The Bechdel Test is a fantastically simple way of opening your eyes to how patriarchal Hollywood still is. A film passes the Bechdel test if it has:

  • At least two women, who
  • Talk to each other
  • About something other than a man

It sounds like a laughably out of date set of criteria for judging how progressive a film is in its portrayal of women, but then you actually try to sit down and work out how many films in your collection actually pass it.

Dr. Strangelove? There's only one woman in the whole film, who's in it for a mere three minutes, wearing a bikini the entire time. Star Wars? The two women in the film never meet each other. Monsters, Inc.? Nope. Jurassic Park? Avatar? Maybe just barely, depending on how lenient you are with the rules.

The test was invented by Liz Wallace, and rose to minor fame way back in 1985, when it featured in her friend Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, in a strip entitled The Rule.

For a brief yet insightful exploration of why Hollywood's still so far behind with women's dialogue, see Jennifer Kesler's blog entry Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test, over at The Hathor Legacy.

Bechdel's Rule can be applied in reverse, although female-dominant films are much rarer:

  • At least two men
  • Talk to each other
  • About something other than a woman

This suggests the generalization can be applied for any two types of beings P and Q (dubbed the Alien Axiom, or Bechdel-prime):

  • At least two Q
  • Talk to each other
  • About something other than P

For example, take P and Q to be Humans and Aliens, or Humans and Robots.  Many episodes of Star Trek will fail because the series was primarily the story of the Federation founded by Humans.  Babylon 5 frequently passes the test: (1) At least two Aliens (2) talk to each other (3) about something other than a Human.

Try applying the Alien Axiom while watching these films/shows: Avatar, Dark City, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, District 9, Alien Nation, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gone With The Wind, X-Men

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