Yo Dawg...
August 29, 2013 3:15 PM   Subscribe

The Bechdel Test has inspired several similar tests for works of fiction. There's the Shukla Test, the Mako Mori Test, and the Vito Russo Test. But, are any of these tests as useful as the original? Overthinkingit.com proposes a Bechdel Test (for Bechdel Tests.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker (156 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
( ( does a quick check of manuscript notes) woooo, I pass all of these tests! ( okay, granted, book, not movie , although this spec script passes Bechdel and almost Vito Russo.)
posted by The Whelk at 3:28 PM on August 29, 2013


Um, about that spec script...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Mako Mori test shouldn't be considered an alternative to the Bechdel. It would be great if more movies had two women talking to each other not about a man AND at least one of whom gets her own independent narrative arc.

From current Hollywood, asking for a double pass is like wishing for a unicorn.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Bechdel test is considered useful? I mean, it's not bad per se, but there are plenty of movies that feminists should love that fail it, and, especially, many horribly anti-feminist, anti-woman movies that pass it.

It seems to me the Mako Mori and Vito Russo tests, at least, are much more useful, because they're about the role and function of female or LGBT characters in the movie's narrative and structure, which is much more important to the film than what characters talk about and with whom. Film is about actions, not words, after all.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:36 PM on August 29, 2013


“But wait”, said the tiny Douglas Hofstadter that lives in my head: what happens if you apply your test to itself?

Oh man, "Tiny Douglas Hofstadter" is the perfect name for that knee-jerk conceptual-looping-around reflex.

(Though now I'm stuck wondering if anyone lives in T.D.H.'s head…)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


It's Tiny Douglas Hofstadters all the way down.
posted by ckape at 3:39 PM on August 29, 2013 [21 favorites]


It's not intended to indicate things which are feminist. I think it's mostly useful to point out how many things fail to meet such a low bar. Women are half the population, yet so many movies and tv shows fail to even have two of them who talk to each other about their own concerns.

And wow, Tiny Douglas Hofstadters is my nerdcore cover band name.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:40 PM on August 29, 2013 [26 favorites]


I'm picturing him like the biscuit scientist from Dresden Codak for some reason.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 3:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: "The Bechdel test is considered useful? I mean, it's not bad per se, but there are plenty of movies that feminists should love that fail it, and, especially, many horribly anti-feminist, anti-woman movies that pass it."

Yeah, I definitely think it's still useful. A movie can have a ground-breaking role for a woman, a really fantastically-written, rounded character, who women all over the world see themselves in, and it's still an issue that she's the only woman character with a speaking role in a sea of men.

One exceptional woman on the cast and five men? Were all the other women not good enough?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:44 PM on August 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


The Bechdel test is considered useful? I mean, it's not bad per se, but there are plenty of movies that feminists should love that fail it, and, especially, many horribly anti-feminist, anti-woman movies that pass it.

Agreed. It works best not as a way of evaluating specific films but as a statistical measure of what's wrong with Hollywood. (charts and graphs)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:46 PM on August 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


I don't think the Bechdel test is an indication that a movie is good, bad, or whatever. It's just remarkable how many fail to pass it when the Bechdude test (the same, but with guys) is passed by nearly every movie ever made.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:49 PM on August 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's also helpful for pointing out how rare it is for female characters to ...talk to each other. It's totally hard to Unsee once you notice it.

TV is much better at passing, these days ( And my spec script has a cast of four main female characters and three main male characters*, booyah )

*and okay two robots.
posted by The Whelk at 3:51 PM on August 29, 2013


I kind of wonder how people rate the recent Dredd movie (which i just watched on Netflix and absolutely loved). For once, there was a female main character, who wasn't the bad guy, wasn't some damsel in distress, had kick ass psychic abilities (so awesome that she was able to make a hardcore murderer piss himself), and when she did get overpowered and captured, was able to escape on her own and save herself. I thought it was an awesome story arc and character development for a rather mind-numbing action movie. Also, there was another woman character with lines etc, etc (though she only talked to the main female character once in the beginning of the movie to introduce the character), but she was a) a PoC and b) Dredd's boss. So, you know, that was nice, I think.

But I do wonder if this qualifies as passing the Bechdel Test or not. Or any of these tests (well, it certainly does not pass the Vici one, since I don't recall any representation of LGBT people in the movie at all).
posted by daq at 3:53 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Bechdel test is considered useful? I mean, it's not bad per se, but there are plenty of movies that feminists should love that fail it, and, especially, many horribly anti-feminist, anti-woman movies that pass it.

It seems to me the Mako Mori and Vito Russo tests, at least, are much more useful, because they're about the role and function of female or LGBT characters in the movie's narrative and structure, which is much more important to the film than what characters talk about and with whom. Film is about actions, not words, after all.


I don't know that useful is exactly the right concept here. It's a framework about which to think about things. It's useful to the extent that it gets you to think about how often female characters talk to other female characters. It's not particularly useful as a shorthand for whether a given work is worth your time and money.

I'm inclined to agree with him that the strength of the Bechdel test is its objectivity and the weakness of the others is their subjectivity. The point of these things shouldn't be to start long arguments about whether Mako Mori's arc was about supporting Pacific Rim Dude's arc, because those will lead nowhere but endless nitpicking about semantics and the specific wording of the test. Likewise with Vito Russo, which seems destined for hypotheticals about how much Omar really contributed to the overall plot of The Wire or what was going on with Javier Bardem in Skyfall. The point of these things should be to get you to think broadly about movies and culture. The alternative tests seem likely only to start fights about what technically passes or doesn't and according to whose interpretation it passes.
posted by Copronymus at 3:55 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

That's just a natural reaction to being that close to Daniel Graig.
posted by The Whelk at 3:58 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


If I recall the fandom conversation that occurred at the time, part of the motivation for formally proposing a 'Mako Mori Test', was in response to so many tumblrites who had been using the Bechdel Test as a shorthand for how feminist a movie could be, and in seeing Pacific Rim failing it, immediately dismissing it. It is basically as Joakim Ziegler and rmd1023 cautioned against. And I mean, I get the frustration - so many these days are learning more about all these useful things of being feminist, anti-racist, anti-white supremacy, but so many of those seem to only be learning them as formulas to recite with. But I do think using the Mako Mori Test as a supposed better alternative just means its proponents are falling into the same trap.
posted by cendawanita at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just so glad I finally saw Pacific Rim last night. Now posts like this make sense!
posted by klangklangston at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just wanted to add as well, being a fan neckdeep in the fandom, and a fandom where the co-writer is actively answering canon questions, it does get frustrating to see how hard the movie failed the Bechdel test, considering all the tie-ins indicate so much diversity (and apparently the Crimson Typhoon pilots were meant to be females - which would make the film pass Bechdel on sheer technicality.)
posted by cendawanita at 4:07 PM on August 29, 2013


Joakim Ziegler:

"The Bechdel test is considered useful?"

As a writer, I consider it useful. It reminds me to have more women characters and to have them have lives, motivations and story arcs of their own outside the male characters of the story -- or to have a very good reason, narratively, why I don't. Not every story or novel I write passes the Bechdel test, but more do than before I was mindful of it, and when they don't it's because I intended it that way, rather than just because I worked myself into a default groove.

The Bechdel test not a guarantee of quality of story, except in the sense that a fictional world filled with characters of both traditional genders have personal agency and lives not entirely wrapped around the protagonist is generally more realistic and therefore more narratively satisfying than one in which only male ones do. But great stories can fail Bechtel; really shitty stories can pass it with flying colors. But a test that jars writers out of their established ruts is not a bad thing.

At this point, for me, the question I ask about my stories is not "does this pass Bechdel?" but "Do I have a reason for this not to pass Bechdel?" Usually the answer is "no."
posted by jscalzi at 4:08 PM on August 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


and in seeing Pacific Rim failing it, immediately dismissing it.

Because everything has to be either thumbs up or thumbs down. Pacific Rim has to either pass or fail. We can't both say that Mako Mori was a great character and also that we wish there were more women with speaking parts in the movie. That would be useless for the sort of "Transformers sucks and Pacific Rim rocks" rhetoric that is so important for defining ourselves on the internet.
posted by straight at 4:09 PM on August 29, 2013 [21 favorites]


That would be a downside to movie-review-via-spreadsheet, yes.
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Bechdel test is considered useful?

Yes. Prior to its...invention? development? popularization? I had not noticed just how few films have women who A) talk to each other and B) about something other than a man, and I know I wasn't the only one. Had you?
posted by rtha at 4:16 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That is certainly the way in which it is most useful. Gauging the worth of individual movies using it seems pretty pointless.
posted by Artw at 4:18 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


A movie can have a ground-breaking role for a woman, a really fantastically-written, rounded character, who women all over the world see themselves in, and it's still an issue that she's the only woman character with a speaking role in a sea of men.

I think the linked piece is really good on what the Bechdel test is and isn't useful for. It's really not useful when applied to single movies. I can conjure up all kinds of reasons why you might write a film with five men and one women and the film is still either perfectly "o.k." on feminist grounds or is even an actively and dogmatically feminist film. Similarly there are plenty of movies that pass the Bechdel test that are actively misogynist. So I don't think that, by itself, it's an "issue" that any particular film or narrative "fails the Bechdel test."

The point about the Bechdel test is that it's such an amazingly minimal requirement in order for the movie to "pass" and yet so few movies do.
posted by yoink at 4:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


it does get frustrating to see how hard the movie failed the Bechdel test, considering all the tie-ins indicate so much diversity (and apparently the Crimson Typhoon pilots were meant to be females - which would make the film pass Bechdel on sheer technicality.)

THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AWESOME

Mainly yeah the Bechdel Test is a tragic reminder of how dumb the Hollywood version of the world is, where "Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films" and "28.4 per cent of the 4475 speaking characters were female" in 2012. 30%.

Now, obviously, like 76% of Pacific Rim is dialogue-via-punch and at least 10% is respectful viewing of Idris Elba in a suit, so the Mako Mori test is, maybe, a better way of considering that particular film. It's a great film if you want punching robots, and it totally delivers! It's a fun film if you want an awesome fight scene with a lady kicking ass and taking names! Maybe it would have been a worse film with a woman scientist or a female triplet or maybe not. It would just be nice to have a film or two that takes the scary risk of having women be 50% of the speaking characters for once. Like we generally are in real life.*

*totally willing to trade mundane dialog for robot-punching though if that's how real life turns out
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:29 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting Douglas Hofstadter.
Interrupting Douglas Hofstad--
--MU!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


But back on topic: I read (probably in one of the very long Pacific Rim threads here) that there's about an hour of cut footage that del Toro intends to restore to the movie in the director's cut. As such, I'm hoping that:
  1. The Russians get something to do other than stand around looking menacingly Russian, and
  2. Perhaps Lady Russian gets to actually talk. Maybe to Mako Mori, even!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:36 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Um, about that spec script...

