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  • So I read that you should start videos on YouTube with a strong, exciting intro. Something

  • that will wow and excite people unfamiliar with your work and reward those already familiar

  • with it. So I'm going to start this one with some titillating disclaimers. How much

  • more exciting could this intro be! So, first up, I'm a straight, white, cis

  • man living in a world ruled by straight white cis men. I have every privilege in the world,

  • and you should bear that in mind when I discuss issues of representation.

  • Secondly, I really like the Bechdel test as a litmus test of the general state of representation

  • in the Film industry. It's useful, insightful and easy to apply to films. When I criticise

  • elements of the so called test I do so only in relation to how it is used.

  • With those scintillating disclaimers out of the way I want to discuss the Bechdel test.

  • For those unfamiliar with the Bechdel test it was a set of rules described in Alison

  • Bechdel's comic strip 'Dykes To Watch Out For' that has become a symbol of and

  • a tool for feminist critique of films. The three rules that make up the test are as follows.

  • 1. The film has to have at least 2 women in it who 2. Talk to each other 3. About something

  • besides a man. What is so wonderful about this test, and the reason it has endured as

  • an idea until this point, is that it sounds like a low bar to pass until you actively

  • interrogate it in relation to films you're familiar with. The requirements to pass the

  • test are simple, concise and yet a shockingly low number of films actually pass, even today.

  • Flip these rules on their head and it's hard to think of a movie that would fail.

  • So obviously I like the Bechdel test, obviously I think it's useful, it's relevant and

  • it has a place in discussion about film. But I have four issues with how people use it.

  • Problem 1. It's not a test for sexist films This may sound a little odd, but the Bechdel

  • test - a test often used as shorthand for feminist critique of a film - is not, and

  • shouldn't be used as, a test to see if a film is sexist. Take the recent, excellent,

  • Moonlight. It fails the test. I don't know anyone that would accuse the film of sexism

  • for failing that test because Moonlight is a story about a boy becoming a man. It isn't

  • concerned with anyone except the people that specifically interact with Chiron. He doesn't

  • have many positive role models and only one of them is a woman, and choosing not to focus

  • on those women is an appropriate way to handle the story being told. I don't think having

  • some of those female characters talk with each other would have hurt the film, but Moonlight

  • focused tightly on what was essential for the narrative and leaving such a potential

  • scene out doesn't leave the film lacking in any major way.

  • If we take the Bechdel test as a requirement we would exclude many important and even blatantly

  • feminist works such as the fascinating Orlando. The Bechdel test as requirement would exclude

  • Orlando, a film written and directed by a woman, adapted from a book from arguably the

  • most famous proto-feminist writer, Virginia Woolf, and starring Tilda Swinton in a role

  • only she could play. That last part isn't really relevant, but if you've seen it it

  • really is perfect casting, I genuinely don't think anyone else could have played the role.

  • My point is that Moonlight failing the test does not make it a sexist film and Orlando

  • failing it doesn't rob it of its distinctly feminist perspective nor should it be seen

  • to damage any feminist arguments it implicitly or directly makes.

  • If all of this seems obvious, great, but I wanted to bring up this issue because it seemingly

  • isn't obvious to many. I saw a professional critic on broadcast television say that Blade

  • Runner 2049 was sexist because it failed the test. Firstly he was wrong, it's generally

  • accepted that it did in fact pass the test, but more importantly that it supposedly failed

  • doesn't and wouldn't explain why the film was sexist. It was a film that was dominated

  • by male actors, male voices and male perspectives, but that doesn't make the film itself sexist.

  • That this critic thought it did only demonstrates his ignorance of both what makes the test

  • useful and the difference between issues of representation and outright sexism.

  • Problem 2. It's not a minimum standard This one's really brief and quite simple.

  • It's not a minimum standard to reach. It should be a standard that most films reach,

  • certainly, but you haven't made a worthwhile film by virtue of passing the test, nor should

  • a film be considered less valuable for failing it. What the so called test is useful for

  • then is as an illustration of the issues the film industry has in representing women. If

  • it is used as a test then that test is useful for revealing just how male dominated most

  • films are, how few women there are in films and how they've frequently been treated

  • as an accessory to a male character. But it isn't useful as a demonstration of an individual

  • film's sexism or misogynysee the aforementioned Moonlight or Orlando.

  • Problem 3. The so called 'test' At this point I expect you're wondering

  • why I haven't shown the specific comic strip the Bechdel test was inspired by. Here is

  • that strip. I didn't show it up until now because people seemingly leap to use the Bechdel

  • test without remembering where it came from. People, actively or otherwise, divorce the

  • test from its original presentation. They forget that 'Dykes to Watch Out For' wasn't

  • a series of feminist essays on film criticism, it was a humorous, but sometimes pointed,

  • comic strip. The so called Bechdel 'test' feels cold and sterile in comparison to how

  • it was originally presented. Now forgive me, I hate to explain a joke, but there are many

  • levels that this strip works on and the so called 'test' would strip all of those

  • levels away. The first major gag is seen in the background, the movie posters the characters

  • pass are all loaded with distinctly phallic imagery, characters clutch their guns and

  • swords in manners equal parts aggressive and suggestive. The second is the idea that the

  • rule is strict, particularly when it comes after a panel for thought. the idea that such

  • a low bar is in fact such a major stumbling block for so many films is funny, but also

  • rather depressing. Finally there is this panel where one character tells the other the last

  • film they were able to see under these rules was Alien. Worth noting here is this strip

  • was released in 1985. Once again it's amusing but with an edge. The specific choice of Alien

  • as an example, Alien being of course loaded with phallic imagery, is no accident and both

  • women are visibly unhappy that is the last film they could think of.

  • The strip as a whole then has a number of ideas and themes, it's telling that the

  • cinema – a public spacedoesn't represent or welcome the interests of the lesbian characters

  • but the private space can, and no doubt there are messages and ideas I have missed, but

  • a final layer, and an important one, is that by applying the moral principals of their

  • personal politics to media consumption the characters would greatly limit what they could

  • enjoy.

  • Bechdel's strip 'The Rule' is clever and insightful. The rules it describes are

  • useful, but they shouldn't be used as a sword to separate harmful and positive representation

  • lest we exclude some of the very films that feminist ideals would otherwise champion.

  • Using the so called test to decide whether a film might or might not be sexist is ridiculous

  • and as much as I do think it's useful I'd much rather appreciate the comic strip than

  • the 'test' it inspired.

  • If there are any of you still subscribed I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is the Bechdel

  • test still useful? Have you left a comment to tell me that I should have mentioned the

  • rule was inspired by what Bechdel's friend, Liz Wallace, said? Oh, ah, speaking of which

  • [problem 4. It should be called the Wallace test].

  • As always I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

So I read that you should start videos on YouTube with a strong, exciting intro. Something

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B1 US test film feminist strip sexist moonlight

The Bechdel 'Test'

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