Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do I Pass the Bechdel Dating Test?

Women, Action, and the Media director Jaclyn Friedman on filtering out dating profiles:
you know the Bechdel Test for films? It states that any good film has to have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a guy. Well, this is my test: When I look at personal ads, I look at their lists of favorite books, movies, and music, and they have to list women in all of those categories. They don’t have to have a majority of women, but they have to know that women exist in the culture and be fans of some of them. It’s a pretty low bar—or it should be. I used to look for guys who don’t list Fight Club in their favorites, but I’ve had to relax that rule, because all dudes evidently love Fight Club.

First, in re: Fight Club, what Yglesias said. Second, I always thought the test was that two women have to have a conversation about something other than either (a) a guy, or (b) child rearing.

Third, this made for an interesting moment of self-exploration and an excuse to see if my Facebook profile was up to date. I'm mostly saved by music, where I have two all-female acts (Sleater-Kinney and Go Betty Go), and two female-fronted bands (Pretty Girls Make Graves and Gossip, though Gossip's current drummer is also female). I've also got The Optimist's Daughter on the list of books, though the rest of it tilts male. The TV shows are a mixed bag. Buffy passes the test, and presumably at some point two of the female characters in The West Wing talk about something other than men or child rearing. There aren't any other women in The X-Files but it's hard to say that Scully fits a lot of prototypical female roles. But the list of movies turns out to be a total dudefest: none of the movies feature more than one or maybe one and a half significant female roles.

Couple with the recent Nancy Meyers profile in the NYT magazine and ongoing complaints about the lack of top-flight acting roles for women as it relates to Oscars, one starts to wonder if filmmaking in particular has an even harder time coming up with products that . They're obviously not the only part of our media universe that has this problem (sketch/standup comedy and video games both come to mind), but they may be the largest piece of it.

The more likely possibility of course is that I just haven't looked hard enough for female-led movies. So, use the comments to tell me what I should watch.


wsn said...

Substantively, I agree with you and Matt about Fight Club. However, I would not be surprised if it is a useful heuristic to weed out the d-bags who didn't get it. You'd have to look at in context of the other movies/books/etc listed, but I suspect that Friedman is doing that unconsciously.

Also, from the interview I didn't think she was literally applying the Bechdel test - more that she was trying to adapt the logic of that test to another situation. Namely, to determine whether something/someone sees value in women as people by a quick heuristical analysis based on things that ought to be common yet all too often aren't.

As to suggestions for movies - I can't really offer any. I can say that TV is much, much better on this than movies. Amanda Marcotte wrote a post on this somewhere, but I can't find it right now. There seems to be a lot more room for projects helmed by women or featuring women. Buffy (and Joss's oeuvre in general), Veronica Mars, neo-Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Fringe, Mad Men, Grey's Anatomy.

Ursula said...

1.) American Beauty alone ought to disqualify you. That movie haaaaates all women above the age of 20.

2.) Now I'm not sure that I pass the Bechdel dating test.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I'm feeling pretty good about this one. Wonder if I'm getting points for having "Pelositheism" in the religion space too.

wsn said...

I'm not so sure about Pelositheism. The qualities which entitle her to have "theism" added to her name (ruthlessly crushing opposition to accomplish honorable goals) are held to be distasteful by many. Not so much the "honorable goals" part, but the "ruthlessly crushing opposition" part.

Pelositheism is probably destined to have a small, if intense, following. While it might spark an initial curiosity, having some of the central tenants of Pelositheism (Nancy SMASH!) evangelized in a manner appropriate to their gravity will likely turn away a number of people.

Of course, it might be a good way to triage between short-term and long-term (potential) partners. It is difficult to imagine a long-term partnership where one member is a devout member of a religious community and the other is (perceived by the first member to be) a heathen.

snarkout said...

Like Ursula said, "American Beauty" is a deeply misogynistic movie. Not everyone agrees, but Ursula and I are totally right. Ursula and me, ftw!

I just watched Jacques Rivette's fantastic and bizarre "Celine et Julie vont en bateau" again. (Two female leads, and three-out-of-four female characters for the film-within-the-film.) "Safe", with its magnificent performance by Julianne Moore. Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures". Lynne Ramsay's "Morvern Callar". Almodovar. Miyazaki. I thought Tilda Swinton's performance as the titular character of "Julia" was great, although the movie had some flaws. Maybe some of Francois Ozon's work, or (actual female director) Claire Denis'. Alison Anders' "Gas Food Lodging"? Drew Barrymore's "Whip It"?

From my actual Facebook profile, I've got, uh, "Holiday" and "The Philadelphia Story" and maybe "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" and "Stolen Kisses" alongside such guy-centric fare as "Miller's Crossing", "The Thing", and various Werner Herzog movies. But no "Fight Club"!

Matt Austern said...

Just as a public service... If you want to know what the original form of the Bechdel Test for movies is, you can read the original strip on Alison Bechdel's blog.

Kind of astonishing (and sad) that this strip is still pertinent after 25 years.

ikl said...

After a certain point is his career, Ingmar Bergman stopping taking men seriously; virtually all of his later films center around women. (Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata both meet the test of having to two or more female characters who talk with each each about something other than relationships and children - although frankly this seems like a pretty arbitrary test). The long version of Scenes from a Marriage is excellent; Persona is good as well as is The Passion of Anna.

big bad wolf said...

no particular lens is necessary to judge american beauty. it is terrible by almost any measure, forest gump for yuppies. if you doubt this, just look how it paid the once great kevin spacey forward