Looking at bechdeltest.com I'm interested to see that there really is a pretty clear overall trend of improvement in Hollywood's performance on the Bechdel test. Still not high enough, of course, but films that pass now outnumber films that don't.
posted by yoink at 4:39 PM on August 29, 2013


Then again, there's also the Bechamel test
posted by v21 at 4:45 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


How many films fail the inverted-gender Bechdel test?
posted by TheShadowKnows at 4:46 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yoink, it looks like it peaked at about the time that article was written (2010), oddly enough.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:48 PM on August 29, 2013


Off the top of my head the only recent mainstreamish movie I can think of that has even an outside chance of "failing" the inverted Bechdel test is Whip It. And I'm not even sure about that one. Hollywood's so set up to privilege entirely male-driven storylines that actually making an entirely female-driven storyline seems like an impossible task.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:53 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


A bunch of Ghibli films probably would do. And Kill Bill, maybe.
posted by dng at 4:55 PM on August 29, 2013


I think people who propose the "Mako Mori test" in the place of the Bechdel Test are missing a pretty important aspect of the Bechdel Test. If there's only one female character in a movie, even if she's a great character, it's often because the writer needed to fill the Chick Role, which can be anything from "hero's love interest" to "big flashing sign that Prejudice Is Bad" to "only character in the cast who can express emotion" to "gets victimized to get the hero righteously pissed off." And then, because you're a decent writer, you go ahead and give The Chick her own narrative arc, because all your main characters have narrative arcs. If there are two or more prominent female characters, on the other hand, it's a good indication that, rather than filling the Chick Role and having everybody else default to male, the script is willing to let some characters just . . . be women, even with no particular reason why they have to be women.
posted by ostro at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yoink, it looks like it peaked at about the time that article was written (2010), oddly enough.

No, there's a drop in total films that obscures the continuing rise in percentage passing:

In 2010, 113 films fail the test and 171 pass. That's 60% passing.
In 2011, 112 films fail the test and 172 pass. That's 61% passing.
In 2012, 81 films fail the test and 150 pass. That's 65% passing.
In 2013, 41 films fail the test and 73 pass. That's 64% passing.

So, on the whole, we still seem headed mostly in the right direction. I wonder what one would say in an ideal world the pass rate should be? I guess the answer is simply "the same as the reverse-gender Bechdel test" whatever that is.
posted by yoink at 4:58 PM on August 29, 2013


that there's about an hour of cut footage that del Toro intends to restore to the movie in the director's cut.

Nope, del Toro considers the film the director's cut. The DVD will probably have the deleted scenes, but as separate viewings, not intergrated into the movie.0
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 PM on August 29, 2013


Is the Bechdel test useful? As a tool of criticism, probably not, because as the overthinkingit link admits the Bechdel test doesn't tell you whether or not the movie is good, nor does it really indicate whether a film is "feminist" or not. In my opinion the fact that Lawrence of Arabia doesn't have a single line spoken by a woman doesn't tarnish the film's accomplishments because it makes sense for all the desert warriors the movie is chronicling to be male, and the fact that the Twilight movies pass the Bechdel test doesn't make me any more comfortable with their artistic failings or troublesome gender politics.

However, criticism is generally directed at specific things and the Bechdel test is more aimed at critiquing society in general, so I don't think the fact that the Bechdel test is not great at telling you whether something is good/bad/feminist/misogynist is basically irrelevant. The relevant idea is that fish don't know that they live in water until someone points out what's all around them. When I first heard of the Bechdel test, I thought: there's no way that most movies fail this. The bar really is very, very low with that test. But a few times over the last few years I've gone back through the last ten movies I saw and I almost never did better than batting .500, and I'm a guy who watches as many small arty movies as I do big blockbusters. (The most recent recap of this can be found here. I thought I had written one where I tried to figure out whether or not Upstream Color passed the Bechdel test based on the fact that our heroine had psychic communication with a pregnant pig, but I might have just written that in my mind.)

Anyway, after awhile it became harder and harder to deny the fact that there was something wrong systematically wrong with our culture, because as the overthinkingit link also explains: there is not a single movie you can think of that wouldn't pass the reverse Bechdel test, so there is definitely a basic imbalance happening here. So to the extent that the Bechdel Test tries to illustrate what the water we all swim in is like, yes, I think it's useful.

My problem with the other tests listed is that the things that they are trying to reveal are less important for people at large to be aware of. On the average day most of us probably walk past a hundred people, each of whom has their own story and character arc, but there's no reason for us to think about how they are developing because they are irrelevant to our story, and our story is what matters to us. Every character in a movie doesn't need to have an emotional arc; in fact, most shouldn't, because the narrative needs to have a focal point. That test doesn't make sense to me because while the Bechdel test is trying to point out that movies don't represent the gender ratios we see in our everyday lives, that test does the opposite, because it reinforces the idea that we actually think about the actual day-to-day details of other people's lives kind of rarely.

As far as the LGBT test, I think it's well intentioned but I also think it's kind of off base. The percentage of the population that is LGBT is just not high enough to have a reasonable expectation that we should see someone who is LGBT in every movie. I can't think of a time in my adult life when I haven't had some gay friends, but I can think of dozens of times that I've done something interesting or worth retelling with only straight people in the room - particularly if we're talking about times when it's just been me and one other person. I think it's fair to criticize how many of the LGBT characters that are seen in Hollywood movies are stereotypes, but that's a completely different test.
posted by Kiablokirk at 4:59 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler: The Bechdel test is considered useful?

It's very useful. Think of it like a genre marker. To give a similar example:

1. If a movie has a spaceship
2. and it's not a film about the real-world space program
3. and it's not a dream sequence

then the film you're watching is science fiction.

Two points to bear in mind:

1. This tells you absolutely nothing about the quality of the film or how closely it adheres to other genre conventions
2. and plenty of SF films don't have a single spaceship in them.

Similarly, the Bechdel test only tells you that the film that passes it is part of the genre of films that pass the Bechdel test. I have an interest in films which acknowledge the agency and inner life of women independent of males. So I have an interest in that genre.

I also like movies about spaceships, but they are generally easy to spot as they have a spaceship on the poster. So knowing whether a film fails or doesn't fail the Bechdel test is useful to me.
posted by Kattullus at 5:00 PM on August 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't be completely shocked if there were some recent movie that had way more male characters but that still failed the inverted test because they only talk about women. Like (500) Days of Summer might only pass because they talk about greeting cards a little bit.
posted by Copronymus at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2013


I kind of wonder how people rate the recent Dredd movie...I do wonder if this qualifies as passing the Bechdel Test or not.

I just saw this and yes, it passes with flying colors. I don't think the (female) psychic judge ever interacts with the main villain (also female), but it's a movie with multiple female speaking parts. As I recall... (spoilers)

1) At one point the psychic judge runs into a corrupt (female) judge who is planning to kill her. They speak briefly, psychic judge senses murderous intent and therefore shoots the corrupt judge.

2) Psychic judge interrogated a woman whose husband she has killed. They don't only talk about the husband.

Dredd isn't a particularly feminist movie, but in any movie with multiple speaking roles for women odds are good that they will speak at some point. That's the shocking thing about the Bechdel test: about half of movies released in theatres don't have enough female speaking roles for this to be likely to happen.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:01 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Suckerpunch passes the Bechdel test, and I'm pretty sure it fails the reverse test. It also pretty clearly demonstrates the limitations of using the Bechdel test to see how a movie treats its female characters.
posted by ckape at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


ostro: " If there are two or more prominent female characters, on the other hand, it's a good indication that, rather than filling the Chick Role and having everybody else default to male, the script is willing to let some characters just . . . be women, even with no particular reason why they have to be women."

When I write, I often ask myself the question "what if this character was the opposite sex instead?" And sometimes I change it, and sometimes I leave it the way it is, but it also feels a little cheap to just flip the sex of a character without rewriting it. For instance, a lot of female action movie characters are just gender-flipped male characters. It's great that the sex doesn't define them as characters, but it also feels a bit generic when the writing is totally independent of the character's sex, like it doesn't affect their personality or identity at all. It's a subtle balance, I think.

(And, as a man, I think women are harder to write than men, just because of lack of personal first-hand experience. But they're also more fun to write, because there are more stereotypes to subvert.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:06 PM on August 29, 2013


I did some Googling on "reverse Bechdel test" and A) I'm kinda surprised someone hasn't actually obsessively done this. The fact that no one seems to have done so suggests that the results are boringly obvious. B) the one recent, successful movie I could find where there was a definitive claim that it failed the reverse Bechdel was The Help.
posted by yoink at 5:08 PM on August 29, 2013


straight: "We can't both say that Mako Mori was a great character and also that we wish there were more women with speaking parts in the movie. That would be useless for the sort of "Transformers sucks and Pacific Rim rocks" rhetoric that is so important for defining ourselves on the internet."

Just to be clear, that is an accurate statement.
posted by brundlefly at 5:09 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have an interest in films which acknowledge the agency and inner life of women independent of males. So I have an interest in that genre.

Except that the Bechdel test doesn't speak to that. At all. It's checking a box, a single conversation in a single scene, regardless of narrative significance or strength of the female cast. As mentioned above, Sucker Punch passes the Bechdel test - and if there was ever a better example of how useless the test is, I've yet to hear of it.

The Mako Mori test requires actual writing and screentime, an emphasis on the character as having their own narrative arc that is meaningful to the overall narrative. She needs agency. It requires the character to be a character, not a prop. The genre of films that pass that test is a genre of films that acknowledge and depict the agency and inner life of women.
posted by kafziel at 5:11 PM on August 29, 2013


but it also feels a bit generic when the writing is totally independent of the character's sex

Although that points to an interesting phenomenon: that you can write a perfectly "acceptable" male action hero who never makes any particular reference to his sex or gender, but it's hard to imagine a female action hero who wouldn't. It tells us the extent to which we think of masculinity as a "default" gender ("people=men"). I would imagine that the percentage of characters whose gender can be flipped male-to-female without absolutely necessitating a rewrite is vastly higher than the percentage that could be flipped the other way.
posted by yoink at 5:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


if there was ever a better example of how useless the test

But that's not what the test is designed to reveal. It's not meant to be a test of how good individual movies are or what they're like. It's like saying a litmus test is useless because it doesn't tell you how much sugar there is in a substance. The Bechdel test is a useful test applied to large groups of movies. It tells you something interesting and useful about the ways the makers of those movies are thinking about gender and agency.
posted by yoink at 5:15 PM on August 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


The percentage of the population that is LGBT is just not high enough to have a reasonable expectation that we should see someone who is LGBT in every movie.

Consider Twelve Angry Men. As far as I can recall none of the men discuss their sexuality. The odds that at least two of them are gay are pretty good.

I wonder what one would say in an ideal world the pass rate should be?

Some movies have very small casts. Some movies are set in single-gender environments and stay tightly focused on what's happening in those hothouse environments. (e.g. pre-21st century military movies that for some reason are ignoring the civilian population). Almost all other movies should pass. Why not?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:16 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that passing the Bechdel was never intended as a sign that the movie in question meets some gold standard for non-misogyny. The Bechdel is a necessary minimum, nothing more.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:19 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


As far as the LGBT test, I think it's well intentioned but I also think it's kind of off base. The percentage of the population that is LGBT is just not high enough to have a reasonable expectation that we should see someone who is LGBT in every movie. I can't think of a time in my adult life when I haven't had some gay friends, but I can think of dozens of times that I've done something interesting or worth retelling with only straight people in the room - particularly if we're talking about times when it's just been me and one other person. I think it's fair to criticize how many of the LGBT characters that are seen in Hollywood movies are stereotypes, but that's a completely different test.

Okay. But if you assume that 10% of the world is queer, and that a movie has ten reasonably important characters, then there oughta be a 65% chance that at least one of those characters is queer.

Even if you assume a much lower rate of non-heterosexuality, let's say 3% — and I've seen surveys where it does come out that low — there's a 26% chance that a given movie will have at least one important queer character.

