From the Box Office

How sexist is that movie?

In a recent rave review of the action-comedy Spy, New York Times movie critic A. O. Scott wrote, “It’s not just that the movie aces the Bechdel Test. It didn’t even have to study.”

What’s the Bechdel Test? It’s a test for gender bias in films first popularized by graphic artist Alison Bechdel as a joke in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. It consists of three short questions:
1. Are there at least two named women?
2. Who talk to each other?
3. About something other than a man?
Actually the questions themselves make you think. But the test shines light on the unconscious (and conscious) sexism in so many films. Oscar winners Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep both spoke this year about the fact that, while things are improving, it’s still hard to find a well-developed female role in Hollywood movies.
Why does this matter? Because it’s important to recognize whose voices are not being heard, and whose perspectives are not being shown. It’s important that we have positive role models for both males and females, people who are active in their own lives and not just plot devices.
That doesn’t mean that every movie has to pass the Bechdel Test. Many of my favorites don’t. But when, like last year, 55% of movies did not contain a single moment when two named women talked to each other about something other than a man, we’re creating a picture of women that assumes they are not themselves worthy of attention but are just some man’s accessory.–LMW

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