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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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    The test applies to all of fiction, not just movies. The fact that the movies fail the test partly because the books fail the test is still an aspect of the same issue: that a huge story would be written without a single instance of two women even speaking with each other in any setting.

    The medieval setting is also a fictionalized magical realm rather than intended as a historical account of Europe, and included entire fictionalized races (elves, dwarves, etc) which could have had any sort of cultural organization that the author desired. The 9-member fellowship only included 3 melee combatants; the rest were wizards, archers, or hobbits, and yet all 9 were male anyway. And then as they introduced other characters and as various groups of people traveled to multiple cities and tribes, at no point do two women ever speak with each other about anything in any context.

    I can't imagine any 12 hours of such a broad, epic, multi-setting story that would somehow not include two men speaking with each other at some point. If anything, on sheer length and scope, Lord of the Rings should be criticized even more thoroughly for not passing this test.
     
  2. freethinker44

    freethinker44 Well-Known Member

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    This test seems unreliable, at least as far as it being feminist friendly. I mean, movies like "The Last House on the Left (1972)", which is incredibly exploitative of women to the point of being hard to watch, passes this test. Also, a lot of pornography would pass this test. A lot of nasty pornography would pass. I can think of several exploitation films from the 70s that pass.
     
  3. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    Unreliable for what, exactly?

    It's not a test to determine whether the work is definitely sexist or not. It's a fairly objective statistic meant to point out gender bias in fiction.

    What constitutes a strong female character can be debated, but whether two named female characters talk with each other about something other than a man in a film is a fairly objective observation that can then be compiled into a statistical argument.

    Do you have any favorite 90+ minute movies where two men never speak with each other?
     
  4. InformedIgnorance

    InformedIgnorance Do you 'know' or believe?

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    Films with a female protagonist seem to have a greater amount of emphasis either on the setting and multiple parallel or interwoven stories rather than a single central narrative which is far more common for male films (purely from my experience since I do not have any stats on the matter and the site you linked is not dedicated to any such analysis)

    As I mentioned, it kinda helps to have named women in the story; in star wars' defense it was written a long time ago when they didnt have the degree of realisation we do now about the role of media and gender equality, for LoTR I agree that the role of women is almost comically understated - particularly given that magic like technology is a great equalizer, the idea that women could not have had a much more significant role speaks of a limitation on the part of the author.

    As I alluded to earlier, I am not sure that the site you linked would demonstrate such statistics, though I am inclined to agree from my own personal experience and from a purely logical perspective. That stated however, the number of films with female protagonists that are written in the same solely protagonist focused way seem less prevalent, narratives focused on female leads tend (from my own experience) to have a greater degree of detail given to the setting and sub-characters, on account of the fact that films with female leads tend to be more aimed at either female audiences or audiences who are more interested in a richly detailed story (rather than blow things up while we save the world with our fro and one liners).

    Rather than this being sexist against women it is more the fact that films designed for men assume men have the IQ of a goldfish and the attention span of a gnat - if anything we men should be protesting that the films directed at us are sexist against men, but their sales seem to indicate they are unfortunately close to the mark with their assumptions for all too many of us.
     
    #24 InformedIgnorance, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  5. freethinker44

    freethinker44 Well-Known Member

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    I have never even paid attention. Is there a list for that too? Or is it just for women.
     
  6. Alceste

    Alceste Vagabond

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    George RR Martin (Game of Thrones) does a fine job thinking of things women might want to talk to each other about in a medieval setting. So does the guy who wrote Wheel of Time.

    I think the point is not whether or not the women depicted can kick butt. It's more about a general sense of the relative non-significance or invisibility of an entire gender inadvertently communicated by the media.

    In an equal society, the stories of men and women would get roughly equal screen time overall, even if the society being depicted in the stories were unequal.
     
  7. Alceste

    Alceste Vagabond

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    Btw, eragon does a crap job Bechdel-wise, but it was written by a teenage boy.

    I would hope writers would grow out of their awkwardness about female characters as they grow out of their awkwardness about female people.
     
  8. dust1n

    dust1n Zindīq

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    I agree %100. Hollywood, is an institution, with only a handful of generations operating it, and tons of movies are written by males. From the male perspective. They don't even know how to write about females. It's not going to change anytime soon.
     
  9. Aquitaine

    Aquitaine Well-Known Member

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    I'm curious how many (if any) movies written by Women fail the Bechdel test? :shrug:
     
  10. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    Why do you think that is?

