I often find myself in disagreements with male friends about the Bechdel Test, because there are so many good movies and books that fail it, from Lawrence of Arabia to Pride and Prejudice. The Bechdel Test is NOT a strict yardstick of either feminist content or quality. There’s a lot of awesome media that flunks the test. Here’s what it does do well:
1. It raises awareness of when there’s only one woman in a story. Which allows for other conversations about gender imbalance, stereotypes, and tokenism.
2. It highlights the problems of stories where the only female characters are there as encouraging cheerleaders, love objects, or obstacles for the male protagonists and have no lives of their own.
3. It problematizes the cultural assumption that the only acceptable stories with female protagonists are ones where women are looking for love. (Nothing wrong with a good love story, but there’s a problem when that accounts for the vast majority of stories women are allowed to tell about themselves.)
The Bechdel Test is not a checklist that ends conversation. It’s a tool to begin conversation.