(Cumulative binomial distribution calculator here if you want to monkey with the statistics!)

My impression is that Hollywood isn't even living up to those proportions.

Now, okay, it's also complicated because sexual orientation is not immediately visible. So you can use the Rowling Maneuver here: "Character X is totally gay! He just isn't with anyone right now and has no exes who are still an important part of his life and never even makes any comments that allude to his orientation in an offhand way." But still, it seems like the best you can say about Hollywood is "An unusually high proportion of the gay characters in movies are, for no apparent reason, so deeply closeted that even a fly on the wall would never notice."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:20 PM on August 29, 2013


Arguing against the Bechdel test because that one awful movie passed it and that one great movie failed it is like arguing against BMI because it calls pro footballers overweight. Woopdidoo, it gives inaccurate special case results. It is relevant when arguing about populations and change over time, and on average, getting a poor result means the subject is more likely to not treat women as real characters/be in poor shape. If you're too blinkered to notice that hey, that guy is also a pro athlete so his BMI might not be the most accurate indicator you can find, or hey, that movie only has two characters, a man and woman discussing their relationship for 100 minutes so lack of other female characters is not a great metric, that is your problem.
posted by jacalata at 5:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting Douglas Hofstadter.
Interrupting Douglas Hofstad--
--MU!


Q: What is Douglas Hofstadter's favorite breakfast cereal?
A: Strange Froot Loops

Q: What is Douglas Hofstadter's favorite Grateful Dead album?
A: What a Long Strange Loop It's Been

Q: What does Douglas Hofstadter shout out at football games?
A: "Gödel, Bach! Escher, Bach! Waaaaaay Bach!"
posted by Atom Eyes at 5:21 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Almost all other movies should pass. Why not?

I decided that the only meaningful measure is relative, not absolute: in a non-sexist world, about the same number/percentage of films would pass the Bechdel and the Reverse Bechdel. I don't think you can make suggestions about what that percentage "should" be because one can imagine all kinds of thematic or stylistic vogues that might increase/decrease the likelihood of passing/failing. We might have a huge vogue for "castaway" movies, or for movies exploring lives of religious seclusion, or for movies where we pursue a series of social isolates or what have you. And, again, it's important to remember that even in a perfect world of absolute gender equality, there will be films that are not about such extreme cases that fail one or other test. There's no reason you shouldn't have an excellent social comedy that happens to be interested mostly in a group of women and their interactions and in which men only appear as and when they interact with those women. The problem is when it strikes you as weird to have the reverse.
posted by yoink at 5:23 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


kafziel: Except that the Bechdel test doesn't speak to that. At all. It's checking a box, a single conversation in a single scene, regardless of narrative significance or strength of the female cast.

Yes, and a film with spaceships in it can be fail in every way as science fiction. Neither I nor the article are saying that "passing the Bechdel test" automatically makes a film feminist, but I will say that a film that fulfills the requirements of the Bechdel test is more likely to be feminist than a film that isn't. Much like a film with spaceships in it is likelier to be science fiction than not.
posted by Kattullus at 5:28 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It tells us the extent to which we think of masculinity as a "default" gender ("people=men").

This. A film with an all-male cast is a film about People and is marketed and critiqued as such. A film with all or mostly women is a chick flick.
posted by rtha at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


And, as a man, I think women are harder to write than men, just because of lack of personal first-hand experience.

Or second-hand experience, such as would be provided by Bechdel Test passing movies.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:31 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I get pretty angry when people dismiss Mako Mori's character. Like, I 100% agree that Pacific Rim could use more ladies and could more feminist, but any film can be more feminist. As an Asian-American woman, the idea that a movie that gives that much time and energy and space to develop Mako Mori as a well-rounded, fascinating woman navigating being born into a specific East Asian cultural background and has to spend her days navigating a different cultural context? And not only does she do it successfully and brilliantly and consummates a storyline reserved for dudes in traditional Asian storytelling?

Man. It enrages me, especially when it's fellow feminists saying that all this cultural context and commentary doesn't count.

The Bechdel Test is a minimum for one aspect of storytelling about ladies. And in the context of using it to trash the first Asian-Western heroine I've ever seen? Making it a must-pass is super, super gross.
posted by joyceanmachine at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


A good example of the kind of thing that the Bechdel Test is useful for is represented by this chart. It shows the percentage of movies that pass/fail the Bechdel test broken down by genre. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the genre that fails the test most often is the Western. That it is followed closely by Film-Noir is perhaps not too surprising, although I might have imagined a bit more distance between them. I was surprised, though, to find that Horror was actually better than Romance up at the top of the table. These seem to me to be real and valuable insights about genre conventions that the Bechdel test reveals.
posted by yoink at 5:36 PM on August 29, 2013


Oh, and by the way? Most of the films that people have brought up as possibly failing the "reverse Bechdel test"? Actually pass it.

Kill Bill --
Bill: You hocked a Hattori Hanzo Sword?
Budd: Yep.
Bill: It was priceless.
Budd: Well, not in El Paso, it ain't. In El Paso I got me $250 for it.

Sucker Punch --
Cop: You're under arrest.
Blue: *Protesting as he gets dragged along*

But wait, you say, is it that easy? Do those even count? The one in Kill Bill is four lines of dialogue out of hours and hours! One of the guys in Sucker Punch isn't even a named character, just "Cop"!

It is exactly that easy. And that's how easy the normal Bechdel test is. Just that easy!

Obviously you can't use the Bechdel Test to judge whether an individual movie is good or bad. But you can reflect on the fact that for the last four years running, over a third of movies have failed that test. Yes, THAT test. The one that could be passed with "You're under arrest!" "*Protesting as [she] gets dragged along*". That ridiculously low standard.

And that's after the numbers have been showing significant improvement.

Meanwhile, most of the very few films that people think might fail the "reverse Bechdel test" actually pass it.
posted by kyrademon at 5:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


And in the context of using it to trash the first Asian-Western heroine I've ever seen?

The Overthinkingit.com piece doesn't do that, though. All they're saying is that the proposed "Mako Mori Test" isn't very useful because it's too open to interpretive squishiness.
posted by yoink at 5:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Horror is good at Bechtel shouldn't be surprising, given the trope of the Final Girl, the fact that there's usually at least one other female character, and the fact that by act III they are probably much too busy trying to figure out how to stay alive to talk about romance.
posted by localroger at 5:42 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


In my opinion the fact that Lawrence of Arabia doesn't have a single line spoken by a woman doesn't tarnish the film's accomplishments because it makes sense for all the desert warriors the movie is chronicling to be male, and the fact that the Twilight movies pass the Bechdel test doesn't make me any more comfortable with their artistic failings or troublesome gender politics.

Lawrence of Arabia seemed to kind of be making a point about the silence of women in Arabic culture, though. It seemed more aware of the potential voice of women than a thousand other movies with women in one-note speaking roles.

Anyway, the Bechdel test is such a low bar. Pacific Rim should have passed it. I've managed to do okay with it the Bechdel test by making any character who could feasibly be a lady, a lady. Not so hard. Why couldn't Stacker Pentecost be a lady? Or one of the scientists? Those were totally ladyable roles.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


CHIEF JUDGE (into intercom):
What can you tell me about the person I am with?

ANDERSON (through intercom):
Male


Okay, I guess that scene doesn't count.
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on August 29, 2013


Okay, I guess that scene doesn't count.

Sure it does. They weren't talking about the man, really. They were talking about Anderson's abilities.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:58 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Chief Judge is actually pretty invested in Anderson, whose arc is the spine of the movie since Judge Dredd doesn't do arcs, but talks more about her than to her.

(Also if we really want to do the full breakdown Ma Ma has a chat with Kaplan about offing Anderson as well.)

(Yes, I pretty much have the script memorized at this point.)
posted by Artw at 6:01 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder how people rate the recent Dredd movie (which i just watched on Netflix and absolutely loved). For once, there was a female main character, who wasn't the bad guy, wasn't some damsel in distress, had kick ass psychic abilities (so awesome that she was able to make a hardcore murderer piss himself), and when she did get overpowered and captured, was able to escape on her own and save herself. I thought it was an awesome story arc and character development for a rather mind-numbing action movie.

I think this movie was actually brilliant. It's one of the only super good simple modern action movies i can think of. So many of them have just turned to crap(look at, for instance the decline of the transporter movies with each sequel, etc). It has a soundtrack

You also forgot the badass crime boss lady character, who was feared by basically everyone, even had the cops in her pocket, and just generally had shit locked down. I've rarely seen that type of character played by a woman in any movie. She didn't just instantly bend over and get defeated in some corny scooby doo way by the good guys either.

If you really wanted to get conceptual here, you could say the movie was actually about two women battling it out too. Think about it: you never see dredds face, he practically could have been replaced by a mech suit that Cassandra wore or a voice giving her guidance over a headset or something. He was basically there to grunt and shoot his gun. You only see Cassandra and Mamas faces, not Dredds. I found that fucking fascinating actually. It was the closest i've seen a movie come to men being basically props to the womens characters. Contrast that with say, the kind of shit you saw in the new star trek movie.(AND GOD DAMNIT FUCK YOU ABRAMS, star trek especially tng/voyager/ds9 was like a place you could point to and go to escape that kind of shit. All the nerd girls i know loved it when they were young and didn't even actualize why until later. That's a big reason right there)

part of the motivation for formally proposing a 'Mako Mori Test', was in response to so many tumblrites who had been using the Bechdel Test as a shorthand for how feminist a movie could be, and in seeing Pacific Rim failing it, immediately dismissing it. It is basically as Joakim Ziegler and rmd1023 cautioned against. And I mean, I get the frustration - so many these days are learning more about all these useful things of being feminist, anti-racist, anti-white supremacy, but so many of those seem to only be learning them as formulas to recite with. But I do think using the Mako Mori Test as a supposed better alternative just means its proponents are falling into the same trap.

And this is why a lot of people i know, myself included pulled the cord and went "oh, that's my stop!" with tumblr. As a community, it's a bunch of fucking 14 year olds for whom being "feminist" is the new goth or scene or something. This obviously has great implications for the world socially(and especially the american, white, middle-upper middle class world that dominates tumblr) going forward, but it's fucking irritating like holy shit jesus christ omg.

You just get so many bandwagon hopping opinions they couldn't even really defend for more than a sentence because "Oh, someone pointed out this thing that's bad and without any further thought i'm dismissing this bit of media/your argument/this person".

The passing judgement and acting without thinking is really tiresome and honestly pretty gross. Tumblr is definitely the absolute worst face of any sort of social justice movement, and often reminds me of 4chan if 4chan was dominated by women instead of nerdy dudes.

Maybe i'm really off base, but i just have a really visceral reaction to how much of that "Oh there's this one thing wrong with something? Baby with bathwater!" quite similar to all the dismissal i saw of arguments against miley cyrus' cultural appropriation being drowned out by AFP like defense of "oh everyones hating her way too much and it must just be because she's a woman PLS RT!!".
posted by emptythought at 6:04 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


To me, the problem with the Bechdel test isn't about how it's set up, but rather how it's applied. That is, usually quantitatively across a span of films, in terms of pass or fail. The test becomes much more useful when it is applied to a single film at a time, qualitatively, in terms of the context of that film. Otherwise, we spin in endless circles around exceptions and circumstances. If we look at individual films and analyze what is going on there and why, we can say something much more meaningful about the underlying problem. Which is the way women are represented in film.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Horror is good at Bechtel shouldn't be surprising, given the trope of the Final Girl, the fact that there's usually at least one other female character, and the fact that by act III they are probably much too busy trying to figure out how to stay alive to talk about romance.

