A cinematic smörgåsbord of interesting female characters

Sweden has introduced a test to stamp out gender bias in film, what a relief

Share
Related Topics

Exciting news this week, for people who actually think of women as people (or “feminists”, as we’re more commonly known); lovely lovely Sweden has introduced a ratings system in some of its cinemas to highlight gender bias in films. To gain an A rating, a film must pass the ‘Bechdel Test’; a test named after its creator, Alison Bechdel, who first came up with the rules in her cartoon strip ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ back in 1985.

For the uninitiated, the Bechdel Test is usually described as a sort of “litmus test” for movie misogyny. The rules are simple; the Bechdel Test sets a bare minimum of gender representation which stipulates that the film (or TV programme) must:

  1. Contain at least two female characters,
  2. Who speak to each other at some point,
  3. About something other than a man.

That might sound like the bare minimum we could possibly ask for in an equal society (some versions of the test state that the female characters must even have names – imagine the luxury of being granted a name!), but a frankly flabberghasting amount of our cinema fails the test dismally. It’s very much one of those “one seen, can never be unseen”; take a quick glance across your beloved DVD collection, if you don’t believe me, and try to work out how many of your favourites I’ve just ruined.

The problem seems to stem from an industry belief that, whilst both men and women will happily watch a film with a male protagonist, men – for whatever reason – are seen as incapable of engaging with stories that focus on the experience of a woman. Despite the fact that they can happily suspend disbelief in order to accept any amount of reality-bending plot-lines (spaceships, time travel, talking animals, anyone ever falling in love with Adam Sandler), apparently relating to a female protagonist as an actual human being is just, y’know, pushing things a bit.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the Everyman; a blank canvas for us all to project ourselves onto (think Martin Freeman, in, well, pretty much everything he’s ever done). The fact that there’s no real “Everywoman” equivalent is pretty stark. Even films ostensibly about a woman often revolve around men; just look at Bridget Jones, for example. All too often when a woman is included in a film it’s either as a sexual or romantic object, or as a tokenistic cipher. This can be particularly obvious in action films, which are seen as traditionally masculine; even if there’s a woman present on-screen and kicking the bad guy’s bottom, she’s usually some variation of the “fighting f**ktoy” trope; an over-sexualised fetish object couched in terms of female empowerment.

Of course, the Bechdel Test is by no means perfect. There are plenty of films with complex, nuanced women that fail – all but one of the Harry Potter films don’t pass, despite having a list of female characters as long as your arm – and plenty of films that pass but are chock-full of shallow, lazy characterisation.

As an awareness raising tool, though, its results can be impressive; Ellen Tejle, director of one of the cinemas trialling the ratings system, Stockholm’s Bio Rio, say that, “for some people, it has been a real eye-opener”. It’s that incremental eye-opening effect which can bring about real change in the public consciousness; after all, we’re the ones who control what media we watch, and therefore what media gets made. If we’re very lucky, we might just find that Sweden is paving the way towards a new cinema; one with less blatant gender bias, that depicts women with actual agency and actual names; one that represents women in all of our multi-faceted, messy, ridiculous diversity. A real cinematic smörgåsbord, if you will.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star