Posted by: rkomornik | January 28, 2016

The Bechdel Test

Going off of many class discussion on the influence of media, I wanted to do some research on female leaders in media. There is a test know as the Bechdel test, and its function is to pass or fail a movie based on its portrayal of women. To pass a film must have at least two named female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man. It’s quite shocking to learn just how many films fail this simple test every year. It’s even more shocking to learn the correlation between women in leadership roles and passing the test.  With at least one woman writer the percent of failure drops from 46 to 17 percent. It only goes up from there, with 2 female writers the percent is lowered to only 11 percent. The influence of a women in that position of power is clear, a more accurate portrayal of women. The trouble is that women face incredible push back from getting to these positions of power. Currently there are not enough women directors, producers, and writers. It is certainly a move in the right direction for no movies having to fail such a simple test.

Bechdel Test

Beyond just having a conversation about literally anything other than a man, there is also a representation problem. Even for movies that technically pass the test, women are still being cast as stereotypical roles. Media shapes so much of our ways of thinking, these types of representations are perpetuating the stereotypes even further. If there are no role model scientist females in movies, who do little impressionable girls look up to? If you are brought up on mainstream media, this is all you know. Both young boys and girls should be able to see their gender doing anything they want in movies. Why limit what a group can do in a field where anything can happen? The presence of female leaders in this field has such a rippling effect, changing perceptions and chipping away at that glass ceiling.

FiveThirtyEight Graph on Women in the Workplace (On Screen)


  1. What an interesting test! This is incredibly eye opening. I agree with you that the media has a large amount of control over the stereotypes we hold, and the norms we accept in our society. For our generation more than ever, we rely on the media to shape our thoughts. If we do not see women acting in a wide variety of roles that are outside of the traditional roles expected of women, or we do not see a large percentage of women even present in the media acting outside of their stereotypical expectations, we will never be able to shift the gender roles and expectations. I believe this could relate to the idea of having a quota. While I do not support the thought of having quotas, that is one positive. As you put more women in those roles, their very visibility may start to shift society’s view of women in various roles, and make them more comfortable with women in leadership positions. While I don’t think we can create a quota in actual leadership positions, the idea of doing it through media and film is somewhat appealing, and could have an impact on the way we think and what we acknowledge as normal.

  2. Although I was already very aware of the fact that we had fewer women in director roles in the Hollywood arena, I had never seen data linking gender to the gender type cast in shows and movies. That was extremely eye opening. I want to applaud you for not only introducing me (and probably other class mates) to the Bechdel Test, but also for the use of charts and graphs in your explanation. I think, too often people become disinterested in the topic of women and leadership because they feel that the research/available data on it is less comprehensible. Mostly this is due to the way it is presented (i.e. in paragraph form). I think the use of graphs makes the gap in jobs between genders, even if fictional, more visible. With that, the inequality of representation in occupation, which many think is much narrower than it is, if not nonexistent, obvious and notable.
    As you noted, media plays a huge part in control over stereotypes we assign to genders. Those norms are reinforced by what we see in the media because media in any form (TV, newspaper, magazine, radio) is the most current way of gathering information that we may internalize as relevant to us in this technological day and time. Tying this back to my excitement over the graphs and charts…I assume you didn’t make these yourself. You probably found it using some type of medium (the internet), which is a form of media. My point is, there is information out there on how women are unequally represented in this society, the media helps us find that information. Our job is to get the word out. The first step to that is even realizing that there is an issue and becoming more informed on the topic. The next step is sharing that information with anyone that will listen. Hopefully those listeners will share and eventually a snowball effect will start and a revolution will begin.
    The leadership piece here is realizing the need for inequality vocalizers. Preferably, both sexes would sponsor making choiced discussion on how to lessen the gap of inequality. But likely, women will have to be the ones to stand up for what we want. And it makes sense. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? So share your stories of inequality and kick start a discussion on how to create positive gendered change, especially in the realm of women and leadership.

    Again thanks for sharing. graphics rock. so do you.

  3. I have never heard the Bechdel Test, but I am fascinated by it. The analyzation of female conversation within a movie is not something I have ever carefully listened to, other than to understand the movies plot better. To be honest it is something I have always looked past. The fact that 46% of movies fail which are written by all males is stunning, and the fact that the percentage is lowered by 29% with the addition of at least one female writer is shocking as well. Although the percentage of movies failed is still 17% with one female as a writer, it is still a large jump from the 46% of movies failed with solely male writers, which means that the addition of just one female truly does make a difference in the portrayal of women in movies. If we can just increase the ratio of women to men within film production (and in all aspects of life), then a positive change will be made for sure. It’s just a matter of getting to that point which is an uphill battle. I am so interested by the graph of “The Glass Ceiling is very much Intact on Screen” and the numbers of women who played each profession within movies. Seeing that “Soldier” only had 3 women portraying the role was something shocking that I had never thought about. I have several female friends who are a part of the ROTC program at CNU and other schools, as well as many actively enrolled as well. Women should be equality represented in all aspects of life, as well as in movies. To see the representation of nurses and secretaries played by women so high, and engineers and officers so low is just another example of society conforming to the gender norms that we have always been taught to follow. We need to have more women become involved with film writing, that way there can be more of an even distribution with the results of the Bechdel Test, and in the results of the gender of movie character professions. Thank you so much for sharing this, I will keep my eye out and pass or fail movies based on the Bechdel Test that I watch now!

  4. I had a friend talk about this test when Star Wars first cam out. My friend was very excited that the movie passed the test. Rey and Leia’s roles in the movie is what let the film pass the test. I have noticed that more and more female roles in movies are being portrayed as strong characters. Even TV shows are starting to have female leading roles but are also starting to put female characters in executive positions within the show. For example the Captain in the crime show Castle is a woman and the show Fringe has a woman as the executive director of a company. Sadly these shows are not directed toward children so young girls do not see women in high positions in this form of media. Kim Possible’s mother was a scientist and Kim Possible was the lead in the tv show, but I have not seen many shows directed towards children with a female lead or a female lead with a higher position in a company. The media is changing slowly and I am sure there will be more shows like Kim Possible in the future.

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