Perhaps the most surprising thing to British audiences about the introduction of a “Bechdel Test” for Swedish films is that, in Sweden, nobody seems to find it weird. The Bechdel Test first appeared as a joke in a 1985 comic strip, and requires that a work of fiction contain at least one scene in which two named women talk to each other about anything other than a man. Pretty easy, you would think, if you are or have ever met a woman. The truth is, not many films pass it. Not even many “feminist” films, and especially not most Hollywood blockbusters.
“I don’t think this will attract sneers”, said the Swedish journalist Sofia Nyblom, about the news. Not in Sweden, maybe. In Britain they’re sneering fit to make their faces ache. In Hollywood, meanwhile, they either haven’t woken up yet, or they’ve all fainted.
One sneer goes: if you’re going to “single out women” for equal treatment, you have to apply it to all minorities. This is a good point. Except that women are not a minority, meaning that gauging gender equality is much easier, sums wise, on account of our being exactly half of the population.
Others have applied Godwin’s Law to the Bechdel Test by instantly comparing Swedish feminists to Nazis. Their argument is rather spoiled when you remember that nobody is actually burning films that ignore half of the population, just humorously drawing attention to them.
There is also an argument about historical accuracy: it would be wrong to crowbar women into a First World War film because chicks didn’t really feature that much at Ypres. That’s true. So you’d expect a film set in, say, contemporary London, to be equally historically accurate about how real people interact, right? But they’re not.
Critics also argue that many classic films fail the test. So do most of the plays of Shakespeare, but to be fair, he was writing 400 years ago when women were banned from the stage. That’s not actually the case any more.
There is one other argument, which is that maybe women are belittled in all media, the workplace and global life simply because they are fundamentally more rubbish than men. This is my favourite, because it is the most honest. If you truly believe it, then marshal your evidence. If you don’t believe it, then you are a feminist. That is the Guest Test. Welcome to the cause.
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