    There is rarely an issue of not having enough named men in the story.

    It was written in the 1970's by a presumably intelligent person.

    Btw for the second Star Wars trilogy which finished within the last decade, the first two films just barely pass the test and the third one, Revenge of the Sith, fails it. In Revenge of the Sith no women speak to each other at all, and that's a fictionalized technologically advanced movie setting that came out in 2005.

    Hunger Games appeals to a mixed audience and primarily centers around the female protagonist and yet passes the male Bechdel test multiple times. Mirror, Mirror primarily centers around Snow White and the wicked queen and yet it passes the test.

    It's really easy to pass the test. A movie almost has to go out of its way not to pass the test (or be written by someone who doesn't consider that two women might speak to each other about something important).

    Like I said there could be some types of movies where men or women just aren't going to be present, like Shawshank Redemption and Saving Private Ryan, and some hyper-feminine movies that aim specifically at female audiences. But almost any movie that appeals to a mixed audience and is sufficiently broad in scope has male/male dialog but often lacks or minimizes female/female dialog.

    When I was sitting in the theater watching Dark Knight Rises, there was a rather significant number of women present. Same thing for every other blockbuster movie I've ever seen.

    I think this is starting off on the entirely wrong assumption- that action/adventure movies are designed for men or should only appeal to men. That magical or technological epic tales of adventure like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean are "guy movies" seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy by the fact that they all fail the test of even having two women speak with each other about something other than a man, or even at all.

    It's bad enough that movies written by men to appeal to men generally include developed female characters, but when broadly appealing movies that are aimed at mixed audiences don't even pass the test, that's an epic fail.
     
  11. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    You know something?

    This thread reminds me of how unconfortable I used to feel as a young child when I saw "too developed" a female character.

    Movies and cartoons used to be confortably predictable. I knew who to root for, I knew who would gracefully bow out and let the protagonists do their stuff.

    Then one day there was that story (a cartoon, IIRC) where suddenly the female character was just awesome, unstoppable. She knew how to handle every situation, she was always prepared and self-reliant.

    I was scared out of my wits. I had no idea of what I should feel. Was I supposed to fear her? To hope she turned out to be a romantic interest? To expect that she would need some sort of help or rescue at the most dramatically significant moment?

    I had no idea, and that troubled me in ways that I am not certain I understand even now. True story.
     
  12. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    I'm not aware of such a broad list for men because just about every popular mixed-audience movie unambiguously and clearly passes the test.

    Seebs Exhibit 7: The reverse-Bechdel test
    Here's a guy that listed 20 movies he has seen and checked if they passed the reversed Bechdel test for men. It had a 100% pass rate. (And while that's from a guy's perspective, I love a ton of those movies too; they're not just 'guy movies'.)

    A major chunk of movies I like nonetheless fail the test and don't include female conversations. Maybe it's more noticeable to me because I'm of the gender that's being regularly minimized within my favorite movies. If you were watching movies where men don't ever speak to other men at all, I think you'd notice more often.

    Off the top of your head, can you think of even 2 or 3 movies that you really like where two men don't even speak to each other?

    The actual Bechdel test, or the reversed Bechdel test for men?

    Assuming you mean the regular Bechdel test, there are a few (3 out of 8) Harry Potter movies that fail the test, and the books were written by a woman. I would bet (but am not sure) that the books themselves pass the test because they are more more detailed than the movies. Hunger Games and Twilight movies were written by women and pass the test (though Twilight is certainly not a franchise that feminists would view as a healthy depiction of women).
     
  13. InformedIgnorance

    InformedIgnorance Do you 'know' or believe?

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    While I completely agree about the different nature of movies leading to different types of casts and therefore the possibility of dialogue, I think you are perhaps underestimating the importance of the style of the narrative.

    Many narratives are simply concerned with communicating a single element of the story; this is what I meant by a protagonist focused narrative, almost the entirety of dialogue is either between the protagonist and someone else, or about the protagonist (and either the events that cause the protagonist to do something or the repercussions thereof) an example would be something like dark night rises I suppose. While I have never seen Hunger games (it didn't grab my attention and I seldom watch many movies in the first place - though tbh perhaps in part I saw a female lead and went 'nah' given my experience with reading books with female leads - that is a possibility I shouldn't skip over) from what I understand the female lead while the main driving force is paired with a male lead as a lesser protagonist, though I do not know what sorts of communications take place in the movie in dialogues male to male and female to female, I would point out that it seems to have a vastly dissimilar narrative style than Dark Knight Rises or something similar, in that a central theme appears to be on emotional impacts of the game on both the players and it's viewers, what limited emotional considerations are given in DKR are far more introspective and broody and the manifestations of those in terms of violent actions.

