Can there be a "reverse Bechdel test"?

On the racial Bechdel test thread, we discussed my comic Hereville a little. Hereville, it was agreed, failed the racial Bechdel test (understandably, given the setting, I would say), but passes the “Jewish Bechdel test” and the original Bechdel test. Responding to this, Daran wrote that Hereville “fails the reverse gender Bechdel test – it doesn’t have two male characters who talk to each other about something other than a women.”

While Daran is technically correct — there is no conversation of any note or substance between male characters in Hereville – I think that to apply a “reverse Bechdel test” misses the point.

The Bechdel test asks if, in a movie (or graphic novel or whatever)

1) there are at least two named1 female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man.

The point of the Bechdel test, in my view, is not to criticize individual pieces of work. It’s to point out that movies in the aggregate are overwhelmingly centered around male characters and their interests. In an IM, Mandolin wrote:

The Bechdel test is something that’s only useful when applied in aggregate to a field. It is not diagnostic of sexism or racism in a particular work that it does not pass it, or diagnostic of anti-racism or feminism.

The test – gender and race – exists because of a system that removes women’s and poc’s voices. To create a reverse-Bechdel test implies that it’s coherent to suggest that there’s a mass problem with erasing men’s voices from work.

I think sexism against men does exist, including in media, and is a real issue. But I don’t think a “reverse Bechdel test” makes any sense, because sexism against men in media is not similar to the mass absenting of women as central characters, and that’s what the Bechdel test is designed to make visible.

To work, a male version of the Bechdel test should be simple to explain and apply. It should be more about pervasive, aggregate sexism than about individual works. And it should address real sexism against men, rather than just taking a knee-jerk “but what about the men?” attitude which, I suspect, underlay Daran’s comment about Hereville.2

The problem is, I’m not sure a reverse Bechdel test that has any substance is even possible. There certainly are sexist stereotypes about men in cinema; men’s lives are treated as disposable in many action films, for example, and men are sometimes depicted as unfeeling brutes. There’s a whole lot of comedies which endorse the “men just think with their penises” stereotype, or which present men as incompetent dorks who need to be taken care of by female characters.3

But are any of these really statistically pervasive, the way that movies which center men and male characters are pervasive? There are, after all, many movies which don’t feature scores of men dying offhandedly; plenty which don’t depict men as bestial or as thinking with their penises, and so on. The anti-male stereotypes exist, and they should be objected to, but they’re not omnipresent. In contrast, there really are amazingly few movies which can pass the Bechdel test.4

So I’ve been trying to think of a male equivalent to the Bechdel test, with no success. That said, maybe I’m missing something. If Daran, or someone else concerned with making sexism against men more visible, were to create a substantive yet simple and elegant test that pointed out sexism against men in movies, I’d certainly welcome that development.

  1. In the original Bechdel test, “named” wasn’t a requirement; my poor memory accidentally added that bit later. []
  2. Although maybe Daran was just joking, and the joke didn’t come off. []
  3. The female characters, in turn, are presented as competent but also relegated to the less funny and central roles. As frequently happens, this is an instance where sexism against women and sexism against men is interlocking and interdependent. []
  4. This is even more true if you try to apply the Bechdel test in a substantive way, versus the “loophole” way people often apply it — for example, saying a movie passes because of one ten-second scene. Of course, looking for loopholes is often fun, and I totally understand that, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the substance. []
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31 Responses to Can there be a "reverse Bechdel test"?

  1. 1
    harlemjd says:

    I don’t have a problem with scouting for movies that don’t pass the anti-Bechdel test, as long as people keep in mind that these tests ARE only usefull in the aggregate, and not necessarily a meaningful critique of any individual work. It’s so HARD to find a movie that fails an anti-Bechdel test that the exercise is a perfect counter-point to the original and actually helps clarify the extent to which movies in general focus on telling men’s stories.

  2. 2
    Sailorman says:

    Good post.

    The “reverse” bechdel test would be sort of pointless, because unlike the original one, nobody seems to think that it would apply to more than a relatively small number of films. I would actually expect some sort of variance across movies, including having a few which center women, just as one would have a few which center men. Picking out the few films which fall a few SD from the mean isn’t really going to show much about the mean.

    (I still think #2 would be better off with a bit of a rewrite: the goal is really to have something that centers women in good roles, and there’s no particular need to have the women actually talk to each other.)

  3. 3
    zenith says:

    Great post.

