The Bechdel test, more properly known as the Bechdel–Wallace test is a set of criteria applied to a work of fiction (usually a film, but it can be adjusted for pretty much anything) to see if it contains a minimum level of women's representation. The test was created by Liz Wallace, and popularized in 1985 by Alison Bechdel in her comic series Dykes to Watch Out For. In its original form, a film would pass the test if it fulfilled these points:
- There must be at least two female characters.
- They must talk to each other.
- Their topic of conversation must be about something other than a man.
Even with this incredibly low bar, only a small fraction of films actually meet these criteria. If you consider the opposite of this rule — two men talking about something other than a woman — nearly every film ever made passes. The Bechdel test is not meant to gauge whether a film has positive female representation, or even whether it's well-made, but rather to measure the film industry as a whole and demonstrate just how insignificant female representation is in the industry. The Bechdel test can be modified to fit other traditionally disenfranchised groups. For example, two black characters talking about something other than white people, two queer characters talking about something other than cis people, etc.
As the Bechdel test became more commonplace, variations began to crop up. Probably the most important variant was the addition that the two female characters must be named. This addition prevents films from passing simply because two extras said "hello," to each other.
On Feminist Frequency, in 2012, host Anita Sarkeesian suggested an additional criteria, that the two characters have to speak about something other than a man for at least 60 seconds. This was meant to eliminate a lot of the quibbling that often comes up about whether a film passes the test. For example, if a man introduces two named female characters, and they say "hi" to each other, and then talk about nothing but the man for the rest of the film, it technically passes the Bechdel test as it was originally described, but were they really "talking" to each other?
I've modified it slightly myself to require at least 50 total words of dialogue. This has the added benefit of applying to written dialogue so I can test books and media that combines spoken and written dialogue, like video games. For media on my site, this is the rule set I use. Also, I exclude any media which doesn't feature dialogue between characters. I also exclude media which has a nameless narrator and no dialogue, but I do allow media if the narrator talks directly to a character, even if that character is speechless, since I count that as dialogue.
I wasn't made aware of the Bechdel test until I saw it described on Feminist Frequency in 2012. It was quite eye-opening, and, after hearing about it, I started applying the test to my favorite films, and was disappointed to learn how much a sausage fest they are. Because of this, I now try to educate all of my friends about the Bechdel test.
For a television show to pass, only one of its episodes needs to pass the 50-word Bechdel test. I haven't tested the shows on this site yet, but, when I do, I'll try to include the episodes which pass the test.
I also count games if they let you customize the player's sex and you can talk to a named NPC for 50 or more words.
There are also several games that contain a lot of dialogue to parse through, so I have yet to properly apply the test. If you definitively know the status of an untested game, please email me.
- bechdeltest.com - A database of films and how they measure up to the Bechdel test.