I follow a lot of horror blogs, and quite a few are by women. Horror has a (often deserved) reputation for sexism (I just watched The Devil's Rejects last night, which passes the Bedchel Test, but primarily because of a scene in which a female character sexually and physically harasses two other characters.) Nonetheless, I am not surprised that women are attracted to the genre, and not simply because of course there are women who like horror. It is a genre that has a long history of creating structures, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately, that push female characters to the forefront, and by their very structure make it necessary for women to be characters with actual needs are character arcs.

Horror could do a lot better, as can all genres. But look at the highest rated horror films of recent memory. "You're Next" features a final girl who is not just the last to survive, but (POSSIBLE SPOILER) actually and almost immediately takes the fight to the aggressors. The family in The Conjuring was almost all female, as was one of the demonologists, and we spent more time with female characters in that film that with male characters. Jessica Chastain and her two adopted daughters were the most important characters in Mama, besides Mama, of course. The adopted daughter in Orphan and her mother were the two dominant characters, and the film was primarily about their relationship.

Again and again we see stories that put women at the forefront, not accidentally or incidentally, but as the essential feature of storytelling. And its no wonder actresses like Chastain and Julianne Moore and Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor -- world class performers -- are attracted to these roles. When else do they get to play female characters who are as important, or more important, than the male leads?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:14 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


You only see Cassandra and Mamas faces, not Dredds.

That's straight out of the comic, and was at least partially in response to the Stallone film (which didn't do that.)

But, yeah, it does highlight the humanity of his companions and adversaries. Dredd is both perfectly and barely human himself.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:27 PM on August 29, 2013


And, as a man, I think women are harder to write than men, just because of lack of personal first-hand experience.

This is just a little weird to me. I was thinking a about how whenever male authors write realistic and "strong" female characters, it's seen as this great accomplishment, but is it surprising when a female author is able to write a realistic or "strong" male characters? Do any female writers find it easier to write female characters than male characters due to lack of first-hand experience?

Personally, when I'm writing (which I will admit is not often), gender is usually one of the last characteristics I think about when constructing a character. Part of this is because there are a lot of traits people are wont to categorize as masculine or feminine, which to me shouldn't be registered as such (like being nurturing and overprotective, or being emotionally detached, or the type who craves admiration by showing off feats of bravery, etc...). So, having characters in which the gender can be swapped doesn't necessarily mean the characters must be boring and neutral. You can give a character both "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics (rather than neither), thus subverting gender stereotypes either way. Also, there are a multitude of different combinations and places on the feminine-masculine spectrum in which a character can be placed, perhaps some leaning more on one side than the other, but it shouldn't be the determinant of their gender identity.

For example, in Pacific Rim, Stacker Pentecost (the character played by Idris Elba) could have easily been a female character. And, if she were, no doubt I'd hear people gushing about how a black woman was portrayed in a position of power and authority, but also displayed a great amount of empathy and emotional support. Then to top it off, the movie would have passed the Bechdel test with flying colors as it delved into Stacker and Mako's adopted parent-child relationship.
posted by picklenickle at 6:28 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd argue that the real test ought to be how many movies lack 5 minutes female/female conversations but do have five minute male/male conversations. (And vice versa, I guess.) Because modern American movies are doing good to have five continuous minutes of any sort of conversation at all. Often, I feel like I'd settle for five minutes without a chase or an explosion.
posted by tyllwin at 6:37 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was pretty happy after watching "Bridesmaids" and realizing that I couldn't remember a single conversation between two men. I'd have to watch it again, but I think it fails the reverse-Bechdel test, and I can think of another movie, recent or otherwise, that does.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 6:41 PM on August 29, 2013


The "Sex and the City" movies pass the Bechdel test and fail the reverse-Bechdel.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:45 PM on August 29, 2013


As part of a project I've been working on, it's struck me that one male writer who would have had a very good excuse for completely failing both Bechdel and Mako Mori at every turn actually didn't do too badly.

Don't get me wrong, now. I have known the many frustrations of Females Committing Shakespeare. But it can be done, especially with the right director. I've even been asked to choose the sex of my character when the director thought it didn't matter to the story.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:52 PM on August 29, 2013


So how many Monopolies of Monopolies of Bechdel Tests could we construct?
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 7:01 PM on August 29, 2013


I think there's also a danger in assuming too much from the Bechdel Test outside of the narrative of a comic strip that largely centered on a women's bookstore and was largely gaining readership through periodicals written by and for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people at the time. The punchline of the strip in which it appears is that the two women go home to make their own fun rather than spend money on a 1980s movie schedule which treated women as irrelevant and lesbian women as non-existent. That one character in the strip is on a media fast based on this rule isn't a strong argument that we all should be.

It's one signifier but it doesn't replace detailed criticism, it's not intended to. It's not a grand statement that, as an example, adaptations of Jane Austen are bad, because they primarily deal with conversations about men, who in historical context are also the gatekeepers for domestic happiness and long-term financial stability. Or to follow The Underpants Monster, that we shouldn't watch the complex gender relationships in Shakespeare or classical opera.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:02 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


AND GOD DAMNIT FUCK YOU ABRAMS, star trek especially tng/voyager/ds9 was like a place you could point to and go to escape that kind of shit. All the nerd girls i know loved it when they were young and didn't even actualize why until later. That's a big reason right there).

What? Look, I am a huge Trekkie, but the original Star Trek, which the movie is based on, was terribly sexist. Even though Gene Roddenberry tried to have a female first officer, the best recurring role he could get for Majel Barrett was as a freaking nurse because test audiences didn't want a strong woman in a leadership role. The majority of the women on the show were eye candy and even the crewmembers wore short dresses and black stockings. Uhura, despite Nichelle Nichols' popularity as a recording artist prior to signing on to the show, was just a bit part right up until she and Shatner fooled around and she parlayed the affair into a bigger role.

TNG talked a good game but never lived up to their own hype; despite touting how ground-breaking they were for women holding traditional men's positions early on, after Yar died they put a male Klingon as head of security and killed that right off with fire (okay, actually rock monsters). Picard is the pater familias, Riker is the same action-hero/lover boy Kirk was and Troi is the sensitive, understanding heart-of-gold woman (which fits in nicely with the "Western in space" motif, at least, as she is basically playing the Hooker with a Heart of Gold to his Sheriff). You can dress it up with Earl Grey and artifacts, but cultured veneer or not, they are all gendered stereotypes.

Then you've got Voyager, which is my favorite because they really did try to switch all the stereotypes around with a female captain and head engineer (and fabulously talented Tim Russ giving us a black Vulcan for the first time ever). But when ratings tanked they brought in a Borg in a Corset to spice things up and created a love story for Belanna. Which, personally, I loved, because I think both those actresses did a great job, but Jerri Ryan earned the ire of a lot of feminists just by putting on her skintight suit. Plus, Janeway is roundly denounced as the worst captain ever by most Trekkies(and Mefites), so the show didn't actually strike a blow for feminism there, either.

Like I said, I'm a devoted Trekkie, but Abrams didn't introduce sexism into the franchise. It's always been there.
posted by misha at 7:07 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


picklenickle: "This is just a little weird to me. I was thinking a about how whenever male authors write realistic and "strong" female characters, it's seen as this great accomplishment, but is it surprising when a female author is able to write a realistic or "strong" male characters? Do any female writers find it easier to write female characters than male characters due to lack of first-hand experience?"

I don't know if female writers find it easier to write female characters, but I'd find it totally unsurprising if they did. As it is, probably some do and some don't.

Personally, I'm kind of traditional and meticulous when I create characters, though, so I like to think about their childhood experiences and all that good Freudian stuff, and I do think there's a lot of women's childhood experiences that I don't know well enough to get everything just right. This is of course compounded by the fact that childhoods are everything from a decade to 5-6 decades in the character's past, when childhood experiences were a lot more gendered.

You get by, of course, you lean on all the fictional depictions you've seen, and what people have told you, and so on. But that it's harder and comes less naturally than writing male characters, at least for me? No doubt.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:07 PM on August 29, 2013


star trek especially tng/voyager/ds9 was like a place you could point to and go to escape that kind of shit.

The Star Trek movie franchise is full of examples of failing or just barely quasi-passing the Bechdel test. Star Trek: First Contact in 1996 is the first to unarguably pass.

Yes, THAT test. The one that could be passed with "You're under arrest!" "*Protesting as [she] gets dragged along*". That ridiculously low standard.


Actually, that's unclear. People argue a lot about the exact boundaries of the test. On bechdeltest.com a film that had the exchange you're describing (Cop: You're under arrest. Blue: *Protesting as he gets dragged along*) between two women as the onlly exchange between the two women would get marked as "dubious" at best.
posted by yoink at 7:08 PM on August 29, 2013


Look, I am a huge Trekkie, but the original Star Trek, which the movie is based on, was terribly sexist. Even though Gene Roddenberry tried to have a female first officer, the best recurring role he could get for Majel Barrett was as a freaking nurse because test audiences didn't want a strong woman in a leadership role.

You should check out the Animated Series. Especially The Lorelei Signal.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:10 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


but Jerri Ryan earned the ire of a lot of feminists just by putting on her skintight suit.

Yeah, which is a shame because she actually did a terrific job in that role. But I can understand anyone who just couldn't get past the "really...that's the costume?" response.
posted by yoink at 7:10 PM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not a grand statement that, as an example, adaptations of Jane Austen are bad, because they primarily deal with conversations about men, who in historical context are also the gatekeepers for domestic happiness and long-term financial stability.

I'd say that if you write an Austen movie where the women talk about nothing but men, you've written a pretty sucky Austen movie.
posted by tavella at 7:13 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd say that if you write an Austen movie where the women talk about nothing but men, you've written a pretty sucky Austen movie.

Hrm. The thing there is that even when they *are* talking about men, they're often not really talking about men, execept insofar as men are a means to an end.

Which is kinda similar to the Chief Judge/Anderson exchange above.

There may need to be some contextual refinements to the Bechdel Test.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:18 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunny UM: It [horror]is a genre that has a long history of creating structures, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately, that push female characters to the forefront, and by their very structure make it necessary for women to be characters with actual needs are character arcs.

The situation with horror is very, very weird, and I say that as someone who has written a self-published novel with horror-like aspects, which has been improbably popular among the web crowd who have found it, and which passes Bechtel for all the wrong reasons.

The weird thing is that the Final Girl trope is so strong that the Final Person is still the Final Girl even when male. Horror creates strong female characters because certain characters tend to be female and if you're going to have strong characters at all, well duh.

It doesn't surprise me that a lot of women like these stories where a strong female character faces impossible odds and manages to be the last one standing; what is really interesting is that men obviously like these characters too because if they didn't the stories wouldn't get made that way.

It is a long standing axiom that the protagonist of a story must be someone the viewer can identify with, and it's usually easier to find women who willing to temporarily virtually join the patriarchy by identifying with a strong male character than men who will want to leave it by identifying with a leading woman. But in horror, it's the lead woman that is seen over and over, and generally not in situations where the audience guys are likely to be thinking of boning her.

I suspect part of the answer -- and I am making this up as I go along, so bear with me -- is that the attraction of horror is similar to that of BDSM in a sense that both are similar to that of roller coasters, where you strap in and surrender and experience the kind of experiences that would normally be life threatening but in safety, and as entertainment.