    Actually Sailorman, I disagree with you on your last point. I think #2 is precisely what’s important about the Bechdel Test. We’re trained in other ways and venues to look for female characters that defy stereotypes, and for a wide range of female characters. What’s striking is how often works of fiction that meet these tests seem to go out of their way to avoid robust relationships between women. If the female characters are only shown talking to or about men, then no matter how “strong” they are, there’s a problem. It’s somewhat akin to the problem of only depicting tomboys as admirable, or of featuring female characters but not female protagonists. A culture that thinks relationships between women aren’t worth depicting, or won’t be viewed/read except by women, is a culture that thinks equality means “Sure, we’ll let you play with the boys sometimes.”

    (Obviously there are going to be some movies that fail the Bechdel Test by chance, and that’s perfectly reasonable and appropriate. As has been well articulated above, it’s the aggregate that’s the problem.)

  4. Wouldn’t the reverse test, where you simply substitute the word man for woman and vice versa, be an important measure as a control? After all if you can take a random sample of 100 movies and show that eg 80 past the reverse test but only 10 pass the test that makes a more powerful observation than simply saying “10% of movies studied pass the Bechdel test”.

  5. 5
    Jeff Fecke says:

    Well, yes, there can be a reverse Bechdel test. But as I noted when I first floated the idea:

    What this drove home to me was simple: many of the Bechdel Test failures are a natural consequence of the gender of the protagonist, combined with a failure of imagination regarding secondary characters. If your lead is a man, most of the conversations will involve a man. That’s natural, and not necessarily evil.

    The reason so many films and novels fail the Bechdel Test is not that writers are evil, sexist jerks. It’s because so many films and novels focus on men.

    That’s the nub of it. “Hereville” fails the reverse Bechdel as one might expect it would, since it has a female protagonist and isn’t a rom-com. That’s doesn’t mean the work itself is anti-male, any more than any particular movie that fails the Bechdel test is anti-female.

    Where the Bechdel test is illustrative, IMHO, is not with specific works, but in the aggregate. There may be valid artistic reasons not to have many female characters in movie x. It’s understandable, for example, why The Shawshank Redemption fails. The problem is not that any particular work fails, but that so few works succeed. The Bechdel test is at its heart a measure of institutional bias against making movies with women in the lead, with the exception of romantic comedies.

    Where I think the reverse Bechdel test is useful is as a metric of how many movies are made with female protagonists and female main supporting characters. If the numbers of movies that failed the reverse Bechdel was anywhere near the number of movies that failed Bechdel, nobody would care about the Bechdel test; there’d be plenty of movies with women in significant roles. But of course, there are very few movies indeed that fail the reverse Bechdel test, and very few pieces of art, period. That’s the problem this illuminates, and a problem that needs to be fixed.

  6. 6
    ballgame says:

    Good post, Amp. I agree with much of it, overall. I might quibble a little with the notion that the Bechdel test is ‘really’ for aggregate assesments, since in practice I’ve seen it applied far more often to specific works than I’ve seen it used ‘in aggregate’. (To be clear, I agree it’s probably more appropriate for aggregate assessments, it’s just that in practice it doesn’t seem to get used that way. FTR, though, I’ve actually thought it fairly interesting when used in specific critiques.) As for a ‘reverse Bechdel test’ — one that demonstrates sexism against males instead of demonstrating how often males are centered — I think it’s actually pretty easy (albeit asymmetrical to the female version, just as the genders’ differing oppressions are asymmetrical):

    Does the work in question show a man experiencing severe violence (violence that in real life would likely either hospitalize him or kill him), and that violence is depicted as being either a) not particularly tragic, or b) somehow the man’s own fault? If the answer is “yes” to either, then the work would fail the reverse Bechdel test.

    Contrary to what your post says, I think the numbers of movies and TV shows that fail the reverse Bechdel test is, in fact, huge. I would include such things as comedic violence, or ‘violence which doesn’t really hurt’ violence (superheroes, or private eyes which are back to normal one scene after taking a pounding from some thugs), and of course your standard ‘the ground is littered with the bodies of human males who were The Enemy … hooray!’ scenes.

  7. 7
    Maia says:

    Jeff – That’s a very limited vision of the problem. The thing is that the vast majority of women-centred movies, pass the reverse Bechdel test. Movies about women whose main relationships are with women are rare, but even those that exist tend to show two men talking to each other at some point. Dick (one of my all time favourite movies), is not a rom-com, but it has men talking to each other quite often. Buffy was about a woman, but the male characters talked to each other (whereas Serenity only scratches it’s way through the Bechdel test). I am sure that there are movies that fail the reverse Bechdel test, but they are extremely rare, even among movies that are centred on female characters.

