Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Reverse Bechdel

Okay, so, you may or may not have heard of the Bechdel Test, which first appeared as a joke in Alison Bechdel's "Dykes to Watch Out For". A movie passes the Bechdel Test if all of the following happen.
  1. There are two or more named female characters
  2. Who at some point talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man
This has become a pretty popular measure amongst feminists and media critics because it's easily quantifiable, and when you think about it, it's stunning how many movies don't pass. Now it's no guarantee that a movie is good, or even a good portrayal of women if it does pass, nor is the reverse true if it fails. However, I think there's a lot to be taken from the measure in terms of the presence, importance, and agency assigned to female characters.

That said, not everybody agrees. The counter argument is that a movie is a tight form without a lot of room for superfluous information (which is fair and true), and all the characters who are not main characters will suffer for it in terms of characterization. That's where the Reverse Bechdel comes in. I polled my friends and acquaintances for movies that do not pass a reverse of the rules above, that is:
  1. at least two named male characters
  2. who talk to each other at some point
  3. about something other than a woman.
If the movie is about a woman and her relationships, will men occupy the same ancillary role? Will they have agency, interests, and relationships outside of their orbit around the main female character?

I figure it's the kind of question I can answer late at night if I come home and am too tired from work to write.

Here's our list of potentially reverse bechdel failing movies so far (please feel free to add in the comments if you have any more):
  1. Amelie
  2. Antonia's Line
  3. Beaches
  4. Bridesmaids
  5. Bridges of Madison County
  6. Boys on the Side
  7. Calendar Girls
  8. Coraline
  9. The Craft
  10. Death Becomes Her
  11. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood
  12. Driving Miss Daisy
  13. First Wives' Club
  14. For the Boys
  15. Fried Green Tomatoes
  16. Ginger Snaps
  17. Heathers
  18. Heartburn
  19. Julie and Julia
  20. League of Their Own
  21. Mean Girls
  22. Princess Mononoke
  23. The Ring
  24. Rose
  25. She-Devil
  26. Steel Magnolias
  27. Spirited Away
  28. Stepmom
  29. Sucker Punch
  30. Teeth
  31. Thelma and Louise
  32. Underworld
  33. Wall-E
  34. The Women
  35. Working Girl

We'll see how it shakes out.


  1. Can't think of one to add, but I'm pretty sure A League of Their Own actually passes. I remember at least one or two scenes between some of the male characters that aren't about a woman (unless you count the fact that the baseball league they're discussing is an all-female team).

  2. I'm still annoyed that I couldn't come up with another after Heathers. And I'm not even sure Heathers fails.

    I'd love it if Persepolis failed, but I don't think it does. I mean, it has God and the ghost of Karl Marx. And the voice of Iggy Pop! It's still a fun movie anyway.

  3. I'm pretty sure these all fail:

    The Runaways, The Ramen Girl, Whip It, Fishtank, The time traveller's wife, Doubt, Nights in Rodanthe, Sleeping Beauty, Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene

  4. I have some failures!

    Valley Girl
    Dolores Claiborne
    Easy A
    The Divorcee
    Stella Dallas
    Away From Her
    The Joy Luck Club
    Waiting To Exhale
    Terms of Endearment
    No Small Affair (may fail original Bechdel as well)
    Queen Christina (unless you count the scenes where John Gilbert thinks Greta Garbo is a man)
    9 1/2 Weeks (the whole thing is about sex)