I think when it comes to the Bechdel Test I am more bothered by movies that fail on the final stage. IE there are two or more female characters with names and they talk to each other, but only about men. I think not every movie needs to be about women, men have issues and experiences that can entertain us, and while the culture certainly has been biased towards them I think there are still stories to be told. But what bothers me are movies that are ostensibly about women (rom-coms, chick flicks etc) but are really about men because that’s all these women talk about.
I’ve been seeing the trailer for a new movie recently, The Other Woman. It stars Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton and Nicki Minaj has a supporting role. On the surface, this is great, three female leads, and a WOC in a prominent role. But from what I can tell, the focus of these women is almost exclusively a man. Diaz’s perfect boyfriend turns out to be Mann’s philandering husband. The women form a cooky friendship. When they discover his third paramour, Upton, the three women make plans to sabotage him. I’m assuming in the end they will all collectively leave him, bask in the warm supportive glow of female friendship and Diaz will end up with Mann’s ruggedly handsome brother. So while on the surface it’s an empowering chick flick it’s really a chance to show how much these women rely on a man. One man, in fact. He has the power to turn rational women into loons hell bent on destroying him.
The Bechdel test isn’t the be all end all for which movies are good and which are bad. Which ones you should see, or allow your kids to see, and which ones you should not. The Bechdel test exists to highlight the lack of women characters and women’s stories being told. If you reversed the gender roles, I imagine nearly every movie would pass. So while I have no problem with movies like Star Trek (I think there’s never more than one named woman in a scene, let alone having a discussion about something other than a man) because it’s not about women. It’d be nice if it were but it’s not and more importantly, it’s not pretending to me. It bothers me how much (moreso in the books but also in the films) Katniss, the heroine of the Hunger Games, thinks about boys. There are bigger things going on.
I was recently watching an episode of Friends (because I love that show). In the episode the A and B storylines were split more or less down the gender line with the boys dealing with one thing and the girls another. While the guys talked about a range of things, the only things the women dealt with were men. This disheartened me because even though the cast is evenly split and aimed mostly at women, it still focuses on the male experience.
I think putting a female character front and center is great. It’s important that there be a balance in Hollywood. But doing so is dangerous because it often is merely a mask. It’s not enough to give a woman screen time or top billing if all she’s thinking about or talking about or reacting to is a man. She needs to have her own problems, issues and concerns or else we’re sending the message to audiences that a man’s issues are more important than a woman’s, to the point where everyone must deal with them.
And that’s the wrong message.