April 3rd, 2011 | Uncategorized


Hi. Sorry I’ve been so inactive here recently. I went into a deep trough of work on my long-overdue book, which is a good thing.

I hardly remember how to make a blog post…but I will try.

I thought I would mention the curious spate of references lately to what seems to now be officially called The Bechdel Test. I’ve made at least a couple of posts about this phenomenon…here’s one. And then Neda Ullaby did this NPR piece. It’s all about a cartoon I did a hundred and twenty six years ago about two lesbians going to the movies, and how one of them won’t see a movie unless it meets three criteria. I totally ripped this idea off from a karate buddy one day when I couldn’t come up with an idea for my strip, but I’ve been unsuccessful at disconnecting my name from it.

Anyhow, I feel vaguely sheepish about the whole thing but it just seems to have a life of its own.

The Guardian’s (UK) Sunday Magazine had this recent column by Eve Wiseman that cites the Bechdel Test.

There’s another article called The Simplicity of the Bechdel Test on the website by Caroline Hippler.

And this webcomic The Dumbing of Age referenced it in a recent episode.

It’s like the culture is finally catching up to the radical lesbian-feminist notion from a quarter century ago that women can be subjects. Thanks to the various people who tipped me off to these links!

45 Responses to “rule”

  1. Whatever it takes for basic but radical (at the root) human truths to be common information, it’s good. And art sure makes it stick, and spread. You really can accept the credit for that.

  2. Anthony says:

    Count me as one of the 8 zillion who’ve spread the Bechdel Test via my blog, though in my case, I tried applying it toward animation. In one post, I applied the Test toward Christmas animated specials, and a few days ago I wrote a follow up post applying it to Easter animated specials…

  3. Nick says:

    So the Bechdel test is another example of Stigler’s Law of Eponymy.

    [Freed from spam-filter limbo. –Mentor]

  4. Rachel Green says:

    I do try to ensure that all ny novels pass the The Bechdel Test 🙂

  5. Diamond says:

    Last week I saw a Basque language film – For Eighty Days – that passed the test with flying colours AND both women were aged around seventy AND one was a lesbian.

    Admittedly it isn’t on general release, and it’s a pity that the following refers to them as “septuagenarian grannies” . . .

  6. Kala says:

    It is a perfectly pithy test that explains why some movies feel resolutely male despite having some prominent female characters. Take Avatar, where sci fi’s usual ‘one exceptional female’ syndrome gets taken to an extreme and we have a female scientist (with no other females to talk to anywhere on her project) and a strong female athlete/love interest (with no other females to talk to) and a female pilot (who works with but doesn’t talk to the scientist!).

  7. Jennifer says:

    I use it all the time, too. It’s actually made me appreciate my husband’s interest in science fiction a lot more than I used to. Sci fi films and TV shows seem to pass the test more often than conventional ones.

  8. Ha! Stigler’s law! Exactly.

    And Kala, your observations about Avatar are very interesting. If one of those characters had had some kind of relationship to any of the others, it would have been a very different movie.

  9. judybusy says:

    And with Avatar, we got to see the tired sequence of the person of color (the pilot) being sacrificed for the greater good, as well as the scientist. I really enjoyed that movie many levels, but not the gender/racial politics.

  10. Andrew B says:

    Hiding behind your cat again, eh? You frequently do that on the blog. And this might sound like a new trough of fanboyishness, but you are a good iSight photographer. Seriously.

    Glad to hear you’re making progress on the book. “Trough” sounds like it’s not coming easily, but good to hear you’re making progress anyway.

  11. Kate L says:

    A.B., judybusy (#9), all

    Yep. Strong women characters and characters who are people of color tend to be viewed as expendable. As one strong woman character from a recent SciFi min-series would say, “What the frak?!!!”

    Was the cat trying to web surf? My dog recently made a break for it, and tried to take herself on a walk!

  12. I recall when Sphere came out, a friend and I decided we could not pass it up because it had both Queen Latifah and Marga Gomez in the cast. But as we got our tickets, she said “You know, don’t you, the sistahs will be effin’ killed within the first half hour?” She was depressingly right.