    Likewise lots of movies that have ‘strong female characters’, or are about women, don’t pass the Bechdel test. Either because all the conversations are about men (the rom-com problem), or because the movie isn’t centred.

    Or put another way there’s a new TV show that is centred on nurses. I know nothing about it except that Michelle Trachtenburg’s in it. I’m pretty sure that, after a few episodes it’ll have passed the reverse Bechdel test more often that The Wire did in its first two season (the two seasons where the low number of women present in the world made sense. For the last three seasons there’s nothing but misogyny to explain the absense of women from the wire).

    Movies and Television treat relationships between men as normal and necessary. They do not do the same for relationships between women, no matter who the protaganists of a story are.

  8. 8
    Daran says:

    Reordered for the sake of reply:

    rather than just taking a knee-jerk “but what about the men?” attitude which, I suspect, underlay Daran’s comment about Hereville.

    You are mistaken about what underlay my comment. And, no, it wasn’t a joke. No Account Cowboy (#4 above) has it right. You need the reverse test in order to validate the forward test. If, in some hypothetical alternative world, both forward and reverse tests were failed frequently, and about equally so, then that would tell us something interesting and non-trivial about how gender in that world was dramatically depicted, but it would be something quite different from what the the Bechtel test is purported to show in our world.

    That the reverse test is so rarely failed confirms that the forward test does indeed show what it purports to show.

    Like ballgame, I broadly agree with your post, though I feel a bit lectured at. In the rest of this comment, I’ll focus on those areas where my take is a little different.

    While Daran is technically correct — there is no conversation of any note or substance between male characters in Hereville

    As noted in my response to Dianne, the web version does in fact pass – one of the bullies is named and his exchange with Zindel about putting Zindel down qualifies subject to footnote 4.

    The test – gender and race – exists because of a system that removes women’s and poc’s voices. To create a reverse-Bechdel test implies that it’s coherent to suggest that there’s a mass problem with erasing men’s voices from work.

    I think the extension of the test to race is problematic in ways that I don’t want to go into here, so I’ll confine my remarks to gender. I don’t agree that there is a system which “removes women’s voices” in the way implied here. Drama creates fictional voices; it doesn’t remove them*. so the issue is what are the genders of the voices created, and what do they talk about? What the test highlights is how gender norm of male activity vs. female passivity is manifested in dramatic works.

    *An exception to that observation would be where dialogue or even characters present in an original work (or in reality) are written out of an adaptation (or dramatisation), or if their sex or gender was changed. The Bechtel test says nothing about this, and I’m aware of no research or even discussion into whether or how this is gendered. Contrast with the significant body of discussion surrounding the whitewashing in adaptations of originally PoC characters.

    The problem is, I’m not sure a reverse Bechdel test that has any substance is even possible.

    I think it is, along the lines of ballgame’s suggestion, which I’ll discuss in a separate comment.

    The anti-male stereotypes exist, and they should be objected to, but they’re not omnipresent. In contrast, there really are amazingly few movies which can pass the Bechdel test.

    That’s a lot less true now than it used to be. I note that almost all of the films reviewed in this admittedly new and consequently limited-in-content blog pass the test.

    This is even more true if you try to apply the Bechdel test in a substantive way, versus the “loophole” way people often apply it — for example, saying a movie passes because of one ten-second scene. Of course, looking for loopholes is often fun, and I totally understand that, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the substance. (back)

    I think you have to apply in the “loophole” way, otherwise it becomes subjective. The value of the test, is that it is objective. This, of course, only applies when taking a statistical view. While I agree that passing or failing the test isn’t the be-all and end-all of evaluating a work’s sexism, the degree (if any) to which a work passes is a useful lens to apply to individual works, and one which I use myself on the rare occasions I have written a review of something.

    In the original Bechdel test, “named” wasn’t a requirement; my poor memory accidentally added that bit later.

    It’s a good addition. In particular it makes the test much more sensitive.

  9. 9
    Daran says:

    ballgame:

    Does the work in question show a man experiencing severe violence (violence that in real life would likely either hospitalize him or kill him), and that violence is depicted as being either a) not particularly tragic, or b) somehow the man’s own fault? If the answer is “yes” to either, then the work would fail the reverse Bechdel test.

