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Bechdel Test- Gender Bias in Movies

Discussion in 'General Debates' started by Penumbra, Apr 20, 2013.

  1. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    There are occasionally debates on this forum about sexism, patriarchy, privilege, etc. Sometimes there are situations where a female member is describing something she perceives as unbalanced and a male member just doesn't see how it is unbalanced.

    Here's a way to quantify some of it.

    The Bechdel Test:
    I wanted to make this thread to show some guys how things look to some women. Imagine that a large chunk of your favorite movies do not have one instance of a man talking to another man about something other than a woman- not one instance. It would be weird, right? Like totally gender biased and female-dominated for no apparent reason?

    Well, that's how a lot of movies look to women.

    Here's a website devoted to it:
    Bechdel Test Movie List

    Their stats show that of over 3,600 movies in their list, nearly half of the movies do not pass the test. In half of movies, there is not a single instance of two women talking with each other about something other than a man. And in one third of movies, there isn't even a case of two named female characters talking with each other at all, whether it's about a man or anything.

    It's also worth noting that a lot of the subset of movies that do pass it, barely pass it. Like, there are one or two short instances in a two-hour movie where women talk to each other, so it technically passes.

    Examples:

    10 Famous Films That Surprisingly Fail The Bechdel Test | Film School Rejects
    On this list are The Social Network, some of the Harry Potter films, Avatar, the entire original Star Wars Trilogy (in fact in that entire depicted universe that shows multiple technologically advanced civilizations, there were only three named female characters, Leia, Mon Mothma, and Aunt Beru, and they never talked with each other at all), the entire 12 hour Lord of the Rings Trilogy (again, in travels to multiple kingdoms, at no point do two named female characters even talk with each other at all), and Run Lola Run.

    Several Popular Examples That Don't Pass:
    Batman Begins and Dark Knight Rises
    Toy Story 1 and 2
    The Amazing Spiderman
    The Prestige
    Every Lord of the Rings Film, and the Hobbit
    The Departed
    Big Fish
    Finding Nemo
    Three out of four of the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies
    Gladiator
    The Truman Show
    Lion King
    Every Disney Aladdin Movie
    The Nightmare Before Christmas
    Mr. and Mrs. Smith
    Blade Runner
    Avatar
    Planet of the Apes
    Three of the Harry Potter Films
    District 9
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    Memento
    Good Will Hunting
    Forrest Gump
    Every Indiana Jones movie
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Limitless
    Both Sherlock Holmes movies
    Soloist
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Wanted
    The 40 Year Old Virgin
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    Madagascar
    The Aviator
    The Butterfly Effect
    I, Robot
    Napoleon Dynamite
    The Polar Express
    The Avengers
    The Spider-man movies
    The Last Airbender
    Burn After Reading
    The Hudsucker Proxy
    Monster's Inc.
    Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
    The Proposal
    Speed Racer
    Yes Man
    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    She's the Man
    Lucky Number Slevin
    The Pursuit of Happyness
    Ultraviolet
    Wristcutters, a Love Story
    You, Me, and Dupree
    The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D
    Thank You For Smoking
    War of the Worlds
    Most of the Bourne Identity Movies

    Invictus
    The Invention of Lying
    Nine
    Watchmen
    Hancock
    Kung Fu Panda
    Marley and Me
    Milk
    Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace
    The Woman in Black
    Cowboys and Aliens
    Shrek
    An Extremely Goofy Movie
    Prince of Persia, the Sands of Time
    Shutter Island
    The Sorcerer's Apprentice
    Funny People
    Ice Age, Ice Age the Meltdown, Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs
    The Prince of Egypt
    The Wedding Singer
    Air Force One
    The Fifth Element
    Gattaca
    Every Men in Black movie
    Space Jam
    Mission Impossible
    Spy Hard
    The Long Kiss Goodnight
    While You Were Sleeping
    Waterworld
    Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve, and Ocean's Thirteen
    Troy
    Galaxy Quest
    The Iron Giant
    The Mummy
    Office Space
    Wild Wild West
    American History X
    Armageddon
    Liar Liar

    And it's noticeable. A given 2-hour movie where two named female characters don't talk with each other about something other than a man (or even about anything) even once? Applied in reverse for men, just about every popular movie would pass this test, with men talking to each other about something other than women, or at least about something even if it's a woman, at least once.

    That's what it's like when I watch movies. Central male characters with some female characters that primarily interact with the central male characters.

    Just wanted to point out this perspective for discussion with several examples and some statistics. :sarcastic
     
    #1 Penumbra, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
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  2. dust1n

    dust1n Zindīq

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    Male dominant industry - script writing and so forth.
     
  3. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    Also an indication of how strongly biased towards the protagonist's perception most fiction is. Many movies have few actual meaningful characters, with lots of the plot and conversations being defined by the convenience of either the protagonist.

    The Harry Potter movies are a good example. Very little seems to actually exist there except when Harry is somehow involved. Many of the characters almost seem to make a career out of standing on place waiting for Harry to call for them.

