What is the Bechdel Test, and Why Does it Actually Suck?

The Bechdel Test, created by Alison Bechdel in 1985, is intended to be used as a test to measure the extent of female representation in film and television. The test includes these three criteria:

1. There must be two named female characters.

2. They must have a conversation with each other.

3. The two female characters must converse about something other than a man. 

Quoted by Victoria Lara, a writer for The Daily Free Press, “while the premise may be simple… only 58% of all movies in the Bechdel Test database pass in all three areas”. 

We need to acknowledge how the majority of movies and shows within the Bechdel database released in 2021, barely pass the three criteria. Victoria Lara’s statement brings up the possibility of the problem being placed upon the screenwriters and how they write women into their works. However, what if the problem is not necessarily within the films themselves but in the test created by Bechdel? 

    Movies with a single strong female lead, with insightful dialogues with their male co-stars, challenge the Bechdel Test. Take Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock as an example. Bullock plays an independent female lead capable of dealing with the same issues as her male counterparts, however, the movie fails to pass all three criteria since she is the only woman cast in the whole script. Furthermore, another great example of why this test “sucks”, is deliberately executed in the Rick and Morty Bechdel Test skit. Rick is arguing with Morty about the three criteria in the Bechdel Test and urges him to come up with a storyline for that episode to pass the test. The story Morty comes up with shows how you can write a horrible plot about your mom and sister talking about tea, then going to fight an army of female scorpions using nothing but their “special time”- which is Morty’s interpretation of female periods, can still meet all three of the criteria. Whatever his mom and sister’s “special time” is and whether it involves lasers or not, does not really matter because the whole skit passed the Bechdel test. Morty did it, everyone!!! #feminisminfilm 😀

    In the investigation for a conclusion, we came to realize that films should focus primarily on accurately portraying female stories through an artistic lens rather than filling a specific quota to be feminist approved. Proven in Rick and Morty, just because a segment of the script checks off the three criteria of the Bechdel Test, does not mean the show has successfully portrayed empowering female leads. Lastly, as seen in the example of Gravity, a movie can accurately display the success of a woman yet not pass any of the three Bechdel criteria. Perhaps, the test had demonstrated usefulness in the eighties for promoting better female representation, however, in the twenty-first century, it needs to undergo a complete overhaul. The Bechdel Test provided a general guideline to get us to where we are now, but it’s time to go beyond. 

By Hanko Ngu and Ava Wagner