While catching up on a few blogs the other day, I came across a mentioning of the Bechdel Test. The test, which comes from a 1985 comic strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel, has three basic rules that the characters of the strip look for to deem a movie worthy of watching:
- It has to have at least two women in it
- Who talk to each other
- About something besides a man.
The rule, meant to point out the lack of complex female characters in Hollywood, does not seem unreasonable. Now, I consider myself to be somewhat of a feminist, interested in and advocating gender and sex equality in popular culture. I decided to check out my own DVD collection to see how it stacked up to the Bechdel Test.
The results were interesting. Only about six movies out of my fifty-plus DVDs stood out as finalists. Obviously, just because a movie abides by the three rules does not mean that it is automatically a pro-feminism movie, nor is a movie that does not pass the test necessarily testosterone-filled and misogynist. The test did, however, prove its point. Despite the presence of strong female characters in big-budget movies, they are often the only main female character, a sort of token woman (an example could be Leia in Star Wars. The only other named female character is Aunt Beru).
So, now that you know about the Bechdel Test, here are the six movies out of my all-time favorites on my shelf that pass the test:
Beetle Juice – Though the title character is male and oh-so creepy in so many ways, that’s what makes Lydia’s triumph at the end so fantastic. Humble Adam and Barbara are dead but trapped in their house. Overbearing and over-the-top urbanite Delia moves in, doting husband, grotesque sculpture and architecture plans, and daughter Delia in tow. Delia is the only one to notice the dead couple still shacked up in the house. Delia befriends Adam and Barbara and wants to help them in their passage. The story is ripe with all the wonderful teenage awkwardness: rebellion, the need to belong, unlikely bonds, and an unusual obsession with death.
Drop Dead Gorgeous – I’m a native Minnesotan, so naturally I adore this movie. The accents, homely hockey references, and quirky characters are just too adorable not to love. So is the almost completely female cast. With a great script and hilarious performances by Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Kirstie Alley, Mindy Sterling, Denise Richards, Brittany Murphy, and Amy Adams, you’ll laugh so hard at this disastrous small-town beauty pageant that your tiara will fall off.
Kill Bill Vol.1&2 – We meet The Bride after she wakes from a multi-year coma. Bill put her into the coma and presumably killed her child. Naturally, she must seek revenge. Enter the saga of one badass woman’s plight to show the world she’s not one to be messed with. Besides The Bride, there is a host of other, equally badass women- like Yakuza leader O-Ren Ishii, knife-wielding mom Vernita Green, and the venomous Elle Driver.
Mary Poppins – Who doesn’t love this movie? Jane and Michael Banks are possibly the cutest kids ever, but are always running away from their governesses. Mr. Banks is utterly distraught over how his ideal orderly family is not working- even his wife is a loose cannon, fighting for votes for women. Mary Poppins floats in, with her cheery disposition and ability to make the mundane fantastic, and shows this family that there’s nothing wrong with dad being around to play and take care of his kids. It has a wonderful family-oriented message, with plenty of strong women, including young Jane.
Royal Tenenbaums – Arguably the best of Wes Anderson’s movies. There are only two female characters: Etheline Tenenbaum and her daughter Margot Tenenbaum, but that’s not so bad because there are really only twelve characters total in the movie. Etheline is a dedicated matriarch, but despite doing all in her power to raise her kids well, all three are starting to unravel into their thirties. The reappearance of their broke, dead-beat father only intensifies the family tension. Witty dialogue and eccentric characters allow a movie touching on suicide, identity, death, and betrayal to remain a relatable comedy.
The Lady Vanishes – Young socialite Iris Henderson meets older governess Miss Froy. They travel through Germany via train together, when suddenly Miss Froy disappears. Iris senses something sinister and must find her new acquaintance, but others on the train doubt her sanity, claiming Miss Froy never existed. Classic Hitchcock, complete with conspiracy, Nazis, and two women as intelligent leads!