    I would even say that it is so because audiences often enjoy an environment that bends itself to the protagonists' convenience. All those unbelievable car chases where somehow there is never the serious accident that one should fully expect are a good illustration of that.
     
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  4. Monotheist 101

    Monotheist 101 Well-Known Member

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    I think it has to do with the difference in Male energy(logical) and female energy (emotional). It is possible for two people from the same sex to have differing opinions on subject..what makes you think these same issues shouldnt be found in people from different sexes..

    Men and Women think completely differently..IMO that is the reason we "complete" eachother when we form pairs..

    About the OP and movies being sexist..or male dominant..I find it to be quite the opposite..or maybe the movies Ive been watching are full of girls..
     
  5. Alceste

    Alceste Vagabond

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    Maybe that's what I liked about tank girl. Really, it was not an awesome movie but it was the first movie I saw with interesting female characters in it, and my mind was slightly blown. Amazing how much you retroactively can miss something you never noticed was lacking.

    I liked Fargo for the same reason, but I expect it wouldn't pass the test. I don't recall any female characters apart from the cop protagonist.
     
  6. Falvlun

    Falvlun Earthbending Lemur
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    I suspect a lot of those fail to pass simply because there is a lack of female characters (like LoTR), not necessarily because the female characters only talk about men. But that only points to another problem in that lead female characters are few and far between.

    (And as an aside, the movie portrayal of the Last Airbender really was disappointing. The cartoon was full of strong female personalities.)

    I also wonder why the criteria must be that it is two females talking to each other, because that does exclude many non-men focused conversations that females are having with men, like Galadriel's conversations with Gandalf and Frodo or Eowyn's with Aragorn. (Though honestly, while the books merely overlooked women-- they simply didn't have big parts, though the parts they had were important-- the movies made them into whimpy, whiny, interested-only-in-men caricatures. Very disappointing.)
     
    #6 Falvlun, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  7. Falvlun

    Falvlun Earthbending Lemur
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    Haha Tank Girl. That was the first movie I ever watched with my boyfriend. It has a soft, if strange, spot in my heart for that.
     
  8. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    I think the centralization around the protagonist plays a role here. Movies where the primary protagonist is female tend to pass the test more often.

    There's a lot more than that to it, though. For example, the movie Hunger Games which stars a woman, is based on a book written by a woman, and follows the main character mostly, does indeed pass the reverse Bechdel test for men. There are multiple instances of men talking with other men about something other than a woman.

    This isn't about equal and opposite; it's about a large under-representation of women in movies.

    Can you share some examples of movies that you've been watching where there are no instances of male characters talking with other male characters about something other than woman?

    The difference between your post and my post is that rather than just mention a few movies I've been watching, I mentioned the statistics of the 3,600+ movies in the database of that website.

    Fargo is debatable according to that website, depending on whether the characters have to be named characters or not, and because some conversations are indirectly about a man and it's debatable whether the conversation was diverse enough to be considered to be about something other than a man.
     
  9. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    That website I linked to includes the reason for passing or not passing, and also shows a chart depicting a century of cinema and the ratio of various reasons for passing or failing in each year for their 3,600+ listed movies.

    The website has multiple symbols showing why a movie passed or failed.
    -Less than two named female characters. (10.5% of movies fail this test)
    -There are more than two women, but they don't talk to each other. (24.5% of movies pass the first test but fail this one)
    -There are two women that talk, but they talk about a man. (11% of movies pass the first two parts but fail here.)
    -54% of movies pass all three tests and include at least one instance of two named women talking about something other than a man.

    Yah, movie was terrible, cartoon was awesome.

    Because movies with at least one important female character still tend to be dominated in numbers and importance by males. This isn't a test for the inclusion of at least one important female character; it's a test to see if movies depict women interacting with other women too, rather than centralizing everything around men.

    Hunger Games, for example, has a female protagonist and yet males still talk to other males about something other than her. They are fleshed out characters.

    In Lord of the Rings, there are some awesome women including Eowyn and Galadriel, but despite the zillion instances of men talking with other men, there is not a single instance of a woman talking with another woman (even about a man; it doesn't even get that far). And the whole ratio of named characters, including roles that are not primarily combat-based, is highly skewed towards men.
     
  10. Alceste

    Alceste Vagabond

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    The absence of realistic female characters is the point. Talking to each other about something other than a man is only one factor we can use to evaluate how realistic the representation of women in any given film happens to be.
     
  11. Alceste

    Alceste Vagabond

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    It's the sense of being invisible or ignored that I find disturbing. I can see that dynamic at play with other disenfranchised demographics as well. First nations people, for example, only seem to turn up when a white character needs to get tuned into nature or get scalped.
     
  12. PolyHedral

    PolyHedral Superabacus Mystic

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    Considering what happens to the Witch King, I'd have to disagree. Also, the most powerful non-divine magic user in Middle Earth is a woman (and we see next to nothing of Celeborn) so I can't see how they're wimpy or winy.
     
