Gemma Vanson

REIN Co-founder

@REIN_London @Gvanson



The Bechdel test is a well known test of gender Bias in Films which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man, preferably with the women being named. Also known as the Bechdel–Wallace test, the test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in whose comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For it first appeared in 1985. Bechdel credited the idea to a friend, Liz Wallace, and to the writings of Virginia Woolf. After the test became more widely discussed in the 2000s, a number of variants and tests inspired by it have been introduced.

When I first heard about this test I thought 'that seems pretty simple I’m sure most films would pass' but strikingly that’s not the case, Only about half of all films meet these requirements, when I researched this I was shocked to find an article in the Guardian that suggests that the number has actually dropped from 2013 through 2014 and currently stands at about 57% of films passing this.

Thinking about it I suppose its not surprising given the recent uproar around the gender pay gap in hollywood and the film industry at large, take Patricia Arquette who won an oscar in 2015, stood up and reached out about this in her acceptance speech and then found that she lost jobs because she expected to be paid the same as a man should. ?This is a pretty big indication that equality is still very much something we need to fight for.

Just the other day I heard that The big short a film about the finical crash that unsurprisingly doesn't pass the bechdel test includes women as nothing more than gratuitous eye candy, like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) or Selena Gomez at a Vegas blackjack table walking the audience through synthetic CDOs. Frankly it’s sickening to see films wherein women are portrayed as submissive, indecisive and dependent on men or oscar winning actresses used as ‘hot Talent’.

In sweden the bechdel test is included in the official rating and overall films that pass sell better than those that don’t. Having said this, The Bechdel Test is not an indication of a highly feminist movie, and the test has its flaws. For example a movie might pass the test and still have little to add to the feminist movement. The test can be a little 2 dimensional:

Apply the rules to some well known films and you'll be as surprised as I was at how few actually pass THE TEST Some are clear: Thelma & Louise, pass; The Hunger Games, pass, So films with several strong female characters tick all three boxes, that's pretty clear, but what about those with a "feminist" message that only have one female character? even if she is strong and well rounded. 2013's Gravity, for which Sandra Bullock was nominated for numerous Best Actress awards, Fails miserably because the female lead does not interact with any other women. In the meantime, an essentially misogynistic film, which happens to feature two women in a hot tub talking about jelly, for example, would pass.

However, there are things I do like about the Bechdel Test, it certainly triggers discussions, sets a presedent and hopefully one day, movies passing the test will be the norm, not the exception.

Films that dont live up too the Test:

  1. Avatar
  2. The social network
  3. The entire Lord of the rings trilogy
  4. Run Lola Run
  5. The entire Star wars trilogy

Films that do live up to the test:

  1. The Huntsman: Winters war
  2. Mad Max Fury road
  3. Pitch Perfect
  4. Frozen
  5. Suffragette

Also in Free Rein


By Becky Willoughby
The Fight of Female Tech Founders
The Fight of Female Tech Founders

by Angela Pan
Inside Panopticon
Inside Panopticon

The Collection
by Rebecca Morter