The Bechdel Test Is Not Fool-Proof

I like this post from Feministe on The Family that Preys for a lot of reasons, among them for its demonstration that the Bechdel Test, which states that a movie is only worth watching if a) it has at least two women in it, b) who talk to each other, c) about something other than a man, is incomplete.  Or at least no guarantee that a movie will be decent, since of course (and this should be obvious to everyone) that movies solely about women and their relationships to things other than men can be awful, dumb, mean, or have terrible values.  I like the spirit of the Bechdel Test, and I think Dykes to Watch Out For is well worth reading (and Alison Bechdel’s forays into other graphic novel work have also been wonderful).  But I also think that for the Test, it’s worth remembering the context in which it originates.

For example, the Test would disqualify a viewer who relied on it from watching The Hurt Locker, a magnificent movie about the relationships between men, which does have two women in it, but separates them by continent and language.  Is it any less worth watching for that? Absolutely not.  Ditto for Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, which is chock-full of women, but because they’re mostly discussing their lives in relationship to and in the context of several men, most importantly their father, might also be disqualified by  a strict interpretation of the Test.  But it’s also a fantastic movie about women, family, independence, money, careers, sexuality, and sisterhood.  Yes, I realize those are indies.  And yes, a huge number of movies made about women are awful, frustrating, offensive, and contentless.  But that doesn’t mean movies that are primarily about men, or that are about women figuring out their relationships to men, aren’t worthwhile.