  13. Robin B. says:

    “Ditto” to Kala’s post and to Maggie’s point about the artwork. I’ve used the test in classrooms. It’s extraordinarily helpful in getting young women/girls who think that sexism is “over” (and therefore feminism is passe) to realize that so many of the films and TV shows that they see–and love–marginalize women and that therefore feminism is vital and urgent. It’s a huge “aha” moment for a lot of them. Many thanks for delivering your karate buddy’s insight to the world, Alison.

  14. Kate L says:

    Maggie (#12) When I started my post-doc at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, one of the lead women researchers had just come back from an expedition to the Lau Basin in the Pacific, where the crashed spacecraft from 300 years in the future was found in Sphere. I asked her what the expedition had discovered. She said that they found something interesting, but she couldn’t remember what*!

    * Michael Creighton- related humor. The survivors of the Lau Basin expedition in Sphere had no memories of finding the spacecraft. Either.

  15. Amy R. Cohen says:

    My 10-year-old son mentioned the test to me just a few days ago when he was speculating on why I approve or disapprove of various shows and movies he watches! It’s in the water at our house. So, thanks!

  16. Ian says:

    That’s a great photo of the good Doctor AB.

    You’ve just reminded me of Matrix Trilogy. I don’t think the trilogy passes the Bechdel Test, but it does have strong females of colour characters right in the middle of the fighting that actually make it through to the end. I think Sci-Fi just naturally has the freedom to explore alternative social structures built into the genre.

  17. Kare L says:

    Ian (#16) Yep. Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame always said that science fiction allows you to present social conflicts to people who would have instantly turned away if those conflicts were presented in their actual, terrestrial context. Race relations was his case in point. He could present dramas on American televison in the early 60’s that were thinly-veiled homilies on the need for racial harmony, when no one else could. And, in the late 60’s, the original Star Trek blew the socks off American television audiences by presenting a future society where there was genuine equality.

    Meanwhile, back at the Melody Ranch, word has reached us (me and my 54-pound-Harrier Hound) that the Republicans in the House of Representatives want to end Medicare and Medicaid, throwing everyone younger than 55 to the tender mercies of the commercial health care industry. But, hey, they’ll get government coupons for discounts! The irony is, Medicare would have remained solvent for the next 20 years, had it lived. And, speaking as a 56-year-old, I rather resent the assumption of the House Republicans that I and others my age and older will catch the last train out of Medicare land, while looking back from the rear platform and saying, “So long, suckers!” to everyone left behind. That assumption of the Republicans only works if the average American voter age 55 or older is a sociopath.

  18. NLC says:

    Kate L#17:

    “Privatizing” Social Security and Medicaid (i.e., in plain-speak: private, IRA-like accounts)?

    A pop-quiz question:
    Given the performance of the stock-market/economy in the last eight years, what would be the prospects of most Americans today if Bush’s plan to replace Social Security with “private retirement plans” had been implemented?

    What planet have these people been living on for the last decade?

  19. Kate L says:

    NLC # 18,

    Right, quite right, you’re b***** well right to say!

    Basically, the Republican plan is a gift to the U.S. health insurance industry.

    If George W had gotten his way with social security, social security would already be gone.

    I used to not believe the stereotype of Republican politicians as war-making servants of industry. Now? I do believe! I do! Feminista, show me how to make the Revolutionary Sisters salute!

    Meanwhile, back at the Melody Ranch, today we see if the local rleigious right can elect enough city commissioners here in Smallville to reverse the adding of LGBT to the city human rights ordinance, and possibly repeal the ordinance in its entirety. High drama in Smallville on the High Plains! Stay tuned!

  20. judybusy says:

    And don’t forget that the Rebuplican budget further reduces taxes on the wealthiest. I just read a great book about the shift in income distribution and its effect on American politics in the last 40 years–Winner Take All Politics. I had to dive into some Jasper Fforde after that so my head didn’t explode! (His Thursday Next series passes the rule wonderfully.)