In the horror movie it is the lead character's purpose to go through a gauntlet of terror, and for the guys in the audience who are into that sort of thing it's just an added loop of the roller coaster that their ID character is female, subject to extra vulnerability and challenges because of that. So what is a problem in other genres where we are expecting the protagonist to be a leader or problem-solver, becomes a plus because the protagonist must start out as a victim and claw her way out of the trap.

Or pie; it's getting late and I'm not sure I'm making sense. But while horror has created some admittedly awesome female characters, I'm not sure the reasons for that are exactly pure.
posted by localroger at 7:18 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and by the way? Most of the films that people have brought up as possibly failing the "reverse Bechdel test"? Actually pass it.

Kill Bill --
Bill: You hocked a Hattori Hanzo Sword?
Budd: Yep.
Bill: It was priceless.
Budd: Well, not in El Paso, it ain't. In El Paso I got me $250 for it.


That's Kill Bill vol. 2, which also passes with the conversation between Budd and his boss at the strip club.

I believe Kill Bill vol. 1 fails the reverse Bechdel, however.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:26 PM on August 29, 2013


The Mako Mori test requires actual writing and screentime, an emphasis on the character as having their own narrative arc that is meaningful to the overall narrative. She needs agency. It requires the character to be a character, not a prop. The genre of films that pass that test is a genre of films that acknowledge and depict the agency and inner life of women.

No, the films that pass the Mako Mori test is a genre of films that acknowledge and depict the agency and inner life of a woman. Just one is needed. And she doesn't have to ever interact or think about any other woman, she just has to be more than just a supporting character. This is a good test too, but it's also not sufficient.
posted by jeather at 7:30 PM on August 29, 2013


The Bechdel test is a useful test applied to large groups of movies.

the Bechdel test is more aimed at critiquing society in general


Although I basically agree with this characterization of the usefulness of the Bechdel test, it's worth keeping in mind that the original formulation of the test in Bechdel's cartoon is a character saying she's not personally interested in watching any individual movie that doesn't show at least this minimum level of interest in women.
posted by straight at 7:30 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's worth keeping in mind that the original formulation of the test in Bechdel's cartoon is a character saying she's not personally interested in watching any individual movie that doesn't show at least this minimum level of interest in women.

Sure--but while that's true, it's not a guide to answering the general question "what is the utility of the Bechdel test." It's an answer to the question "how was the character who formulated the Bechdel test in the cartoon where it originated using it." And, as we know, using it that way would have lead her to both see some pretty crappy and misogynist movies AND miss out on some pretty wonderful and not at all misogynist movies. Although no doubt, overall, she'd have ended up seeing less misogynist films on average than a viewer going to movies at random.
posted by yoink at 7:46 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


using it that way would have lead her to both see some pretty crappy and misogynist movies

From the context, it's probably not her only criteria for avoiding movies, just one that quickly (and pathetically) weeds out a whole bunch she's not interested in. And as CBrachyrhynchos pointed out, the larger context of the strip is of lesbian women choosing to spend more of their time outside of the mainstream Hollywood entertainment steam entirely.
posted by straight at 7:59 PM on August 29, 2013


What? Look, I am a huge Trekkie, but the original Star Trek, which the movie is based on, was terribly sexist.

Which is a really lame excuse though right? I'm perfectly aware that the original star trek wasn't great at this. It's freaking mad men in space. While i'll acknowledge that TNG wrote checks with it's mouth that it's ass couldn't pay i think you could easily draw a linear curve through the various shows(T'pol in enterprise?) that shows it steadily improving.

And then enterprise died, and the entire thing hit a freaking wall with the reboot. It sounds like you're basically making a "hey, don't pump up the old ones as being that great" argument and possibly even going "Abrams didn't start it!" which is pretty flatulent if so. Because either way, he was handed basically a box of legos that had some special pieces in it that could only be used a few ways, but was mostly open ended and told to go apeshit. He basically took an opportunity that open ended and totally fucked it up like this. I think he deserves a lot more blame than the old existing shows do, especially when DS9/voyager/enterprise had pretty damn solid female characters often in very prominent roles that didn't suffer from any of those cheesy problems.

Basically, i think that the new movies handle women's roles in way more tiresome ways than the 90s shows did, and that he should be getting a lot more shit for that. Comparatively they're freaking great.
posted by emptythought at 8:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


localroger: "Or pie; it's getting late and I'm not sure I'm making sense. But while horror has created some admittedly awesome female characters, I'm not sure the reasons for that are exactly pure."

While I tend to agree with the general idea that horror movies are often exploitative even though they have ostensibly strong female leads, you should probably be aware that there's a pretty huge body of research and theory on each one of the ideas you touch on in your post, namely:

Why do we enjoy horror, when it shows us unpleasant things: See Noël Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart, which concerns itself a lot with this question, as well as getting very close to a definitive answer (to me) to the surprisingly tricky question of how to define horror as a genre. His definition excludes things like non-supernatural slasher movies and serial killer movies, though, which is fine with me, but might weaken it as a lens through which to analyze the Final Girl trope.

Gender in horror in general, what the Final Girl represents, and why/how the viewer identifies with her: Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film is where the term Final Girl comes from, and as such is pretty basic (her conclusions are quite different from yours, by the way), but it's from 1992, and showing its age a bit.

I seem to remember the essay collection The Horror Film, edited by Stephen Prince, has a few good viewpoints on gender and horror, but it's been a while since I read it, and it's too dense to just pull out of my bookshelf and check. But there's a pretty huge body of work to go through on these subjects.

(If you're going to get into horror theory, I'd personally not particularly recommend the school of feminist horror critique that depends almost exclusively on Kristeva and her theories of abjection and the primal mother, though. They tend to read like a hammer in search of a nail, that is, absolutely all monsters or horror antagonists represent mothers, vaginas, or wombs, no exceptions. It gets pretty monotonous and boring.)
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:12 PM on August 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Does this thread even pass the Bechdel test?
posted by stoneandstar at 8:17 PM on August 29, 2013


BTW, here's the latest on my Dredd fanfic.

Will it pass the test? You'll have to read Judge Dredd Megazine 340 to find out, Earthlets!
posted by Artw at 8:19 PM on August 29, 2013


I write Dredd fanfic, which is mostly rewrites of your stories but sometimes Judge Death comes in a thong emblazoned with a skull.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:24 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: three of my favorite webcomics generally fail the reverse Bechdel. Two of them are written & drawn by men. What's up with that?

(They are: Questionable Content, which almost always fails it, Wapsi Square, which spectacularly fails it, and Girls with Slingshots, which almost always fails it.)
posted by edheil at 8:25 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which is a really lame excuse though right? I'm perfectly aware that the original star trek wasn't great at this. It's freaking mad men in space.

Although, to be fair to Abrams (not sure why I want to be, but just for argument's sake, I guess), it is a bit tricky to be handed a box of legos that contained a bunch of well-developed male characters who all needed to be worked into the narrative in their various ways along with one hopelessly undeveloped female character (basically a sexy switchboard operator in TOS). While it's true that there would be ways to write that movie that pass the Bechdel test, there's not a lot of ways to write it that aren't pretty sausage-festy, while still giving Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu and Scotty sufficient screen time/plot significance. Probably the easiest way would have been to have a female villain, but there are problems in the "our trusty band of male heros band together to defeat the evil bitch-queen of planet plot device" narrative, too.

Mind you, I haven't seen the film yet, so I'm in no position to judge just how horribly Abrams borked the assignment.
posted by yoink at 8:34 PM on August 29, 2013


If you can blow up Vulcan, you can gender-swap a lead.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:51 PM on August 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yeah, the 'But the original cast was almost all men! He was working with what he was given!' excuse doesn't fly with me post-Starbuck.
posted by matcha action at 8:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [14 favorites]


The Bechdel Test (as with the Mako Mori test) is interesting and important because of how many films fail it, not because individual films do. I agree with Artw in the previous thread that the Mako Mori test is more indicative of fans, however, who rather than admitting the film might have a flaw instead make up a whole new test just so their film can pass.

I agree with the article - the use of the Bechdel Test is in its objectivity, while you can debate whether even Mako Mori makes the grade of the test named for her. As for the Vito Russo test...


Now, okay, it's also complicated because sexual orientation is not immediately visible. So you can use the Rowling Maneuver here: "Character X is totally gay! He just isn't with anyone right now and has no exes who are still an important part of his life and never even makes any comments that allude to his orientation in an offhand way." But still, it seems like the best you can say about Hollywood is "An unusually high proportion of the gay characters in movies are, for no apparent reason, so deeply closeted that even a fly on the wall would never notice."

... if you're asking for a supporting character to be sketched in when no mention of their love life is necessary for the script, then you're going to get accused of stereotyping, so there's no easy way to win on that one. You don't have to be deeply closeted to not openly read as gay, after all.

And complaining about how Dumbledore was announced as gay? Still? I always wonder during which of the several life-threatening battles he was preparing Harry for he should have mentioned his sexuality, while also being the elderly mentor and headmaster of an orphan boy. Because it would have come up so organically, and there's not even the slightest whiff of controversy ever about a gay man teaching children, let alone informing them of his love life, and there's no way that revelation would overshadow the rest of the book in terms of publicity and interest/outcry.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:57 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the 'But the original cast was almost all men! He was working with what he was given!' excuse doesn't fly with me post-Starbuck.

That is to ignore the enormous difference between the demands of the fanbases for the two shows. I'm sure there were a few sad, lonely Battlestar Galactica TOS fans out there, but the makers of the reboot series really didn't have to care about them at all. Every single one of them could have sworn never to watch the new series because of what they did to Starbuck and could have blogged earnestly about it and the sum total effect on viewership would have been negligible. That's not true of the Trekkie audience who lie at the beating heart of the whole Sci-Fi/Genre/ComicCon audience. Gender swapping one of the major characters really wasn't a viable option.
posted by yoink at 9:11 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


He blew up Vulcan.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:19 PM on August 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


like yeah we're all basically agreeing that The Patriarchy is so strong in our society (and ESPECIALLY in nerd culture, but don't even get me started there) that gender-swapping a lead is more likely to spark terminal nerdrage than fundamentally changing the premise of the series. It's super weird, right?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:21 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


fundamentally changing the premise of the series

That's going waaaaaay too far. You never even visit Vulcan in TOS. Vulcan existing or not-existing is pretty much irrelevant to the basic set-up of series. Almost all the potential audience for the movie could tell you that Spock's a guy with pointy ears who is super-logical and does that hand-splitty salute thingy. Only the hardest of the hard core could tell you what the planet Vulcan was supposed to be like. What is important to the "premise of the series" is that there is a race of people called Vulcans and that they believe in logic rather than in emotions. The continued survival of their planet is neither here nor there--from the perspective of "things the audience are deeply invested in about this fictional world."

But this is getting far afield of the Bechdel test, so I'll drop it.
posted by yoink at 9:41 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh crap, I forgot "Amok Time." So, yeah, once they visited Vulcan. My point still stands.
posted by yoink at 9:49 PM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I’m neither particularly sad nor lonely, but thanks for the concern. Anyway. Abrams & Co, from the very beginning, made explicit public statements that fans of the original Star Trek series and movies were probably not going to enjoy the new films, but it didn’t matter because they weren’t the target audience anyway. They repeated this message many times throughout the writing and production process, basically pre-discrediting anyone who didn’t like them as hidebound sticks-in-the-mud. They’d occasionally let a “Some fans of the old series will understand what we’re doing” message slip though jus in case, but with their own publicity machine they had written themselves a blank check to do whatever they liked. Car chases? Sure! The new kid has to be in charge because destiny? OK! Starships on land and underwater? Hey, it’s just a movie! White Khan? We’re not committed to some code set in stone! Ensign Pavla Chekova? Whoa, whoa! That’s just crazy talk! The FANS will never accept it!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Every single one of them could have sworn never to watch the new series because of what they did to Starbuck and could have blogged earnestly about it and the sum total effect on viewership would have been negligible.