    As an initial matter, could I ask that, for the avoidance of the inevitable confusion, the phrase “reverse Bechdel test” be confined to the literal reversal, as defined by Jeff. We could talk about “Bechdel-like tests for men”, instead, and coin individual names for any we deem to be meritous.

    Although I’ve had thoughts along the same lines, I like your formulation though I’d add “, horrible, or shocking” to “tragic”. I’d extend it to males of all ages, and in order to increase its sensitivity, I would also add a proviso that only violence against males is so depicted,.

    To sum up: a work fails the (reverse) modified ballgame test if it shows a (fe)male character being subject to violence which in real-life would either hospitalise or kill him (her), and which is depicted as either a) not particularly tragic, horrible, or shocking, or b) somehow the (fe)male’s own fault, and no act of violence against a female (male) is shown meeting these criteria.

    Contrary to Ampersand’s assertion, it isn’t the case that almost no films pass the Bechdel test. Clearly many do. Rather the significance of the test is that many films fail, while almost none fail the reverse test. The same is true for the modified ballgame test. Many pass, but many fail while few fail the reverse test. (I cannot think of any.)

    The discrepancy is particularly stark, when you look at drama deemed suitable for children, where it is rare to see violence of any kind shown against women.

    Contrary to what your post says, I think the numbers of movies and TV shows that fail the reverse Bechdel test is, in fact, huge. I would include such things as comedic violence, or ‘violence which doesn’t really hurt’ violence (superheroes, or private eyes which are back to normal one scene after taking a pounding from some thugs), and of course your standard ‘the ground is littered with the bodies of human males who were The Enemy … hooray!’ scenes.

    Exactly. I would also add violence that he deserves because he’s a dork as falling under criterion b.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:
    In contrast, there really are amazingly few movies which can pass the Bechdel test.

    That’s a lot less true now than it used to be. I note that almost all of the films reviewed in this admittedly new and consequently limited-in-content blog pass the test.

    I don’t know if it’s less or more true now that it used to be.

    But I do know that the blog you cite is a bad example, because one of the explicit purposes of the blog is to write about movies that pass the Bechdel test:

    Upon reviewing the depths of the Internet, it seems that there is no archive of movies that pass the Bechdel test, or somewhere to evaluate films by the test’s standards. Thus, the purpose of this blog. Tune in for (hopefully) in-depth movie, television, theatre and possibly even book reviews about women talking to each other about something other than a man.

    So obviously the sample of movies reviewed there isn’t representative (which isn’t a criticism of the blog at all, since it’s not intended to be representative). It’s also a mistake to look to that blog as an indication of what current movies are like, versus what movies used to be like, since she reviews both current and older films.

  11. 11
    Daran says:

    I don’t know if it’s less or more true now that it used to be.

    Seriously? You don’t think there are more women in strong (non-love-interest) roles now than in, say, the 50′s? You think that there were as many Ripleys out there before Ripley than after? As many Thelma and Louises? as many Bratz movies (execrable though they were)?

    But I do know that the blog you cite is a bad example, because one of the explicit purposes of the blog is to write about movies that pass the Bechdel test:

    Another is to evaluate films by the test’s standards.

    You’d have a point if my argument were that most films passed. But that was never my claim. Rather, my point is that it’s not actually that difficult to find films which do pass, which my cite supports, (unless we assume that bloggers there are searching high and low for films that pass, and only reporting on their successes, which seems unlikely). This contradicts your claim that “there really are amazingly few movies which can pass the Bechdel test.”

    So obviously the sample of movies reviewed there isn’t representative

    Obviously.

    (which isn’t a criticism of the blog at all, since it’s not intended to be representative). It’s also a mistake to look to that blog as an indication of what current movies are like, versus what movies used to be like, since she reviews both current and older films.

    I will admit to not being a film buff, there were only a few titles I recognised, and only one of those that I know preceded the nineties. If it it true that there are as many Bechdel-test passing films up until 1990, say, as there were in the past five years, then that would not contradict my point.

  12. 12
    Dianne says:

    I think that I may be the one originally to blame for the idea of the reverse Bechdel test (which I originally started calling the Om Movie Measure in contrast to the “Mo Movie Measure” as the Bechdel test is sometimes known despite Mo’s not being a character in the cartoon that spawned it.)

    My idea is not “what about the men” but rather to show how hilariously low a bar the original Bechdel test really is. I don’t, btw, agree with amp’s addendum of demanding that the two female characters have names-I think it dilutes the point which is even stretching the definition of “two female characters talking to each other about something other than a man” still leaves many (most?) movies and other forms of entertainment short.