    I must say that while I agree that the assumption about blockbusters might be true an extent (though perhaps a lesser extent than you seem to imply) I fundamentally believe that magical and technological settings are inherently more capable of providing an environment in which gender differences (in terms of a character's potential impact on the narrative) in comparison to many others settings (such as period pieces for example).

    Certain themes on the other hand seem to be targeted at different audiences, examining multifaceted emotional aspects, character development and interwoven subplot elements seems to be intermittently less emphasized in those movies targeted towards males, on the other hand they seem to often play a far more significant role in movies targeted towards either females or mixed audiences. I do not believe this is coincidental, instead it is far more likely to be the case that film writers and development studios tend to perceieve that these are styles that are (un)appealing to a given demographic.
     
    #33 InformedIgnorance, Apr 20, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2013
  14. Aquitaine

    Aquitaine Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, I meant films written by Women that fail the standard Bechdel test. Out of curiosity, your comment about Twilight's depiction of Women, could you explain why you feel it doesn't portray Women in a way Feminists would find healthy?

    I asks because I've only seen about 30 minutes or so of the first film, and everyone at one point was always going on about that series. :shrug:
     
  15. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    Penumbra, please be considerate and reveal the objectionable parts in stages. Give Paul a chance to ask you to stop. :)
     
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  16. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    I think you're clearly overestimating it and/or assuming that women have less of a practical place in linear, event-focused stories.

    Actually Hunger Games the movie is probably just as focused or even more focused on the main character than Dark Knight Rises is focused on Batman, since Dark Knight Rises independetly looks at the events of that that young cop, Commissioner Gordon, Selina Kyle, and Bane, all rather thoroughly, and yet generally fails the test. (Two women speak once, about a man.)

    In Hunger Games the movie, it follows the main character for the most part but also shows the president talking with the game operator (males) about the Hunger Games, shows a tv personality talking with the game operator (males) and shows the secondary male protagonist talking with another character (males) about how to survive the games.

    And if anything, you're proving my point. Movies with central female characters still have guys talking to other guys about stuff, and develop sufficiently broad characters of both genders, which would be expected in any sufficiently long and sufficiently complex story.

    Keep in mind that sufficiently large numbers of women see these movies in spite of the woefully imbalanced representation of women.

    How many guys happily watch movies where no two men ever speak to each other?

    So see? These adventurous, complex, interesting, or blockbuster movies appeal to men and women. Given that women already watch them in significant numbers, imagine how many more women would be interested if there was balanced female representation in the movies rather them mostly being dude-fests.

    I literally had a co-worker complain once that women don't like Star Wars. (Hint: Having only three named female characters in an extremely broad and imaginative world of three movies isn't helping.)

    At the very least, it's not a limiting factor.

    Why would sweeping adventure across the galaxy, across the oceans, and across a magical fictionalized medieval earth be uninteresting to women?

    See the previous statements about women going to watch these movies despite the male dominance of most of them. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy; if a movie has a setting and a story that is otherwise appealing to a mixed audience but then doesn't even include one instance of two women talking to each other and has countless instances of men talking with each other, then it's not a surprise that men are going to watch it more.
     
  17. Penumbra

    Penumbra Veteran Member
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    Belle is a shy lonely girl that falls in love with a powerful male vampire. He sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep, orders her around, she's willing to give up everything to be with him, attempts suicide when he leaves, and generally does a terrible job of developing an independent life of hobbies and achievements rather than fawning over her vampire boyfriend.

    Twilight is to feminism what Romeo and Juliet is to a healthy self-actualized mature relationship.

    Eh, might as well just link to the Feminist Twilight Drinking Game. :D
     
  18. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
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    To this day I wonder if I misunderstood the way they solved the love triangle.
     
  19. Aquitaine

    Aquitaine Well-Known Member

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    I see.

    I didn't think such a thing would become so popular with female audiences.
     
  20. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Veteran Member
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    As strange as it may sound, I've known females who hold extremely misogynistic ideas themselves and believe that all women must also support those ideas, so it wouldn't surprise me if some females found such depictions of women as subordinate and entirely dependent on males to be acceptable.
     
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