This is total crap. The new movie(s) were not blockbusters on the backs of a wheezing, dying fanbase. Almost everyone I talked to when the first new movie came out who liked it had barely even if at all watched any Star Trek of any kind before seeing that movie.

It was a summer blockbuster first, and a Star Trek movie distant second. They could have changed it however the hell they wanted and the blogger whining would have had a similarly small effect.

Neckbeard comic book dudes opinions of things don't change shit, or we'd have like 4 seasons of firefly and a theme park by now. I thought people realized this shit.

Kirk, Spock, or anyone else could have been a woman. It's an alternate universe. They already changed a ton of shit like building the enterprise on earth just to prop up cute shots.(and as mentioned, blowing up vulcan).

I'm not buying this argument either. No one in Hollywood gives a fuck about whiny Internet fanbases, and with good reason. It hasn't effected any of the superhero movies or much else of really anything succeeding or failing. No fanbase makes a movie hundreds of millions, even in DVD sales.
posted by emptythought at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What? Look, I am a huge Trekkie, but the original Star Trek, which the movie is based on, was terribly sexist.

The show that Roddenberry created was as anti-sexist, anti-racist and progressive has he could make it, given the constraints of where, when, and who he was.

The fact that Abrams didn't give a shit about what Star Trek was supposed to mean or what it was trying to do, but just made a stupid generic space battle boys own adventure, partially enlivened with poor cinematography, was an insult to Star Trek, Roddenberry, and to all Trek fans. I spit on his grave (or I will. Metaphorically).
posted by misfish at 9:54 PM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


lmfao my work computer ate part of one of my posts above. I must have accidentally highlighted something and hit a character or ctrl+z'd or i don't even know.

It has a soundtrack

Was supposed to read
It has a soundtrack that has already been re-used in several other movies, and many trailers. Like almost to the extent the inception BWAAAAA shit was beat to death here and there as samples in trailers for a while. Every little thing about it seems so meticulously put together, the amount of attention to detail visually that a lot of it exhibits almost seems more like a music video or something you'd see on vimeo. The story isn't a rolls royce or anything, but the point of it is that it's an action movie. It plays through amazingly well as such, and also manages to do a victory lap of "oh by the way, the main characters are women and at no point does any "But wait, you need help because you're a woman and you're new!" or any shit like that come up. It's seriously like die hard in premise and execution but with women main characters on both the good and bad sides. The men on both sides are like those NPCs in fallout or borderlands that shoot shit for you and not much else. Why didn't more people cheer this shit on?
I think somewhere in my mind i noticed that was gone and doubled back over some of those points a bit, but yea... that sentence fragment just hanging out in space there bugged me.
posted by emptythought at 11:55 PM on August 29, 2013


No one in Hollywood gives a fuck about whiny Internet fanbases, and with good reason. It hasn't effected any of the superhero movies or much else of really anything succeeding or failing. No fanbase makes a movie hundreds of millions, even in DVD sales.

The key question for the fanbase is under what circumstances they would refuse to see the movie. Would rabid fans not go to see a Star Trek movie if Spock was female? They'd complain but they'd go. People who won't vote with their wallets can be safely ignored.

Sometimes a fanbase can convince studios that a marginal property is worth developing, as when fan outcry saved the original series from cancellation. People shouting loudly that they want the chance to give you money are harder to ignore.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:09 AM on August 30, 2013


I don't have an issue with the Bechdel test at all, but I do have a genuine question. If so many movies fail it, why do they keep failing it year on year?

If the implications of the Bechdel test results is correct - namely that Hollywood's treatment of women characters is one dimensional, flawed, misogynist and so forth has there been serious analysis of why this is the case?

By which I mean: Hollywood is notorious for chasing easy markets (e.g. its love of sequels) and for the role audience testing has on the final product. I've often wondered who the market is for the sheer number of facile, CGI-ridden action movies, tailor made for teenage boys, that I dislike so much. The production of this stuff should match the size of the market. But Hollywood producers and marketers are not perfect, and there is plenty of copycat stuff churned out because it is perceived to be less risky or easier or whatever.

In short: is there a compelling case that Bechdel test failures indicate poor commercial strategy?
posted by MuffinMan at 2:18 AM on August 30, 2013


I'm not a marketer nor do I pretend to know anything about the movie business, but...

There have been cases where objectively dreadful films have made mad amounts of money whose one redeeming feature is their female-centredness. The most obvious example is the the Sex and the City films. The first film made $415 millions and the second $288 millions worldwide. I saw the first one. It was absolute garbage. I didn't see the second one but I hear it was even worse. That said, both films did focus on women, and plenty of people pointed out around the time the first one came out that this makes it pretty unique among big Hollywood movies.

There are plenty of unique factors about Sex and the City, but it is remarkable that a film with the terrible buzz SatC2 had could do anything but bomb terribly. I remember that as a geek in the 90s, before SF and fantasy took over Hollywood, I would go see any film that fit those genres. I saw a lot of terrible films yet I kept paying for them because it was the closest I could come to having my wants met. I suspect that people going to see SatC2 is a similar case. And then when a decent movie comes along that meets that want, then it cleans up at the box office.
posted by Kattullus at 3:00 AM on August 30, 2013


The reason the Star Trek reboot (at least the first one, I didn't see the second) took a step backwards for me, from a gender standpoint, was that unlike in even TOS, there wasn't a single female character who wasn't someone's mother or someone's girlfriend. I do wish they had gender-swapped one of the characters-- not asking for Kirk or Spock, but McCoy, Sulu or Chekov could easily have been women. And doing that would have given the movie at least one female character not primarily defined by their relationship to a man.
posted by matcha action at 3:39 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


The subject of Abrams' Star Trek has come up, and awoken my compressed, seething nerdrage, which is at this point putting out enough gravitons that our flat would be half its current size and shrinking if I hadn't diverted power to the structural integrity field from the microwave.

There are a couple of graphics going around tumblr that I'm going to link in lieu of actually making an argument, because my argument would be mostly screaming and vowel sounds: Uhura's uniform and Real Trek vs New Trek.

and yes those images from real trek are cherry picked but still: women characters in the Big Chair, making the Big Decisions and turning the plot on their actions. real trek had cheesecake; new trek doesn't have anything but cheesecake
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:21 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]




> "I believe Kill Bill vol. 1 fails the reverse Bechdel, however."

Nope.

Earl McGraw: Well, give me the gory details, Son Number One.
Edgar McGraw: It's a goddamn massacre, Pop. They wiped out the whole wedding party, execution-style.
Earl McGraw: Give me a figure.
Edgar McGraw: Nine dead bodies. And we're talking the whole she-bang: bride, groom, reverend, reverend's wife... hell, they even shot that old colored fella that plays the organ.
Earl McGraw: It would appear someone objected to this union and wasn't able to hold their peace.

Sushi Bar Assistant: [Japanese] Sake? In the middle of the day?
Hattori Hanzo: [Japanese] Day, night, afternoon, who gives a damn? Get the sake!
Sushi Bar Assistant: [Japanese] How come I always have to get the sake? You listen well... for thirty years, you make the fish, I get the sake. If this were the military, I'd be General by now!
Hattori Hanzo: [Japanese] Oh, so you'd be General, huh? If you were General, I'd be Emperor, and you'd STILL get the sake! So shut up and get the sake!

Bridesmaids or the Sex and the City movies I might be willing to believe could fail it. It happens occasionally. But for a movie to fail the "reverse Bechdel", usually every man in the film has to solely exist in the context of their relationship with a woman. A movie like Kill Bill, where men simply exist as general people who are around in the world? Doesn't stand a chance. Which means very nearly all movies pass the "reverse Bechdel", although there are of course exceptions.

However, movies where women don't exist as general people who are simply around in the world? Where's there's apparently only one woman (or no women) in the whole universe, or every woman that exists only exists in the context of her relationship with men? That happens all the time. From the statistics, a little more than one movie in three.
posted by kyrademon at 5:25 AM on August 30, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, add me to the list of people who would have liked to see a gender-swap in the Star Trek reboot. Sulu would have been my vote. Then we would have had a woman space-jumping to the drill platform to have a sword fight with Romulans, and also a woman in command of the Enterprise whilst Kirk and Spock were running around the Romulan ship.

Also, I don't agree with the argument that a gender-swap would have significantly affected the profitability of the film as a result of the fanbase whining about it. ALL the trekkies I know whined incessantly about what Abrams did to the franchise. They still went to see both films though.
posted by jonnyploy at 5:32 AM on August 30, 2013


There are a couple of graphics going around tumblr that I'm going to link in lieu of actually making an argument, because my argument would be mostly screaming and vowel sounds: Uhura's uniform and Real Trek vs New Trek.

Well, you are comparing carefully chosen images from thousands of hours of footage across four series and seven movies against the 4-5 hours of New Trek.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:38 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "Well, you are comparing carefully chosen images from thousands of hours of footage across four series and seven movies against the 4-5 hours of New Trek."

Yes! Which suggests to me that, in producing a mere two movies-worth of fanfic, Abrams had less screen time to give to the characters and thus should have taken more care to stay true to the egalitarian intentions of the show.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:40 AM on August 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Well, you are comparing carefully chosen images from thousands of hours of footage across four series and seven movies against the 4-5 hours of New Trek."

That Uhura's uniform one is not cherry-picked, and-- wow. The fact that they didn't think women needed somewhere to display their rank? That's pretty telling.
posted by matcha action at 5:51 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't have an issue with the Bechdel test at all, but I do have a genuine question. If so many movies fail it, why do they keep failing it year on year?

Because they are under the impression, correct or incorrect, that women will continue to see movies about men and more men talking about manly stuff, but movies that are about or by women fail terribly. (This isn't true, but as it turns out prejudice isn't rational and the rare movie that's about women -- not a single woman in a romcom -- does well but it's an exception and no one could ever make another show that succeeded if it had women in it. Rinse, repeat.)
posted by jeather at 5:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes! Which suggests to me that, in producing a mere two movies-worth of fanfic, Abrams had less screen time to give to the characters and thus should have taken more care to stay true to the egalitarian intentions of the show.

It should be noted that I don't disagree with the criticism that Abrahams' Trek is too frat boyish, just that the specific criticism was weak.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:03 AM on August 30, 2013


Brandon Blatcher: "It should be noted that I don't disagree with the criticism that Abrahams' Trek is too frat boyish, just that the specific criticism was weak."

I still think it's a strong point to make. As I said in smalltext somewhere up there, Trek was never immune to cheesecake but it also gave us some great women characters who got to drive plots and eventually a whole show, and they didn't do it while completely surrounded by men (although the ratio could still have used some evening out). The TNG movies don't do as well but they still inherit two (count em! two!) women from the show who get a decent amount to do.

