Bechdel test

The Bechdel test is an informal way to determine whether a film or TV show exhibits bias against women in the female characters it presents. It’s named for its inventor, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, and is sometimes called the Bechdel-Wallace test, including Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace, whom Bechdel credits with the idea. The test is in three parts:

1. Does the film have at least two significant (e.g., named) female characters?

2. Do the women talk to one another?

3. Is the subject of their discussion something other than a man?

If the answers to all three questions are “yes,” then the movie passes the test.

Comic, Alison Bechdel, Dykes to Watch Out For, 1985

Bechdel outlined the test in 1985 in her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, but it took some twenty years for the name Bechdel test to appear and for the concept to enter into the cultural consciousness. In 2005, a commenter on Bechdel’s website gave the test its name:

I took the meme to college, where my friends now say, “That movie didn’t pass the Alison Bechdel test.”

The term was soon appearing in print. From Amanda Marcotte’s 2007 book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments:

The rule is in turns called the Bechdel Test or the Mo Movie Measure, after the comic strip artist Alison Bechdel and her most famous comic creation.

The Bechdel test isn’t a measure of a movie’s quality—Star Wars, Casablanca, and The Godfather all fail the test. Nor is a lack of female roles in any one film necessarily a bad thing—for example, there really is no way to work significant female characters into a movie like Saving Private Ryan. But the test is useful when applied to movies in general to point out how the industry as a whole exhibits a high degree of sexism and the lack of opportunity for female actors.

Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, June 2018, s. v. Bechdel test, n.

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