Passing the Test: How the Bechdel Test Makes Me a Better Writer

Full disclosure, for anyone who doesn't know. I am a straight, cisgender, caucasian male. And because of that, I am literally dripping with privilege. So much so that it is painfully easy to respond in a privileged matter on any number of subjects without thinking.

Which is why I'm trying to think more. There are tools out there that help with the thinking process, and one of those is the Bechdel Test.

Have you heard of it?

It originated in a 1985 comic strip called DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR by Alison Bechdel. The strip in question features two women discussing the three rules they use to decide which films to go and see.

  1. It has to feature at least two women
  2. These women have to speak to each other
  3. When they speak, it can't be about a man

Pretty simple, right? Or at least it should be. When you actually do the research, it is depressing how many films fail. 

Don't take my word for it. BechdelTest.com keeps track so you can go see for yourself.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

THE AVENGERS

JAWS

CASABLANCA

All good movies, in my humble opinion, but they all fail the test. And that's just a drop in the bucket.

Now, to be clear, the Bechdel Test isn't something you can use necessarily to determine the quality of a film. Even if it doesn't pass the test, you can still have a fantastic movie. But it's problematic, is it not?

Women make up 50% of the population. Why is it so hard to include them in film?

It shouldn't be. But privilege can blind you. I've experienced it first hand. While I'm not a filmmaker, I am a writer, and I've found that far too often when coming up with a new character I will make them a straight white male.

Or at least, I used to. I'm nowhere near perfect, and I probably never will be. Since learning about the Bechdel Test, though, I've given character creation more thought. Many more are now female, non-straight, non-white, non-cis. I try to mix it up as much as I can. My characters now no longer look just like me.

If you've seen me, you know that can only be a good thing. 

On a serious note, it's just about realism. Walk down the street, look around, and see what the world looks like. Unless you live in some sort of compound, you're going to see men and women of different backgrounds, ethnicities and styles. That's normal. That's the way the world actually is.

Your writing will only benefit from making it match the real world. So write some female characters, okay? Get on it.

-CXM