    Hence, the reverse test which shows just how pervasive men are in the culture. I can only think of a few examples of movies which fail the reverse test and they’re mostly “degenerate solutions”:
    1. The Triplets of Belleville, which passes because it is almost all silent. It does have mostly female main characters including older women rescuing a young man, but there are several “strong” male characters who do interact, just not verbally.
    2. Life of Mammals and other David Attenborough nature films. The only human of any gender to speak is Attenborough, so they also technically fail.

    That’s about it for films I have seen/can remember.

    Other forms of entertainment, even less so. I can’t think of a single cartoon that fails. Not even Bechdel’s work and she specifically was trying to exclude men from her work to force people to identify with her female characters. Hereville passes. Others…I can’t think of any immediately.

    There are plenty of films, books, etc which show men in belittling ways or insulting ways or just treat them as secondary. But I can’t really think of any that simply ignore the existence of men the way that the existence of women (other than the occasional token) is ignored in mainstream media.

  13. 13
    Silenced is Foo says:

    I agree that these tests are appropriate for a body of work rather than an individual piece.

    For example, do Frank Miller’s works, in general, pass the Bechdel test? How about the Oprah Book Club?

    Applying it to TV channels would be another good example – what proportion of Fox programs pass the Bechdel/reverse-Bechdel/black-Bechdel/white-Bechdel etc tests? NBC? Lifetime? ESPN?

    @Daran

    I would say movies are both worse and better for women. They’re better in that there are more women in leading roles… but they’re worse in that most of those roles are very traditional gender roles.

    However, it’s important to remember that those movies – the glut of rom-com and drama films with feminine leads – are aimed at women.

  14. 14
    FungiFromYuggoth says:

    I think the reverse Bechdel test has merit, for the reasons mentioned by other commenters. I did want to emphasize – the reverse Bechdel test has nothing to do with sexism against men. Failing the reverse Bechdel test doesn’t say anything bad about a creative work.

    Some works fail the Bechdel test for good reason – the Shawshank redemption, as you mentioned, but there are other real-life gender-segregated situations. In a balanced world, just as many works would fail the reverse Bechdel test for artistic reasons. The Bechdel test quickly, clearly and obviously highlights that this is not the case, which is why I think it’s such a brilliant epiphany generator.

    The one case that I’m aware of where a film attempted to fail the reverse Bechdel intentionally for artistic reasons was Silent Hill. The studio refused to accept the script until men, and a subplot where men talk to each other, were added. The reverse Bechdel test gives us a way to talk about that, and it’s a way that highlights the disparity.

  15. 15
    ballgame says:

    As an initial matter, could I ask that, for the avoidance of the inevitable confusion, the phrase “reverse Bechdel test” be confined to the literal reversal, as defined by Jeff. We could talk about “Bechdel-like tests for men”, instead, and coin individual names for any we deem to be meritous.

    Agreed, Daran. This particular test could be dubbed the RMV test (Respecting Male Victims test), with the flip side being the RFV test.

    Although I’ve had thoughts along the same lines, I like your formulation though I’d add “, horrible, or shocking” to “tragic”. I’d extend it to males of all ages, and in order to increase its sensitivity, …

    OK, good points.

    … I would also add a proviso that only violence against males is so depicted.

    Hmmm. I have a few misgivings here — part of me would like to say something like “and the victims of said violence are only or overwhelmingly male” — but I can understand the advantages of making it a more black and white test like the Bechdel test. Confining the test to “characters” or “named characters” mitigates part of the problem I’m thinking of, but then movies which depict the slaughter of large numbers of nameless males (i.e. armies or gangs) could then conceivably pass the RMV test, which seems wrong. Alternately, not limiting the test to “characters” but using the qualifier “only male”, a movie which shows hundreds of nameless men and a handful of nameless women being gunned down would then pass the RMV test, which also seems wrong. However, for clarity and simplicity, I’ll go along with the “only male characters” proviso.

    A work fails the Respecting Male Victims (RMV) test if it shows a male character being subject to violence which in real-life would either hospitalise or kill him, and that violence is depicted as either a) not particularly tragic, horrible, or shocking, or b) somehow the male’s own fault, and no act of violence against a female is shown meeting these criteria.

    Contrary to Ampersand’s assertion, it isn’t the case that almost no films pass the Bechdel test. Clearly many do. Rather the significance of the test is that many films fail, while almost none fail the reverse test. The same is true for the modified ballgame test. Many pass, but many fail while few fail the reverse test. (I cannot think of any.)