  21. Anthony says:

    If we’re elaborating on films/TV shows we saw that passed/failed the test (and to elaborate on what I wrote earlier), for my “Easter animated specials that pass/fail” blog post, I figure just one special (that I know of) passes, “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown,” where Marcie and Peppermint Patty attempting to dye Easter eggs are part of the plot. Though other Easter animated specials feature female characters (several of them cast female characters as the main villain)…

    And yes, the “Black person dies first” bit bugs me (as a Black person) as well, including when I saw it done in “300.” Of course, the film was flawed in other ways too, but this particular cliche jumped out at me first…

    Re: politics: Wonder how they can harp lately on the need to reduce the deficit, and then argue in favor of such a sizable tax cut on the rich (the top bracket would be reduced from 35% to 25%)?!

  22. Kate L says:


    We interrupt this blog to inform you of the initial results of today’s Smallville city commission election! If early trends continue, there WILL (repeat, WILL) be a pro-LGBT, pro-human rights amendment majority on the new Smallville city commission!!!! Personally, I plan to go home and hide under the covers so I don’t jinx this! Anybody want to join me? It’s so lonely here on the High Plains of North America! 🙂

  23. Zeugma says:

    Maggie #12, Anthony #21, et al: When my son was in grade 9, and had to read Romeo & Juliet, the teacher showed them the Leo diCaprio/Claire Danes version, hoping, I guess, that it would help them relate to Shakespeare. My son’s comment was, “How come the black guy always dies first? [A black actor played Mercutio.] Even in a nowadays movie, it’s the black guy who dies first.” Somehow I don’t think the teacher was expecting that response.

  24. j.b.t. says:

    Remember Naomi Wolff’s “Shock Doctrine?” That’s what’s happening now – the disaster was the economic crisis – now Walker in WI and others across the country are making huge ideological changes to gov’t.

    Feeling overwhelmed and somewhat hopeless lately. Thanks, Kate L. for giving us some good news from Smallville.

    And I love the Bechdel Rule and use it all the time. As I’m sure Kate has noted previously, all of the Star Trek series’ pass the test, especially the fabulous Voyager!


  25. Josh says:

    I try to call it “Bechdel-Wallace” to give credit to its other creator. Wonderful that it’s getting mainstreamed: many English majors here at Temple U seem to recognize the term when I bring it up. Still I worry about how long it’ll take to reach the film school profs.

    As for the “quarter century ago” timespan, I wunna mention that when I explained the term “Bechdel Test” to my colleague, DTWOF fan Samuel Delany, he said, “Oh, so it’s what Marilyn [Hacker] and I were discussing in the early Sixties.” So it was good to see this blogger recognize the affinities between the Bechdel-Wallace Test and the Hacker-Delany Criterion.

  26. Feminista says:

    Good news! Along with some members of the manuscript critique group I’ve been working with this winter,I read excerpts from my short story in progress, Viva la Vegan. It’s about politics,vegan cooking,and friendship. One of the characters is a Boomer activist and women’s studies teacher; her vegan activist daughter teases her about teaching Race,Gender and Miniature Golf. Astute DTWOF readers may recall a course Sydney was teaching about the social construction of leisure and miniature golf. Thanks,AB and Sydney, for letting me have fun with esoteric course titles.

    I almost didn’t read because I’ve been dealing with a virulent,vicious virus for 2 weeks and still have a froggy throat. Thanks to having 2 friends there cheering me on,so to speak,I read a short selection.

  27. Feminista says:

    P.S. It isn’t really virulent,I just was having fun with alliteration.

  28. Kate L says: # 24, All

    Yes, Voyager passes the test! 🙂 Sadly, Smallville has let me down, Smallville elects three at-large commissioners, and two of the three who now seem ahead in the poll are dedicated to overturning the human rights amendment. I better high-tail it to Vermont before they close the border!!! 🙁

  29. Dr. Empirical says:

    Here’s something cool from the Land of comics: At last week’s WonderCon, writer Peter David was hired to appear at a panel promotine the new Spider-Man video game. He didn’t want to dilute his presence at the panel (Activision was paying him) by doing meet and greet all over the convention (he is popular and easily recognized), so he made himself a Green Hornet costume and spent two days wandering around, completely unrecognized.