Sparkle Trek has nothing to offer but cheesecake.

and if they're going to emphasise the bromance at least give us spock and kirk in the bath shaving each other
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:12 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to get all 'someone is wrong on the internet' on kafziel's comment, but this this particular argument has been eating at me: "Sucker Punch passes the Bechdel test - and if there was ever a better example of how useless the test is, I've yet to hear of it."

This is a misunderstanding of the Bechdel test. You could just as well say that lesbian porn passes the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test doesn't tell you whether something is feminist or not. All it tells you is that there are two female characters whose narrative existence doesn't revolve completely around male characters. A film can be feminist without passing the test. In fact, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is a feminist masterpiece which only features one single female character.

Now, I will contend that movies which pass the Bechdel test are going to be more likely to be feminist, much like a movie with a spaceship in it is likelier than not to be science fiction.

criminy it's depressing that we live in a society where simply acknowledging the existence of female experience counts as feminist
posted by Kattullus at 6:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've always felt Bechdelly OK about TNG (tv). The replacement of Yar with Worf was a bummer, but done for backstage reasons - Crosby was leaving and it didn't make sense to bring someone new into what was already considred a bloated ensemble when there was a junior to step up and fill in. The other female characters were in traditionally caregiving jobs, sure, but those jobs were expanded beyond old-fashioned subservience; Troi and Crusher sat at the same conference table as Worf and Data, and Crusher did the same work as McCoy had a generation earlier. And, although they did have the advantage of years to accomplish it, I don't have to tax my memory too hard to think of conversations among Troi, Crusher, and Guinan on on a variety of topics related both to main plots and personal subplots, not to mention female guest stars. Sure, there was romance, cheesecake, and eye candy, too, but it wasn't all they were there for.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sparkle Trek has nothing to offer but cheesecake.

Thank you for that excellent nickname. Otherwise, I see no great need, reason or desire to defend the new Trek movies.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:40 AM on August 30, 2013


Trek was never immune to cheesecake but it also gave us some great women characters who got to drive plots and eventually a whole show, and they didn't do it while completely surrounded by men

That's just wishful thinking, or romanticism. They were always surrounded by men.

The cherry-picked images are crazy biased, too. Green girl is right out of canon from TOS, and what about Wynona Rider's character and costume in the new franchise? No cheesecake there.

I'd also strongly contest the idea that Uhura, at least in the first film, was a character whose entire existence centered around her relationship to a man. Yes, she has a a thing going on with Spock, but we don't know that until well into the movie, when she has already been established as an expert in her field in her own right. Though Kirk is constantly coming on to her, the scenes disparage him rather than glorify that (and just make her character stronger by comparison).

The first film also passes the Bechdel test when Uhura discusses the strange communications she intercepted with her roommate.

I was disappointed that the second movie concentrated so much on Uhura's relationship problems with Spock. However, Uhura does speak with the Klingons--is in fact the only one that can--and it is the men who screw that up. Not near enough fleshing out of her character, granted, but it's something.

In contrast, they rarely had Uhura in TOS do anything with actual language skills or interpretation, and one memorable time they did (in a TOS movie), the whole crew was helping her with a freakin' dead-tree book (how anachronistic is that?) and it was still pretty iffy translation. And don't even get me started on Nichelle Nichol's fan dance in the one TOS movie Shatner directed, because seriously, WTF?

I can't believe anyone thinks gender swapping would NOT cause an outcry, either. Seriously? Starbuck's gender swap in Battlestar, which I agree was. genius (and well acted), is a completely different kettle of fish. If anything, the Ceylons were the most memorable characters in the original Battlestar. I remember being disappointed there weren't more "by your command" robotic types running around creating a ruckus.

TOS's characters, on the other hand, drove the series, so much so that the actors banked on it for thirty years after the series ended its original run. even Abrams, idiot that he was about some things (underwater starship AAAARRGGGHH), understood that the personalities, mannerisms and interplay amongst those characters mattered to the fans. No way in hell you could change Kirk, Spock or McCoy for a woman. What's more, there is no reason why anyone should. What would be the point of swapping, shock value?

Changing Sulu into a woman would not work, either. Having Sulu's role played by a woman would not go down well with the gay community, as George Takei is a beloved icon and they would rightly ask why the gay man's character is the one seen as inconsequential enough to just swap out like that.

Writing another strong woman character into the movies can and has been done (Kirstie Alley, for one) and that's the way to do it well, IMHO.
posted by misha at 7:03 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Scottie totally could've and should've been played by a woman.
posted by straight at 7:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


misha: "That's just wishful thinking, or romanticism. They were always surrounded by men. "

Did you watch the same Voyager and DS9 that I did? The women got lots of stories, lots of time together, bags of agency, tonnes of characterisation, and were basically great.

misha: "what about Wynona Rider's character and costume in the new franchise? No cheesecake there."

No cheesecake, but she was just misery fuel. Abrams was worried that non Trek fans wouldn't care about his absent mindedly blowing the shit out of Vulcan so he killed Spock's mum to make it "personal".

misha: "Writing another strong woman character into the movies can and has been done (Kirstie Alley, for one) and that's the way to do it well, IMHO."

I completely agree! I'll note that one of the women we see in her underwear in new Trek is brilliant scientist Carol Marcus, introduced in Star Trek 2 as an ex-lover of Kirk's, mother of his son, creator of the revolutionary Genesis device, and presumably owner of some nice bras that we don't get to see.

straight: "Scottie totally could've and should've been played by a woman."

Yes!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:29 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


All it tells you is that there are two female characters whose narrative existence doesn't revolve completely around male characters.

One last time, the original test isn't, "Here's how you know if a film is sufficiently feminist" it's "I'm not in the mood for a movie about dudes and the girls who love them" (in the same way I might say, "I'm not in the mood for a heist movie").

And I think this is important. Trying to say to Hollywood (or Pixar or whoever), "Hey stop making sexist movies!" is just a recipe for interminable hair-splitting arguments. Saying, "Hey, I'm more likely to pay money to see your movie if it's got multiple women characters who aren't just moms and mates for the dudes" seems much more constructive. The question is not, "Is this movie sexist?" but "Does this movie have what I want?"
posted by straight at 7:30 AM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Incidentally, feminist Star Trek fans might like this excellent blog, The Valkyrie Directive.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:42 AM on August 30, 2013


Scottie totally could've and should've been played by a woman.

Changing the gender of such an established character is problematic, as it essentially negates decades of the audience's relationship with said character. The Starbuck change worked because of the great writing and acting and that the original character was from a single season of a single series, who's personality doesn't translate well to modern times.

Since the new Trek is in an alternate dimension, keep the same genders of the original cast, move Chekov to engineering with Scottie (one of them is always on the bridge and add several new characters. Put a female helsman with Sulu, with a bit healthy rivalry between them, and another female character at one of the stations on the bridge (weapons or defense). Put another female as an assistant at the engineering or science stations. Make one of those females non-white.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wanted to see the adventures of the Enterprise B, with Sulu's daughter at the helm and Captain Ferris Bueller's Friend.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 7:47 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm, after Googling around for photos of the new Trek bridge, overall the crew is more egalitarian, with more females and non-whites.

Example 1, 2, 3, 4. So clearly someone was thinking of this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


straight: One last time, the original test isn't, "Here's how you know if a film is sufficiently feminist" it's "I'm not in the mood for a movie about dudes and the girls who love them" (in the same way I might say, "I'm not in the mood for a heist movie").

That's what I am saying too. I'm confused as to what the disagreement is.

posted by Kattullus at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2013


How could anyone not be in the mood for a heist movie?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:17 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


edheil: "Fun fact: three of my favorite webcomics generally fail the reverse Bechdel."

My favourite webcomic laughs in the face of the Bechdel, the Reverse Bechdel, the Heimlich Bechdel, the Closed Pike Position Bechdel, the Bechdel GTi V8, the 4.5ghz Bechdel OC, the Two Seater Fighter Bechdel, the Vintage Farmhouse Bechdel, the A-Line Bechdel, and the Infinite Bechdel.

It has a lot of women in it, is what I'm saying.

also some dudes.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 8:33 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kirk, Spock, or anyone else could have been a woman. It's an alternate universe.

No, it's an alternate timeline. Everything is the same up until the Romulans go back in time. (Which means Enterprise is the only canon show in this timeline, incidentally.)

That said, there are apparently drastic changes afterwards. I would have taken the opportunity to replace Chekov with Irina Galliulin. She might have been less of a hippie in the Post-Kelvin universe.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:47 AM on August 30, 2013


Kattullus, you're right. I have no idea why I quoted you to make that point
posted by straight at 10:08 AM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, it's a good point.
posted by Kattullus at 10:44 AM on August 30, 2013


"I've often wondered who the market is for the sheer number of facile, CGI-ridden action movies, tailor made for teenage boys, that I dislike so much."

Me. I love them. And while I'm a feminist, I don't mind movies that fail the Bechdel Test because fewer women means more screentime for sexy men eye candy.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2013


And I think this is important. Trying to say to Hollywood (or Pixar or whoever), "Hey stop making sexist movies!" is just a recipe for interminable hair-splitting arguments. Saying, "Hey, I'm more likely to pay money to see your movie if it's got multiple women characters who aren't just moms and mates for the dudes" seems much more constructive. The question is not, "Is this movie sexist?" but "Does this movie have what I want?"

I don't know, two of the fundamental principles in feminist criticism, and I'm talking here about assumptions so foundational that you shouldn't even click into the response box unless you understand them, are:

1: nothing is perfect
2: criticism is about exploring certain dynamics of a work in detail, not assigning a pass/fail grade.

So this is a bit of a false dichotomy. It's reasonable to point out that Pixar's protagonists have been something of a boy's club (in contrast to the commodified Princess brand of Disney feature animation) ...

and say that we'd like to see more animated film from American companies (who are a box office and awards elephant, like it or not) modeled on more explicitly feminist screenwriting...

and say that we appreciate those films for what they are.

Because nothing is perfect and most of us can walk and chew gum at the same time.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:57 AM on August 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I’ve been musing a bit about the discussion upthread about female writers writing male characters vs. male writers writing female characters. I’m neither a sociologist nor a psychologist, so adjust your grains of salt accordingly, but my experiences and observations lead me to believe that the former probably tends to be a bit easier. And even if it ISN’T actually easier, it may feel more comfortable for the writer so that it seems easier for her and she doesn’t hesitate to do it.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m generalizing about more or less middle-class Westerners of the past century or thereabouts.

Girls consuming mainstream, non-genre mass entertainment have had no shortage of male characters, both well-developed and otherwise, on which to model their own first attempts if they take up writing. Boys have had fewer female models to choose from, so yeah, they probably do need to challenge themselves in that area.

Traditionally, girls have been expected that girls will help care for younger male siblings and relatives as well as female, as preparation for the day when they will care for their own offspring of both sexes. Infirm Grandpas would be left with the women and girls at family gatherings, too. There is more expectation that girls, as putative mothers-in-training, will be familiar with at least the basic needs and motivations of all sexes. Girls even have to routinely accept boys of their own age or older being brought into sex-segregated restrooms with their mothers, while male children rarely experience the opposite. This is changing as society becomes more accepting of fathers as caregivers, and hopefully will continue to do so.

There are, of course, genres of popular literature and entertainment that feature female protagonists and even entire female casts. However, young boys are usually fervently discouraged or outright forbidden from consuming them, while taboos against girls consuming those with all-male casts are much lighter or in some cases nonexistent.