    The discrepancy is particularly stark, when you look at drama deemed suitable for children, where it is rare to see violence of any kind shown against women.

    I agree with you about the Bechdel test here. I was initially going to disagree somewhat about the RMV/RFV tests. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, there was a lot of casual violence against females. However, since you put the proviso in about “and no acts of violence against the other gender is shown meeting the criteria,” you’re right. It would be difficult for me to name a single story in which violence against females is depicted casually which does not also depict violence against males the same way.

    If there’s a weakness to the RMV/RFV tests, I think it would turn on the exact meaning of the phrase, “tragic, horrible, or shocking.” If an act of violence is depicted as “horrible” or “shocking” but also entertaining, the implications get quite a bit muddier. There have certainly been a subset of movies that play on the sexualization of violence against women, and it’s likely that a few of these have had no male victims (think of ones set in a female prison, for example). On a more mainstream level, James Bond is often depicted as being tortured in a rather lurid fashion, a depiction which is arguably intended to be both “shocking” and entertaining. If such a scene is intended to fail the RMV test, then the wording needs more clarification.

  16. 16
    Silenced is Foo says:

    I have a very simple approach for the “Violence Test” – if a movie that is not a black-comedy kills people for laughs (male or otherwise), it’s off my list. You’d be surprised how many action films do this, much less horror films. I always get squicked by Bond’s little sarcastic one-liners after a man dies a grizzly death.

    But that’s not really a good example of “discrimination” so much as a disgusting attitude on the part of film-makers. Just my personal pet peeve.

    Oddly enough, the one that has the most “egalitarian” approach to bloodbaths are slasher-films, which is arguably the genre of sci-fi/fantasy that is most marketed towards women… however, the attitudes there are even more disgusting, since instead of simply avoiding killing female characters, slasher films make it a point to kill people in ascending order of virtue – criminals go first, then sluts, then cynical comedic sidekicks, and the pure virgin heroines survive.

  17. 17
    chingona says:

    I would say movies are both worse and better for women. They’re better in that there are more women in leading roles… but they’re worse in that most of those roles are very traditional gender roles.

    My impression – and it’s only an impression because I haven’t really broken down a huge chunk of movies over the last 50 years – is the opposite – that more women are depicted in less traditional gender roles, but the characters are a lot flatter. Some of this is tied in, I think, to the decline of dialogue and story in movies in general, as well as the way audiences are broken down by marketing niche, as opposed to direct or intentional sexism. I also think some of it is tied with changes in the way sexism is expressed as women’s roles in society have shifted.

    Some people have referred to this already, but the Bechdel test gets at whether women are in the movie or show at all as actual characters, and not at all at whether there are problems with the way they’re depicted/roles they have/etc. So I think it’s useful to look at how both men and women are portrayed, but I think we shouldn’t lose sight of what the Bechdel test tells us, which is how often women just are invisible.

  18. 18
    Tara says:

    I think that even movies that don’t show violence against females in a casual way often use the threat of violence against women quite casually, even movies and television directed at children. So I think that test should call for no violence or threats of violence against women.

  19. 19
    ballgame says:

    But that’s not really a good example of “discrimination” so much as a disgusting attitude on the part of film-makers.

    I’m not sure exactly what “that’s” referring to, Silenced is Foo, but if it’s “the casual dispatch of males,” I’m not sure why that wouldn’t be a good example of anti-male sexism.

    Oddly enough, the one that has the most “egalitarian” approach to bloodbaths are slasher-films, which is arguably the genre of sci-fi/fantasy that is most marketed towards women…

    Slasher films are pitched more towards women than other sci-fi/fantasy movies? Really? (That’s a genuine “really?” not a sarcastic “really?”) Given their tendency to sexualize violence against women, I would have thought they’d be more androcentric in their appeal, not less.

  20. 20
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Because usually, outside of slasher films, the “death for humor” characters are villains, and villains are generally male… particularly their flunkies. This may be sexist, but either way it’s a sensible reflection of the real world – most of the big villains of the real world turn out to be male, and their troops are too if they have any.

    Well, I mean in comparison to most sci-fi/fantasy films, which are (or were, before Harry Potter) overwhelmingly male in audience.

    I once read an article about the way that women view horror films (particularly young women) but the Googles fail me. Closest I could find was this.

    http://axwoundzine.com/gwehg.htm

    and this

    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20293304,00.html

  21. 21
    Meowser says:

    Okay, I have a silly question. Does “something other than a man” refer to any man at all — e.g. a cop, a teacher, a father, a boss — or does it specifically refer to a man one of the characters is involved with or attracted to? I’d always been under the impression it was the latter. If I’m wrong, though, that definitely narrows the number of films (or anything else) that qualify under any form of “Bechdel” test.

