Why the Bechdel Test Fails Feminism

04/27/2015 03:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

Think of your favorite movie.

Got it? Good. Keep it in mind while you read this.

My favorite movie is Get Smart, because I love anything with Steve Carell. Recently in one of my classes, a teacher asked us for our favorite movies, then determined, one by one, if they passed the Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Test -- created by Alison Bechdel in her 1985 comic, "Dykes to Watch Out For" -- is a well-known measurement of gender bias in movies.

The comic strip that popularized the test was titled "The Rule," and it says that to pass the test the movie must have three things.

  1. Two female characters (preferably named),
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something other than a man.

When I first learned about this test I scoffed, thinking, "There are plenty of movies that would pass that test." I thought about Get Smart, but realized soon enough that it doesn't pass the test. In fact, I don't think there is another female character besides Anne Hathaway.

I slowly realized, "Maybe there aren't that many movies that pass the test."

The Bechdel Test is more important than most of us realize and, in fact, it has launched a dialogue about not only the lack of females in movies, but also the racial disparities we often see in cinema.

The female characters in films are typically not substantial, especially compared to the male characters they "share" the screen with. The women are often portrayed as one-dimensional and male-dependent. They are "damsels in distress," desperate to be saved by -- yeah, you guessed it, a dude.

Frozen was popularly depicted as a feminist victory for Disney, and while it does pass the Bechdel Test -- it isn't quite the victory we were expecting. In an article entitled, "The problem with false feminism," blogger Dani Colman discussed why Frozen left her "cold."

"Just like every other Disney princess, Anna states what she wants very early on. She wants to find 'the one,'" Coleman said. "And, just like every other Disney princess, she gets exactly what she wants."

She goes on to say that it isn't surprising that Frozen passed the Bechdel Test considering its two main characters are female. In fact there are, many other Disney movies pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors.

And while the Bechdel Test is a good indication of equal gender representation within a movie, it doesn't mean that the movie receives an A+ from feminists overall. In fact, sometimes the Bechdel Test can be a misleading gauge of "feminism" in movies.


And it isn't just Frozen.

Recently, Disney was slammed when blogger Something Classy noticed that most female characters shared strikingly similar facial features, while the male characters were much more diverse.

The evidence is fairly damning.

The female characters all have the same big doe-eyes and cute little button nose. Look at Elsa and Anna below, notice a certain trend?

A photo posted by @everythingfrozen on

A photo posted by Tangled (@forevertangled) on

However, each male character has a very different face shape, with a myriad of eye shapes.

A photo posted by Disney Pixar (@disneypixar) on