths of movies. Did more movies released this year pass this seemingly low bar than last year? Do more 80's horror films pass than 80's dramas? Those are conversation starters.

Honestly, any critical scale that would give Transformers 2 an A needs to be reexamined.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 5:11 AM on November 6, 2013


As a general rule, more information is always better. If there's a simple rating that indicates a film's sexism, I'm interested.

But, from previous articles about and discussions of the film industry I have read here, my impression is that a very fundamental problem is the way the industry perceives its audience demographics (such as the intense focus on young men) and the simplistic way they pursue those demographics. If the film industry was providing lots of high quality roles for women actors (and especially actors over 40), I can almost guarantee that a lot more films would be passing the Bechdel test.

It's not the lack of a rating system that's the problem; it's a question of fundamental biases in the industry and its relationship with its audience. If the ratings help expose that and put pressure on it, so much the better.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:13 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]



As many have already pointed out, the problem with the Bechdel Test is that it doesn't tell you whether a movie is good or not.


But that's totally not the point. It's the same thing as knowing a movie is PG vs NC17 doesn't tell you a single thing about it's quality, but it might tell you something about which one to rent for kids' night. It's just a very, very basic test, and it stands out because even though it sets the bar so amazingly low, most movies fail it.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [19 favorites]


Yeah, the Bechdel Test alone is not supposed to tell you if the movie is any good or not; it's a data point, just one, that you can use in combination with other data points to determine whether or not you might like the movie (*not* whether it's "good" - just if you might like it).
posted by rtha at 5:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


A properly Swedish rating would be a measure of how many men in films are seen doing traditional "women's work", but that would be as meaningless to American "feminists" as this Bechdel rating will be to working Swedes.

I don't think it would be as meaningless to American feminists as you say, but you're free to believe what you will.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


but that would be as meaningless to American "feminists"

Wow, if these feminists said everything that various men keep assuring me they are sure to do they'd seem really like unreasonable stereotypes or something!
posted by jaduncan at 5:32 AM on November 6, 2013 [32 favorites]


A properly Swedish rating would be a measure of how many men in films are seen doing traditional "women's work", but that would be as meaningless to American "feminists"

I find this very confusing. I am an American feminist, and a man. My American feminism is big enough to be about me shopping, cooking dinner, and doing dishes, and about trying to make my well-paid, high-status, mostly-male profession more open to women. And it's not like I'm some kind of amazing superfeminist!

Also, I don't think "being the protagonist of a movie" is some kind of terrible male-coded behavior that women should be discouraged from emulating.
posted by escabeche at 5:38 AM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


"Feminism" should not be about making women more like men: it should be about making men more like women.

Also, "feminism wants women to act like men" is the #1 hit of the Classic Anti-Feminist Tropes, but you know that, knowing feminism and all.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:55 AM on November 6, 2013 [12 favorites]


A properly Swedish rating would be a measure of how many men in films are seen doing traditional "women's work", but that would be as meaningless to American "feminists" as this Bechdel rating will be to working Swedes.

One point of clarification: this story is being reported in The Guardian, which is a UK news paper, so we should lump UK "feminists" into the group also interested (or conceived of by The Guardian as being interested) in Bechdel test style scores. Not sure how that would impact their opinions of a ranking system on men doing women's work, but it suggests that the rankings have some kind of global appeal not limited to Americans or Swedes.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:06 AM on November 6, 2013


I can't wait for the ratings for vegetarianism, carbon footprint, and politically correct language.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2013


Yes, it's a slippery slope into a sticky bog where hundreds of ratings codes from meddling and censorious progressives will spread across film trailers, obscuring them completely from view and Ruining Everything!
posted by DrMew at 6:30 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Movie that fails Bechdel but passes Mako Mori
- Contact
- Silence of the Lambs
- Labyrinth
- movies with Angelina Jolie
- Zero dark thirty

Movies that pass both
- Conviction
- Hunger Games
- The last unicorn
- Lorenzo's oil
- Eye for an eye
- Carrie (?)