  22. 22
    Tanglethis says:

    Meowser, I don’t think that’s a silly question, but I think you could take the extreme version (do two women talk about something other than any man?) and still have it be a useful measure. For the same reason that there need to be two female characters speaking to each other at all: does this movie depict female relationships and female characters discussing their own lives, for example? “Their own lives” will occasionally include major male characters and minor characters (cops, teachers, etc.), of course, but is that true to the exclusion of all else?
    Or: are all of the minor characters discussed (cops, teachers, etc.) played by men?

    To me, all of these questions lead to a larger one: is this a film imagined as a world for men in which women just happen to live, or is it imagined as a world in which women exist in their own right? (As many commentors pointed out above, this test is not going to be failsafe for individual movies. . . this is just my personal take.)

  23. 23
    Stephen Frug says:

    if you try to apply the Bechdel test in a substantive way, versus the “loophole” way people often apply it — for example, saying a movie passes because of one ten-second scene.

    I agree the non-loophole version is more substantive (although the commentator above’s point that the loophole version is more objective is well taken). But it’s worth noting, just in passing, that the original cartoon specifically invokes a pretty loopholey scene — two women talking to each other about the alien in Alien. (Not that this should control our usage, of course.)

    For that matter, while I agree even more strongly with the idea that the rule is useful as an aggregate cultural critique rather than an evaluative tool for specific works, the original cartoon also specifically makes it evaluative insofar as the character refuses to see any movie which fails. (Of course, it was being funny.) (And, again, this doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t change it.)

  24. 24
    Severe says:

    It’s a couple years after this conversation took place, but the new cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has portrayed should-be-deadly violence against female characters as a laughing matter a few times, but never for males. It would technically pass the “Respecting Male Victims” test, but not “Respecting Female Victims.”

  25. 25
    Ella says:

    For comics there’s the dead women in refrigerators and dead men defrosting lists which are both rather interesting. In short women tend to be casually killed to move the plot forward in helping a male hero, whereas when men die they tend to come back stronger somehow. Of course this isn’t a hard rule on all male and female characters, but it is interesting in relation to RMV and RFV.

    http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/women.html
    http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/r-jbartol2.html

  26. 26
    mythago says:

    And again, tests about violence against either gender (or both) kinda miss the point of the Bechdel Test. Certainly those things are worth discussing, and certainly the cardboard roles assigned to men are sexist, too, but that’s not really this particular discussion.

    In the original strip from which the test came, the punchline is that the woman who abides by the test (refusing to watch any movie that fails) almost never goes to the movies. It’s an observation about how incredibly male-centric the movie industry is, where it just doesn’t occur to anyone that female characters can appear in a role other than as a romantic accessory, or that they might think or talk about things other than men.

    The fact that it is such a laughably low bar, as someone has already noted, is entirely the point. If you put in a scene where the hero walks two bored security guards jawing at each other about one of them having a vacation upcoming, it passes. If the science teacher in the protagonist’s class calls on a bored student to do a problem at the board and they argue about “do I hafta?”, it passes. If we pan by a scene where two women at a market are haggling over the price of a bolt of cloth, it passes. But so many movies simply can’t fathom even that much: one speaking part is a girl and she’s the girlfriend.

    A Reverse Bechdel Test would be: does the movie have two male characters who talk about something other than the female romantic character?

  27. 27
    Schala says:

    A Reverse Bechdel Test would be: does the movie have two male characters who talk about something other than the female romantic character?

    I’d say usually the plot, but not always their life.

    The movie Speed has the two police officers (including Keanu) speak about their life and stuff while doing their work securing the elevator in the beginning. After that, I can’t remember any scene with Keanu that has anything to do about non-plot-related stuff.

    On the other hand, The Bicentennial Man is over one hour of reverse Beschdel dialogue (if you consider Robin as a man in it), but given how centered the movie is on Robin himself, and since he’s not female, it doesn’t pass the Beschdel test I think, maybe the last conversation of the movie at best. If Robin had been female, it would pass the test, because he has meaningful conversations about non-male love interest stuff with the two female characters he likes.

  28. 28
    Phil says:

    Certainly those things are worth discussing, and certainly the cardboard roles assigned to men are sexist, too, but that’s not really this particular discussion.