  13. dust1n

    dust1n Zindīq

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  14. Aquitaine

    Aquitaine Well-Known Member

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    There's a YouTube personality called feministfrequency who talks a lot about stuff like this in her videos. I haven't seen much of her stuff, but she seems to specialise in the portrayal of Women in different forms of Media (Movies, Comics, Video games etc). She too has mentioned the Bechdel test, check her out sometime, you might like her. :)
     
  15. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    And yet in the entire 12-hour or so Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spanning multiple kingdoms, at no point does a woman speak with another woman even once about anything.

    Same thing for the Hobbit so far.

    It's all dudes talking to other dudes, and occasionally talking to a woman.

    Thanks, I'll look her up sometime.
     
  16. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    Not every movie should pass the test.

    For example, neither The Shawshank Redemption nor Saving Private Ryan ever depict a named woman speaking with another named woman at any point, but that wouldn't necessarily be unusual. The former takes place almost entirely inside a male prison and the latter takes place almost entirely within a small group of U.S. soldiers in World War 2.

    I haven't seen the Sex in the City movie in many years, but I don't recall if that depicts males speaking with other males about something other than a woman at least once. I wouldn't be surprised whether it passes a male version of the Bechdel test or not; it's aimed primarily at women rather than a mixed audience and is about a group of friends that discuss their lives.

    But probably 90%+ of movies, if not skewed by rather sexist writing or aimed exclusively at a certain audience, should reasonably have instances of male/male interactions, female/female interactions, and male/female interactions. Not on purpose; just on statistics. There's absolutely no excuse for why the entire original Star Wars trilogy would depict adventures across numerous technologically advanced planets and yet only have three named female characters who never speak with each other.

    Simply having a male protagonist and male villain doesn't mean there shouldn't be women speaking with each other at some point. Hunger Games with a female protagonist depicts males speaking with males multiple times. Mirror Mirror, which I recently saw, is a re-telling of Snow White and has both a female protagonist and a female villain and yet within the first 10 minutes it depicts two guys having a conversation about something unrelated to women.
     
  17. Aquitaine

    Aquitaine Well-Known Member

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    I think one of the things needed is more support, recognition and influence for independent film makers rather than the mainstream Hollywood stuff - when things become so centralised it's easier for the same attitudes and tropes to form. Decentralisation of media is important, because not everyone has the same ideas/attitudes etc.

    Personally, I'd like to see a TV series about a country's first all-female Search & Rescue, or SWAT team. Yeah, that would be ossum. An anime would suffice, but when Animes feature a mostly-female cast, they tend to just be there for Fanservice. :rolleyes:
     
  18. InformedIgnorance

    InformedIgnorance Do you 'know' or believe?

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    Other than when the protagonist is female there are likely to be fewer dialogues between two named females which is not about a male, because most dialogues are either between the protagonist and someone else or else about the protagonist. The only case where this is truly not the case is where an effort is made to make the setting vibrant and rich of itself, or to have multiple stories running at the same time, rather than merely ancillary to the protagonist's story. It seems very rare that film makers really do care about these approaches to anywhere near the same extent as the story that they are attempting to tell - perhaps this is because so few of the movie going public seem to have the capacity or desire to follow multiple subplots yet instead what a clear singular plot, the protagonist's.

    Of course actually HAVING named characters in the first place kinda helps things along.
     
    #18 InformedIgnorance, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  19. MoonWater

    MoonWater Warrior Bard
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    yeah she actually said in her bechdel test video that she thinks another qualifier should be added to the test that the conversaion must last more than 60 seconds. She said this because so many of the movies that do pass the test do so only barely because of a couple women having like a ten second conversation or less.

    also for LOTR correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think the books even had two women talking to eachother at any point, o if it did it was very brief, so you can't really blame the movies for that. It also must be taken into consideration that the story depicts a medival type setting where men are the dominant sex. Not to mention it still treats the women in it far better than many movies that DO pass the bechdel test as Eowyngets a kickass scene where she dares the Nazgul to come after her through a stream and then floods them away, and let us not forget that the nazgul leader was killed by a woman. So I think it's a bit unfair to drag LOTR into this. Especially considering Frodo is much more of a whimp in the movies than he was in the book, and it's rare for male characters to be made more whimpy than their book counterparts, that's usually something that happens with female characters, like it did with Eragon.
     
  20. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    And yet movies with female protagonists which are aimed at a mixed audience nonetheless tend to have male/male dialog.

    Like the entire Star Wars Trilogy or the Lord of the Rings that each built an entire fictionalized universe and yet never included a single instance of two women speaking with each other.

    If the issue was primarily protagonist-based then we should see more popular movies that don't include instances of male/male interaction, and yet just about every popular movie that aims for a broad audience does.

    Mainly it's just female/female interaction that is limited.
     
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