I dunno, Mako Mori still seems limited to "female protagonist," especially "female protagonist surrounded by men" which is rife for exploitation of the main character's sexuality (ugh Angelina Jolie). They need to capture female protagonist WITHOUT it being about her growth into a "woman's role" (i.e. becoming more feminine, more open to loving the nice man who loves her instead of the douchey guy she's been dating etc.) Also don't make her sexuality a key component of her character. Make her struggle something other than finding love, some external goal she wishes to achieve or must achieve for her family or community. That would make it a real feminist film. (Or really this just makes her the equivalent of a man's role in many movies.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:31 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine a worse use for the Bechdel Test. Instead of making movies with good female characters and protagonists, filmmakers are just going to start inserting an obligatory conversation just to get a pass.
posted by straight at 6:40 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes, it's a slippery slope into a sticky bog where hundreds of ratings codes from meddling and censorious progressives will spread across film trailers, obscuring them completely from view and Ruining Everything!

Since most film trailers these days show everything, obscuring a bit of it would be a plus, imho.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


straight: "filmmakers are just going to start inserting an obligatory conversation just to get a pass."

Which will be an improvement over what is done today.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


St. Peepsburg: "Movie that fails Bechdel but passes Mako Mori"

Also, Gravity.

But, really, the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests are simple enough that a bunch of edge cases are going to slip through. Bechdel works well for films that have ensemble casts, while Mako Mori seems to work well for films that focus on a single protagonist (of which far too few happen to be women).

I think that we're grossly misusing and misunderstanding the two tests. They were never intended to be any sort of benchmark or absolute measure of feminism in film; rather, they were meant to highlight the fact that the vast majority of films fail to clear a very low bar.

It's not really important for every single film to pass the test. I don't think that you can fairly criticize films like 2001 or Cast Away because they fail the Bechdel test. Similarly, I don't think that Gravity would have been any more "feminist" if Alfonso Cuaron had added a second female lead.

However, once everything is averaged together, it is important for the majority of films to pass. Even 50% would be an impressive benchmark to hit. No need to awkwardly force extra characters or plotlines into films where they don't really belong. The Bechdel Test is about the [absolutely miserable state of the] big picture... not nitpicking elements of individual films.
posted by schmod at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


As many have already pointed out, the problem with the Bechdel Test is that it doesn't tell you whether a movie is good or not.

That's also the problem with everything else in the process, up to and including actual reviews of movies, because "whether a movie is good or not" is significantly more subjective than "Do two named female characters have a conversation that is not about men?"

Similarly, the MPAA rating or the Statens medierĂ¥d rating don't tell you whether a G/Btl movie is good, just that it's age-appropriate.
posted by Etrigan at 7:01 AM on November 6, 2013


Sharknado passed the Bechdel test.

Just saying.
posted by fight or flight at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what argument that's supposed to invalidate. A dude jumps inside a flying shark and cuts it open with a chainsaw to save his daughter. Passing the Bechdel test is a bonus.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:11 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm for using more and more ratings. Back when people got all their movie ratings from the printed newspaper with limited space, you might have had to depend on one rating system, but now you use a web site that can show two or three or ten or a hundred ratings per movie and show full explanations for beginners, and you can choose to view any or all or none of these ratings when selecting a movie.

I'd like to be able to open a web site, sort by something like Bechdel Rating, Hard Science Fiction rating, and the ratings of my favorite movie reviewers, and pick what promised to be an entertaining, plausible, and non-sexist science fiction movie for the evening.

The ratings they display on the signs at the cinema don't matter because we're already decided what we're going to see.
posted by pracowity at 8:13 AM on November 6, 2013


"filmmakers are just going to start inserting an obligatory conversation just to get a pass."

TFA has this: Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test
posted by achrise at 8:14 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


But was the conversation about sharks?
posted by Joe Chip at 8:19 AM on November 6, 2013


Every conversation is about sharks, if you're good at subtext.
posted by Etrigan at 8:21 AM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Beautiful weather today! (The air is free of sharks.)
posted by Joe Chip at 8:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sometimes a "PG" rating means "this was watered down for children, adults stay away!" and sometimes it means "this director was able to communicate something subtle and profound without resorting to violence, sex, or cussing." Similarly, a movie can pass the Bechdel test and still treat women horribly, or fail the Bechdel test and have some interesting things to say about women.

