The Bechdel Test, and Other Media Representation Tests, Explained

Original Article

By Nick Douglas

In the latest episode of Rick & Morty alternative The Simpsons, guest star Alison Bechdel describes her famous Bechdel test for films: Do two female characters have at least one conversation that’s not about a man? Marge immediately brings up Homer, provoking Bechdel’s FAIL animation, shown here in handy exploitable form:

 

Bechdel’s test, popularized in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, was never intended to wholly define a film as “feminist” or “sexist.” After all, “Baby Got Back” passes it. Bechdel invented the test with her friend Liz Wallace to set a low bar that many Hollywood movies still can’t clear. As her character Mo puts it in the comic, “Last movie I was able to see was Alien.”

Setting that low bar has many valid uses, which is why it’s so popular. For one, as the A.V. Club’s Caroline Siede points out, it raises basic awareness of the massive gender disparity in media: Very few movies would fail a reverse Bechdel test for men.

And it’s a strong measure of female representation across an industry. Multiple organizations keep a running Bechdel scorecard of feature films. One chart of over 7,000 films indicates representation slowly improving since the 70s:

The standard is used in industry revenue analysis (showing that passing films outperform failing ones) and in annual Oscar wrap-ups. It’s the basis of a ratings stamp in some Swedish theaters, and it’s one of many check-box criteria on screenplay database The Black List. But Bechdel’s isn’t the only popular test for media’s portrayal of women.

More Tests of Female Representation

Tumblr user Chaila invented the Mako Mori test after noting that Pacific Rimfails the Bechdel Test despite a strong female character, while Thor passes it. A film passes this test if “1) one female character 2) gets her own narrative arc 3) that is not about supporting a man’s story.” The test is more subjective than Bechdel’s, but of course so is the issue they both address.

Writer Roxane Gay proposed a six-part test: Is there a central female character, with supporting female characters, who doesn’t compromise herself for love or live extravagantly for no explained reason? And at least half the time, is this character a woman of color, transgender, and/or queer? Gay’s sixth point is a non-requirement: Female characters “shouldn’t have to live up to an unrealistic feminist standard.” They can be flawed, so long as they feel like real human beings.

The satirical Sexy Lamp test by comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (co-creator of Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet) is the easiest to pass: If your female character could be replaced by a sexy lamp without the plot falling apart, “YOU’RE A FUCKING HACK.” Naturally, many movies fail it. Especially if, as Tumblr user shitifindon suggested, you’re allowed to stick a Post-It on the sexy lamp.

The Crystal Gems test, designed by critic Locuas and named after the cartoon heroes in Steven Universe, combines the three above tests, and adds a scale for each—because we deserve to raise our standards. An example of its tridimensional results:

The Ellen Willis test requires the story (or pop song) to make sense if the genders were flipped. (It’s meant, of course, to call out gender roles, not biological factors.)

Editor and fandom expert Jenn Northington’s Tauriel test just asks that in a given work, at least one woman be good at what she does.

Other Media Tests

But hey, women are only one of a beautifully wide range of people poorly represented in media! So there are tests for other marginalized groups as well. Some of the best:

The racial Bechdel test has the same simple rules as the Bechdel Test, applied to people of color: At least two of them must have a conversation that’s not about a white person. (The native Bechdel test applies a stricter version, to show that movies and shows with Native American characters still often fail.)

Similarly, actor Dylan Marron’s YouTube series Every Single Word features brief compilations of every line delivered by people of color in a given well-known film. Of the 34 compilations, only five are longer than a minute.

The Deggans rule (by TV critic Eric Deggans) requires a show that’s not about race to include at least two non-white human characters in the main cast.

The Morales rule, by actor Natalie Morales, asks that no one calls anybody Papi, dances to salsa music, or uses “gratuitious Spanish.”

The DuVernay test, proposed by film critic Manohla Dargis in honor of director Ava DuVernay, is more abstract. A work passes it if “African Americans and other minorities have fully realised lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.”

GLAAD’s Vito Russo test has three requirements: The film must contain a lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender character. That character must not be predominantly defined by their orientation or gender identity—they need to be as unique as straight cis characters. And they must be important enough to affect the plot—they can’t just crack some jokes or “paint urban authenticity.

The Topside test for trans literature, created by literary editors Riley MacLeod (now at Kotaku) and Tom Leger, asks that a book include multiple trans characters who know each other, who talk to each other about something other than medical transition procedures. The goal is to set a higher bar than, say, Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, which use trans characters as a prop for non-trans characters. (The link includes some recommended texts.)