So, I do understand why a male writer might feel a bit more awkward if he’s just starting out writing female characters than if the situation were reverrsed. My hope is that more of them will keep plugging away at it until they feel more comfortable. If more scripts with more women in them keep flooding in, maybe some studio exec somewhere will notice.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me. I love them. And while I'm a feminist, I don't mind movies that fail the Bechdel Test because fewer women means more screentime for sexy men eye candy.

Oh, hey, don't get me wrong; I was hoping for enough A-Team sequels to get me through the alphabet. I just think there's room for more other stuff, too.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:06 PM on August 30, 2013


And to add to the above, stuff usually gets talked about if it's already good. There just isn't much interest in beanplating gender in Bay and Boll.

I've always felt Bechdelly OK about TNG (tv).

I'm re-watching TNG and it really depends on the season. McFadden reportedly was booted after complaining about screenwriting that repeatedly made Riker in loco parentis for most of Wesley Crusher's development. The series makes a nice shift with the return of Dr. Crusher in Season 3, although too many of the Crusher-Troi conversations involve Troi getting a headache accompanied by the ominous horns.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:13 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


McFadden reportedly was booted after complaining about screenwriting that repeatedly made Riker in loco parentis for most of Wesley Crusher's development.

Yeah, that was a bit odd to me at first, too, because I took it in the same TV trope tradition of "wimminfolk cain't raise no boychild without a man."

But then I read what a big inspiration Horatio Hornblower had been for Roddenberry in the creation of both series, and I figured that part of the Wesley character's function was to fill the role of the midshipmite or young midshipman as it existed in Hornblower's time (and not as it exists in ours). I personally don't think Riker was trying to be a parent to Wesley; midshipmen always had an older officer mentor. But I don't know if that's a fair distinction to throw at the audience of a weekly drama in 1987, so I can't blame McFadden even if it was the intention.

And you're right that averaging out the seasons goes a long way.

too many of the Crusher-Troi conversations involve Troi getting a headache accompanied by the ominous horns.

Speaking of Troigraines with Ominous Hornism, I've always taken that as an interesting story about invisible disability. They explored it a little bit in "The Loss," and IMO hinted at it elsewhere. On her homeworld, she's either perceived or perceives herself as less abled than a full Betazoid because her senses are empathic and her telepathy is very limited. I've always assumed that was at least part of her motivation for leaving Betazed; if Riker was correct in his assessment that it bothered her not being able to perceive more than the humans around her, then it probably bothered her even more to be able to perceive even less than the Betazoids among whom she was raised.

So, she goes into a line of work where she's always being assured her skills are needed, but she can't always see that that's so. (Neither can the audience, but that's our problem) And to top it all off, it very frequently causes her intense physical pain. The only niche she's found in the universe where she's as good as everyone else and people think what she does counts for something not just because of what her last name is, reduces her to agony every other week. She's been raised to believe that duty is the most important thing, but that nobody believes she's really strong enough to hack it. I thought she was a pretty tough role model as far as that angle was concerned.

Man, I need to do some rewatching of my own now!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:24 PM on August 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, you are comparing carefully chosen images from thousands of hours of footage across four series and seven movies against the 4-5 hours of New Trek.

You could likely do this as a percentage based thing then. total number of hours of old trek(minus TOS imo, but if you wanted to do it the other way i wouldn't complain much) Vs total hours of new trek.

Add up the screen time of every scene where there's a woman in command, as a prominent character/officer on any ship that isn't just there as a girlfriend or something, etc.(and you'd get plenty of fun stuff like tasha yar commanding a warbird, dax, b'elanna etc).

I have a feeling that even as percentage of total time old trek would still win. It doesn't matter what the minutes/minutes ratio is, it's total percentage that would make an actual point here.

The new movies are as faithful to the original in this aspect as the super mario bros movie was to mario.

That's just wishful thinking, or romanticism. They were always surrounded by men.

Surrounded by, yes. But not subordinate too or always background characters. How hair-splitty do you want to get with this? Throughout the old shows(-TOS, although maybe once? my memory is a bit fuzzy on the exact specifics of every episode) you'd regularly encounter another ship, or a starbase, etc where it's like "Oh the commander and/or several of the bridge staff are women". Several of the movies and i think maybe TNG featured those two klingon sisters who were politically powerful and always trying to fuck shit up in their favor, tasha leaves the enterprise to command her own romulan warbird, dax/b'elanna/janeway as primary characters. Kira is essentially playing rikers character on DS9. 7of9 as an interesting, actualized character who has many moments of self reflection and lots of development.(and actually, any of the female characters on voyager are pretty interesting in that sense. Kes for instance)

You can go on about how we're romanticizing the old stuff all you want, but it doesn't really take away from the fact that the new movies are like "Oh hey it's the scientist who dated kirk... why the fuck is she getting undressed?"
posted by emptythought at 1:52 PM on August 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is total crap. The new movie(s) were not blockbusters on the backs of a wheezing, dying fanbase.

Er, not to get back into it, emptythought, but the passage you're quoting (and deriding as "total crap") was about hypothetical fans of the original Battlestar Galactica series, not about Star Trek. I was saying that the makers of the rebooted BSG didn't have to care about any fan unhappiness about what was done to the beloved original series, because the original series wasn't beloved (apologies to those few who did love it, but as a simple matter of sociological fact, the BSG TOS fanbase is teeny tiny compared to the Star Trek TOS fanbase). The writers of the Star Trek reboot did have to worry about fan backlash.
posted by yoink at 3:29 PM on August 30, 2013


[On Kill Bill vol. 1]
Earl McGraw: Well, give me the gory details, Son Number One.
Edgar McGraw: It's a goddamn massacre, Pop. They wiped out the whole wedding party, execution-style.
Earl McGraw: Give me a figure.
Edgar McGraw: Nine dead bodies. And we're talking the whole she-bang: bride, groom, reverend, reverend's wife... hell, they even shot that old colored fella that plays the organ.
Earl McGraw: It would appear someone objected to this union and wasn't able to hold their peace.
emphasis mine. And immediately after what's quoted here — part of the same conversation — they realize the Bride is still alive.

But I'll grant you the one between Hanzo and his assistant, so yeah, it passes the reverse Bechdel.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:40 PM on August 30, 2013


No, it's an alternate timeline. Everything is the same up until the Romulans go back in time.

The Nerada appears 25 years before the main action of the movie, causing the divergence from the main Trek timeline. Chekov states he's 17. So they could have gender-swapped Chekov, at least.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:47 PM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was saying that the makers of the rebooted BSG didn't have to care about any fan unhappiness about what was done to the beloved original series, because the original series wasn't beloved

I'm aware of that, and I was saying that the same applied to Star Trek fans because those fans aren't the ones who would be making them mega bucks. There's more people to whine, sure, but they can be just as easily dismissed without it effecting their bottom line. That's why I threw in the bits about most of the fans of the new movies not even having previously watched much or, quite often, any Star Trek. People's parents, frat dudes, and otherwise non nerds.(hell, it got some of the pretentious music nerd types I know talking about it).

The trek fanbase isn't something to fear. Other "rabbid" fanbases being disregarded have proven such.
posted by emptythought at 8:29 PM on August 30, 2013


I can see why people would think Bridesmaids would fail a reverse-Bechdel, I couldn't think of a scene off the top of my head either. But I glanced through the screenplay and I found an instance of two males talking, not about a woman:

Don: Oscar, get back to work.
-page 11

Okay, I admit that's not much of a conversation, but one did talk to the other. Now we just need someone to definitively decide on the Sex and the City movies.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:23 PM on August 30, 2013


This is just a little weird to me. I was thinking a about how whenever male authors write realistic and "strong" female characters, it's seen as this great accomplishment, but is it surprising when a female author is able to write a realistic or "strong" male characters? Do any female writers find it easier to write female characters than male characters due to lack of first-hand experience?

Yes, the idea that it's some kind of magnificent accomplishment that male writers can write great female characters is bullshit. It's misogynist bullshit. It's predicated on the idea that women are unknowable - and that men and women are so different that one gender is from Mars and one gender is from Venus.

The reverse is never questioned - women writing about men - because either men are easier to understand or society recognises that OF COURSE women can write about men because they are used to seeing men and their stories ALL THE TIME. If films only pass the Bechdel test 60% of the time, using the lowest bar imaginable, obviously most films are still male character driven and oriented. No wonder women can write men, they are the centre of most of the stories they've ever read or seen.

The idea of a reverse-gender Bechdel test is kind of ridiculous. No one thinks this is a problem. As noted above, can we even find a handful of movies that don't pass the reverse-gender Bechdel?

As other writers have said above, I find the test very useful at the writing stage. And if writers aren't using it at the wrtiers' stage, then we are going to keep seeing films fail it forever. At the scriptwriting stage is the easiest time to change the gender of a character - and often all that requires in the change of names and pronouns because, you know what? MEN AND WOMEN AREN'T THAT DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER!

This doesn't mean that lots of men writing films which pass the Bechdel test is the answer. I want to see more women writing about their experience. And I want more movies that not only pass the Bechdel test but completely leave it in the dust.

These other variations on the Bechdel test are interesting - we certainly need more films that have characters of diverse sexuality and race. The problem is that Bechdel is a low bar. All those other tests are - by necessity - a much higher bar and become harder to judge, or easier to argue about.

So, writers, think about the make up of your cast of characters. Enough women? Enough characters of colour? Enough queer characters? If not, why not? A film doesn't fail to be a great work of art if it doesn't pass all these tests, but we have a responsibility to answer the questions and justify ourselves or else the status quo will remain. And there are quite enough stories about straight white men to last us forever. They have so far.
posted by crossoverman at 10:31 PM on August 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, part of that is that people feel like there needs to be a *reason* a character is not the default settings. Seanan McGuire recently posted a piece about the "why did you have to make so-and-so gay?" question from readers that tackled this well.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:50 AM on August 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


I went and saw In A World today. It's a movie by a woman, starring a woman, and with more than one woman in it. (It has other issues, but let's talk about the gender representation.)

With this and other discussions on my mind, I looked at the trailers.

That movie with James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and two other women who were each in multiple scenes in the very long trailer. Hey cool.

A WW2 movie with a bunch of guys and a half a second clip of the woman who is presumably dating George Clooney, possibly Matt Damon.

A movie about a sailor taken hostage by pirates. Everyone on either boat is male. Although she doesn't appear in the trailer, a woman, probably Tom Hanks' wife, is credited.
posted by jeather at 2:35 PM on August 31, 2013


Oh, man I absolutely agree that the scene introducing Carol Marcus in her underwear in Into Darkness was appallingly gratuitous.

I remember turning to my spouse in the theater with this disgusted look, like, "Why would a half-clothed crew member be hanging out there?" and he was just shrugging his shoulders at me. "I dunno, I got nothing."

Best thing I can say about that scene is that even Lindenhof, upon reflection, was forced to admit he screwed up there.
posted by misha at 9:33 AM on September 1, 2013


Everything is the same up until the Romulans go back in time.

Saw it pointed out on another forum: main-timeline (post-Enterprise) characters go back in time a number of times (Off the top of my head: 1930s in TOS "The City on the Edge of Forever"; 1960s in TOS "Assignment: Earth"; 1980s in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; 2020s in DS9 "Past Tense"; 2060s in Star Trek: First Contact). So changes due to the arrival of the Nerada could have propagated back due to different actions of the nuTrek crew in those times, potentially leading to changes as far back as the 1930s—not to mention the possibility of nuTrek having gone even further back in time in off-screen adventures.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:27 AM on September 17, 2013


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