    I think perhaps because this thread was resurrected, you’ve confused it with a different thread about the Bechdel test. The OP talked about violence against men, and was explicitly not soliciting a reverse of the Bechdel test in which the genders of the original Bechdel test are reversed.

    That said, I watched many episodes of “Supernatural” this weekend, and was struck by the frequent use of violence against men; violence that in reality would land you in a hospital. The most common violation in all of Western cinema and television would be, I think, a blow to the head which knocks a character unconscious. That’s a really dangerous thing to do to a person, and it happens with unbelievable frequency in movies, television, video games, etc.

  29. 29
    Frank W says:

    I think part of what makes the Bechdel test so effective is its simplicity. It sets the bar very low and yet so many films fail it. An equivalent test for men should be just as simple, I think, and a way to measure the value a film places on men’s lives compared with women’s would be a good basis for a test.

    I’d suggest: Unnamed movie-going comic-book man refuses to watch films in which:

    1) A man dies
    2) Nobody cries about it
    unless
    3) A woman also dies and nobody cries about it

    Now this comic book character, unlike the woman in the Bechdel’s 1985 comic, would doubtless still have a huge selection of films to watch, because not many films actually feature much death or violence at all. So this test doesn’t appear as damning as the Bechdel test. However, I doubt anyone, given the choice, would choose to be casually killed instead of not having their dialogue be considered meaningful. Death is usually considered worse than being ignored. So, with an appropriate inverse test for proper statistical comparison, the no-mourning test could still make a damning point.

    Because usually, outside of slasher films, the “death for humor” characters are villains, and villains are generally male… particularly their flunkies. This may be sexist, but either way it’s a sensible reflection of the real world – most of the big villains of the real world turn out to be male, and their troops are too if they have any.

    I think this is an important point, and a similar point might be made about the Bechdel test. It’s true that men are more likely to kill and be killed in the real world. But conversely, whether this is because they are socially conditioned to or because of something innate, men are also more likely to be risk takers, and, dare I say it, do more interesting things. There are plenty of films with strong female leads doing interesting things, and the ratio of interesting women in films vs interesting women in real life might be just the same as the ratio of interesting men in films vs interesting men in real life. It would be neat if someone came up with a way of measuring these four values, but the Bechdel test only claims to measure one (and is inadequate at even that) and so misses the big picture.

  30. 30
    Andrew Thomson says:

    A reverse or male Bechdel would be a helpful and important statistic to gather, not because men are somehow underrepresente, that’s a ludicrous notion, no serious person believes that.

    However, the whole point of applying the Bechdel test statistically is to look at the whole of cinema and it’s underrepresentation of women in their full humanity. (As opposed to women as functional interactors or as objectified by their relationships with men)

    As has been pointed out so many times a movie can be sexist misogynist propoganda and still technically pass the test, just as not all movies that fail are in fact biased. What the test points out so well is the overall trend of portraying women as dependent appendages or objects to interact with, rather than as full independent human beings to identify with.

    In my opinion the Bechdel test is one partial criteria to take into account in analyzing for potential gender bias in an individual work, but it is much more useful as a measure of the culture as a whole as it includes male centricism in the same group as misogyny when they are not the same thing. It can tell us the most about our culture if we have a reverse version of the statistic to compare it to. By knowing how many (presumably approximately zero) movies fail the reverse Bechdel we would learn just how biased the culture is.

    If we only look at female underrepresentation in isolation, it can be dismissed as unrepresentative. When compared to the laugably nonexistent underrepresentation of men, the big picture is brought into sharp focus, even for the large portion of the poulatin who are undereducated about feminism, bias, and real world statistics.

    To a spohisticated user base here it may seem silly and obvious, but the briefest review of popular media, “fair and balanced news”, talk radio, and almost half the elected repesentatives in this country and their war on women which only they fail to see, it is undeniable that a large number of our fellow citizens and their leaders think feminism has gone too far (ha!) and that men are now the oppressed gender who must reassert their dominance to return women to their former subservient roles. This insanely misogynist view is extremely widespread, even among some misguided women, inc,uding in congress.

    So if there ever were a thorough study of Becdel statistics, a reverse gender comparison would be an essential educational tool.

  31. 31
    teb says:

    Concur with No Account Cowboy and Andrew that the reverse Bechdel test would be an important control. Otherwise one could argue that we’re in simply in a love/sex-obsessed culture. There are probably movies that would fail both the Bechdel test and the reverse Bechdel test simply because they are totally romance centered.