For more media tests, like the Finkbeiner test for non-fiction and the Lauredhel test for toys, check out this list on the Geek Feminism Wiki. Remember, no one test can replace a qualitative examination of a film. Not all of them are even recommended in earnest. But each test opens up critical discussion, challenges and inspires creators, and provides another tool for measuring the industry.

‘Faux’ Male Feminists Draw Ire in Hollywood

Original Article

By Monica Corcoran Harel

CreditPeter Horvath

It’s a tough time to be a male feminist, especially in Hollywood.

A few weeks ago, Kai Cole, the ex-wife of Joss Whedon, the man who created “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and who has been honored for creating strong female characters, wrote a highly personal takedown of him for The Wrap, a Hollywood industry website.

In the post, Ms. Cole, a film producer, said that Mr. Whedon “hid multiple affairs” with “his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends” during their 16-year marriage. His explanation for why he had so many female friends, she said, was that “his mother raised him as a feminist.”

Moreover, Ms. Cole called out his “hypocrisy” for “preaching feminist ideals” while using their marriage as a “shield” to commit adultery. In essence, she branded Mr. Whedon, the director of the coming “Justice League” superhero film, a fake male feminist.

It’s a label that appears to be gaining cultural currency, especially in the Trump era.

“Saturday Night Live” aired a sketch last season called “Girl at a Bar” in which a succession of seemingly sensitive male feminists (“I worked for Hillary,” one says) try to pick up a woman at a bar, only to resort to misogynistic language when rebuffed.

Girl at a Bar – SNL Video by Saturday Night Live

The three-minute sketch seemed to have hit a chord. Myriad essays that decried wolves in pink pussy hats and “woke misogynists” followed. “Watch S.N.L. Demolish Fake Male Feminists,” read a Vanity Fair headline. “Hating Trump Doesn’t Make a Man a Feminist,” said Bustle, an online culture magazine for women, which argued that “male feminists” have become a “powerful cultural niche,” and cited numerous celebrity examples including Ryan Gosling, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Pratt.

Tal Peretz, an assistant professor at Auburn University who specializes in gender studies, sees the criticism of male feminists as an inevitable consequence of social progress. “More men are getting involved in the feminist and women’s rights movements, and I think that the learning curve for them is really steep and really long,” said Dr. Peretz, who is an author of “Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women.” “Our bar for men in feminism is getting higher, too, and rightly so.”

Continue reading the main story

Examples of these higher standards abound.

Critics of men who sport “The Future is Female” T-shirts also maintain that some are using the word “feminist” inappropriately. The preferred term, they argue, is “feminist allies.” The rationale is that white people who fight against racism wouldn’t call themselves “black,” just as straight people who rally for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights wouldn’t call themselves “transgender.”

BuzzFeed recently published “17 Types of Male ‘Feminists’ That Need to Be Stopped,” an illustrated list that included a new father who suddenly becomes a feminist after he has a daughter, and a male manager who congratulates himself for hiring a female employee.

“It’s something I encounter all the time, but that man Robbie Tripp was the real kick in the pants in inspiring the post,” said Loryn Brantz, who wrote and illustrated the article and is also the author of the book “Feminist Baby.”

Mr. Tripp is the San Francisco man who became an internet sensation this summer when he posted a gushing ode to his wife’s “curvy body” on Instagram. People were divided on his seemingly self-congratulatory realization that “the media marginalizes women,” and his appreciation of his wife’s “thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll.” Some cooed and said “Ah”; others sneered and said “Ew.”

“Good Morning America” interviewed the couple in a segment titled “Hero Husband or Fake Feminist?” The culture site Refinery29 dismissed Mr. Tripp’s paean as “the worst type of ‘male feminism.’”

Celebrities also weighed in. Melanie Lynskey, who will star in the TV series “Castle Rock,” said on Twitter: “Public announcements of devotion are very sexy to me,” she said. “What isn’t sexy is acting as though you’re one of the few men on earth who could possibly love a woman who looks like that.”

Dr. Peretz has coined a term, “the Pedestal Effect,” to describe how men are given special treatment for small acts of gender equality, like changing a diaper or Mr. Tripp’s love letter. “It is basically when guys get a whole lot of bonus points just for being nominal feminists,” he said.

Mr. Whedon’s agent did not respond to requests for comment, but a representative released a statement to The Wrap that read: “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”

Mr. Whedon did, however, give an interview to BuzzFeed in 2015 that seems to have foreshadowed the current hubbub.

“When you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically,” he said in an article about why he deleted his Twitter account (he has since returned). “Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do — for example, in my case, feminism. If you don’t live up to the litmus test of feminism in this one instance, then you’re a misogynist,” he added. “It circles directly back upon you.”