Failing the (Bechdel) Test

Normally, I’m a pretty ascetic media consumer. I don’t own a TV, almost never go to the movie theater, am pretty selective with my book choices, and get most of my news through Facebook and word-of-mouth. During my recent stay with the Southwestern chapter of my family, I wallowed in a positively pornographic amount of media: movies, mainstream novels, and tons of television. I’m not ashamed to admit it shocked my monastic media sensibilities.

I’ve whined before about the dearth of positive representations of fat persons in media, and I stand by those gripes. I’m also cranky about the lack of roles for persons of color and with disabilities, although during my recent media glut, I found a few more than I expected. The complete lack, the screaming absence, of older persons is something I will perhaps discuss another time.

For now, I’m interested in discussing the Bechdel Test, and how unfortunately rarely media pass it.

For those who don’t know, this test appeared in 1985 in a comic strip named Dykes to Watch Out For. Below is its very simple formula:

1. The medium must have TWO named female characters.
2. These characters must talk to one another...
3. …about a topic other than men.
Let’s take a minute and ponder this. In 2013, almost 30 years after Bechdel threw down her gauntlet, how many movies, books, and TV episodes can you name that regularly, or even occasionally, bring together more than one woman, let alone let them discuss something substantive? And how sad, how downright shameful, is it that most of our media can’t even meet these ridiculously basic criteria?

After nine days of wallowing in the absence of meaningful female interactions, I’m eagerly renewing my vows of media chastity. I want nothing to do with media that don’t honor the vast complexity – heck, the very existence – of women.

Till more media start catching up, I plan to continue my hunt for the elusive female-inclusive books. In the meantime, it remains my solemn and proud duty to create them. 


  1. I agree completely. It makes me sick!! For me, I'll go for more SVU, and Criminal Minds, and NCIS! All the women are strong, and they don't usually talk about dating at ALL.

    . . . and the guys are hotties!

  2. I was thinking of _Criminal Minds_ ans _SVU_ when I wrote this and how they actually pass the test. How weird that shows about sexual and physical victimization feature such strong women characters.


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