It'll be interesting to see how Sweden reacts to this rating, but I feel like it would be neat to have a movie rating that says 1) we think it's important to think about things like this and 2) it's impressive how few movies offer even the most rudimentary form of women acting like independent beings, like with brains and everything. What three blind mice said is fundamentally misguided: men may be shooed away from domestic jobs, and there is a gender role imbalance, but the Bechdel test isn't about that. It's about representing women as people, with agency and thoughts of their own. It's not about if a woman can kick as much ass as a man, it's about if a woman is able to have a goddamn conversation with another woman without it being about who likes which man.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:37 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Every conversation is about sharks, if you're good at subtext.

Hey, what's Fonzie doing on those water skis?
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:37 AM on November 6, 2013


Great. I can't wait until there's a rating for how accurately the cast reflects the diversity of the population they're supposed to represent. And for another rating for the level of white-washing (how high for The Last Airbender, do you think?) Maybe then there'll be less of those greenlit for production.
posted by mayurasana at 8:39 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What will be interesting is the effect these ratings have on box office receipts. "Damn right we're shooting for an F rating!"
posted by Ardiril at 8:57 AM on November 6, 2013


"filmmakers are just going to start inserting an obligatory conversation just to get a pass."

Which will be an improvement over what is done today.


I guess if a bunch of movies start including a "Bechdel" scene just to check that box, we'll end up getting at least some movies which do it well that otherwise wouldn't have done it at all.

Is there no real harm done if we also get a bunch of other movies with a lame scene tacked on that everyone recognizes is only there to pass the test? I really don't know.
posted by straight at 9:05 AM on November 6, 2013


The actual best thing about this extremely small, mildly interesting event is that it's going to cause a certain subsection of sexist men to, once again, lose their shit at one more bit of evidence that they are not the be-all and end-all of humanity.

I kind of enjoy when that happens.
posted by emjaybee at 9:41 AM on November 6, 2013 [10 favorites]


My problem with the Mako Mori test is that films that pass it can fall into the problem I like to call One Kind of Girl, or Super-girl. She is there an important, but somehow she is *special*. She brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan. She succeeds because she is special, tough, more. The virtue about requiring multiple women is that it gives you different women. It gives a range of womanliness that is still missing in a lot of culture, more than the occasional exception.

I think I have mentioned before that I am mixed-race. I also grew up in a town where nearly everyone was white. I never really minded this much, but then I visited cities where there were a bunch of black people, or say, looked at photos of Brazil where people can be such a range of colors, all on the street together. I started following historical black image tumblrs. And the feeling of seeing yourself *reflected* is so gratifying. In a basic way, to see the range of mixed-race people that exist, some who look like me, some who don't, it just feels really good. And that is why I am not impressed if you have one, very-special woman. There should be many various ones who are more like all the many various ones in the actual world.
posted by dame at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2013 [16 favorites]


The actual best thing about this extremely small, mildly interesting event is that it's going to cause a certain subsection of sexist men to, once again, lose their shit at one more bit of evidence that they are not the be-all and end-all of humanity.

So, it's trolling?
posted by Sebmojo at 12:42 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I watched the whole of "Orange is the new black" a few weeks ago. Every episode passed both tests, despite the series as a whole arguably failing both. I'm not sure either the tests or the series contributed much to that week.
posted by cromagnon at 1:15 PM on November 6, 2013


Every episode passed both tests, despite the series as a whole arguably failing both.

Huh?
posted by PMdixon at 1:34 PM on November 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I didn't realize that things such as doing dishes, shopping, cooking, cleaning up around the house, etc. were still considered "woman" things. I grew up in a not-too-progressive family and these were all just normal things everyone did ever since I was a little kid.

What are some "good" movies that pass one or both tests (besides the ones posted above)? I've been wanting to watch Margot at the Wedding and Frances Ha (both by Noah Baumbach) and it seems like each of them would probably pass the Bechdel Test. Whether they are good movies or not I don't know, since I haven't seen them yet.
posted by gucci mane at 3:24 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every episode passed both tests, despite the series as a whole arguably failing both.

Not possible.
posted by crossoverman at 6:15 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anybody have that list of really surprising movies that fail the Bechdel test? I seem to remember something really pro-feminism empowering-women ending up failing it.
posted by tehloki at 12:15 AM on November 7, 2013


The source for the Bechdel Test has been put on Flickr by Alison Bechdel herself.
posted by Wordshore at 4:44 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


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