Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I’m a Feminist, But the Film I’m Writing Doesn’t Pass the Bechdel Test

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I’m a Feminist, But the Film I’m Writing Doesn’t Pass the Bechdel Test

This post has been written for Potentially Problematic Opinions Month, which is a thing that Alex Neill started over on her blog, Adventures in TV-Land.  Throughout the month of August, I’ll be posting once a week about something vaguely “problematic” or “controversial”.  Get in touch with Alex if you’d like to play along.


“Yes, the Bechdel Test. It’s named for Alison Bechdel, who is a comic book creator. The test is, are there two named women in the film? Do they talk to each other? And is it about something other than a man? I actually think the Bechdel Test is a little advanced for us sometimes. I have one called the Sexy Lamp Test, which is, if you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.”

— Comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick

I’m a feminist.  It seems silly that I need to clarify that; surely any self-respecting woman is a feminist?!  How could anyone with a pair of X chromosomes not believe in equality of the sexes?!  Such a thought is beyond me.

There may be people out there, however, who would argue with me about my right to call myself a feminist.  I can just imagine the angry mob — full of the same people who attack me for still loving Doctor Who after Steven Moffat took over — pitchforks at the ready, primed to attack, because my screenplay doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

I’m terribly sorry if this offends you1, but I believe that good storytelling is the most important thing that a film can have.  Strong female characters are awesome — trust me, Lynda Day is one of my heroes — but the fact that my film doesn’t have twelve of them doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.  The protagonist of my story is a fifteen year-old boy, and in his world there just aren’t that many girls.  That said, my screenplay does pass the Sexy Lamp Test with flying colours.

There are plenty of films that don’t pass the Bechdel Test.  Do you really want to argue that feminists aren’t allowed to like Star Wars [any of the original trilogy]?  Or Toy StoryBack to the Future fails the Bechdel Test, but that doesn’t make it a bad film.  You can probably find some pretty shitty lesbian porn — written for men — where two named females have a conversation.  That conversation may be poorly written and clearly pandering at men, but as long as it’s not actually about a man, that’s apparently fine.  I disagree.

I’m a feminist.  I believe in equality for women and men.  I love a good HBIC.  But if a film fails the Bechdel Test, I don’t think it’s the end of the world.  My screenplay doesn’t pass, and I’m perfectly okay with that.

1 Note: sarcasm.  I’m really not sorry.  If you’re actually offended then you can fuck off.


1 Comment

  • Jtown
    6 years ago

    Some people forget or don’t realize the Bechdel Test is supposed to expose a problem in the larger picture (ie. it’s more important how many films/books/etc in a group fail than whether an individual work does). The fact that the bar is set low is to make a point; too much focus on whether an individual work passes the Test runs the risk of treating it like an academic exam where failing is unacceptable and passing is satisfactory.

    It is reasoned that, similar to the other test you mentioned, works which (substantively, not just technically) pass the Test are also more likely to have better developed and more relevant female characters. However, this is a supposed correlation, again, across multiple works, not something automatically true for everything.

    Like you pointed out, passing the test doesn’t necessarily mean the portrayals are good or “feminist friendly.” Like the Lamp Test, taking the Bechdel Test into account is simply a way to get writers to do more than the status quo of thoughtlessness (among other things) when it comes to female characters.

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