Is there more than one woman in the film?

The Bechdel Test

Colin Stokes shows us how we perceive each other

UPDATE: September 17. 2014

Alison Bechdel has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for her contribution to the evolving way society considers gender roles in film. Here is her comic and more information on her award.

So, this has been bothering me since I first heard it. This father of young children points out another plain-as-day thing that, like so many other truths, is hidden in plain sight. As I read more and more scripts, watch more and more films, I see how startlingly valid “The Bechdel Test” is: there is usually only one woman in a film, even if she’s the lead. If there is another, she is likely the victim of a crime in need of rescue or avenging. Almost never do two women speak and when they do, it really does seem to often be about men.

Further, women in scripts seem to always be introduced with some small variation of “Zoe, 25, stunningly beautiful” or “Lisa, 25, attractive, wearing a blah blah blah” (I’m not even going to delve into the only other available option for the role of a non-penised person in entertainment: the nagging crone). Forget for a moment that the scope of perception is impossibly narrow and consider that it is far less common to read, “Zachary, 43, handsome,” or “Burton, 19, attractive wearing a blah blah blah”. Men seem to be introduced, you know, properly with telling details about their character whereas women are uniformly “attractive”. But hey, don’t we all love spending time reading a screenplay where the parts can be played by stick figures either wearing a triangle skirt or not?

Top of the Lake by Jane Campion

"Top of the Lake" written and directed by Jane Campion available through the Sundance Channel

Which is why I spent a rapturous weekend enveloped by the genius of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake. Thank you BBC for supporting the kind of artistry that is life-changing, awe-inspiring, and so incredibly different that it has painted the ordinary fodder in a stark light. My ode to this work cannot be sung loudly enough. I am fueled by this to work towards bringing more vivid portrayals of female people to the screen. It’s entertainment so I’m not striving for reality, just equality in the fakery. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, should it?


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