    Secret Identities Work!

  30. Acilius says:

    @Diamond #5: Thanks for mentioning that movie. You had me at “Basque-language film”…

    @Amy R. Cohen #15: You’re a star in my world. I teach a class on ancient Greek drama (among other things.) I mention the Randolph College Greek play every semester.

    @Josh #25: “So it was good to see this blogger recognize the affinities between the Bechdel-Wallace Test and the Hacker-Delany Criterion.” That blogger, Duncan Mitchel, has been a regular commenter in this space over the years. I haven’t noticed him much lately, though. Hope he’s still around.

    @Dr Empirical #29: That’s interesting, considering that the Green Hornet’s costume doesn’t conceal all that much. I suppose that in that setting, you see someone in costume and see the category “fanboy” before you see the person’s physical characteristics.

  31. j.b.t. says:

    Kate, I’m so sorry to hear about Smallville. 🙁

    I hate it when the bad guys win. Grr.

  32. The Lady M says:

    And this week’s New Yorker, in the article on Anna Faris! I’ve been flogging the Bechdel test for YEARS…

  33. NLC says:

    Since there was some discussion about this a couple of weeks back, here are some amazing aurora images: [Click Here].

    (If your connection will support it, try watching it in HD.)

  34. Alex K says:

    How lovely to see the Doctor! (Why do I feel as if I were referencing David Tennant? CATS DO NOT WEAR RED TRAINERS)

    If only we could be as effortlessly who we are as Donald is who (s)he is…

  35. Julie says:

    This week’s issue of the New Yorker also mentioned it in a piece about Anna Faris and what it’s like to be a woman in the film industry. A necessary mention, I think!

  36. Kate L says:

    After our defeat here in Smallville, I took some solace in JoAnne Kloppenburg’s win in the Wisconsin supreme court race. But the election has just decisively tilted toward incumbent David Prosser by over 7,500 votes, on the basis of 14,000 “unreported votes” that Republican Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus just found.Why, this must be a Republican miracle of the type unseen since Florida 2000!!!:(

  37. Calico says:

    Don’t feel sheepish, Alison-it’s a really good test to have, and made me realize how sexist the movie industry still is.

    Now, moving on to ConAgra sponsored homophobia and perpetuation of narrow male stereotypes:

  38. Calico says:

    And a big “Miaow” and pat for Donald!

  39. Nick Mullins says:

    Just before I logged on I was skimming the recent New Yorker (April 11, 2011) and an article about Anna Faris titled “Funny Like a Guy” mentions the institutional sexism of Hollywood and mentions-yes-the Bechdel Test. You have your own term.

    You know, for awhile I wondered if Fun Home actually failed the Bechdel Test.

  40. Acilius says:

    A couple of years ago, I saw something online listing movies that failed the Bechdel Test. What stuck with me was the remark that VERTIGO “would have failed even if the test were about men.” I couldn’t find it again, but looking for it I turned up this interesting piece about how the movies represent masculinity.

  41. tea says:

    @josh –
    that reference to Samuel Delany as a DTWOF fan just totally made my day.

  42. Just saw it again at the After-Ellen website. I guess there are worse things to have your name associated with, right? I’m glad it’s getting around though. Here it is 126 years after you put it out into the world and it’s still just catching on!

  43. […] that the movies portray.  By the way, here's an online database inspired by Bechdel's Rule,and here's a blog post about it that Rule non-inventor Alison Bechdel put up the other day, as well as one she put up […]

    [Freed from spam-filter limbo. –Mentor]

  44. bronagh says:

    wow this is like my phd..6 years and its just took forever…come on Alison you need a boost of something to get it going!!

  45. Comrade Svilova says:

    Feminist Frequency has a great video on the Bechdel Test:

    The Bechdel Test in Movies