How Should We Measure Feminism in Films?
Start writing a post
Entertainment

How Should We Measure Feminism in Films?

(Because a simple test doesn't cut it)

463
How Should We Measure Feminism in Films?
Flickr

Recently, I went with a few friends to attend a screening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" at a nearby historic movie theater. While I was able to re-experience the excitement of the film for the first time in seven years, by the movie's end, my mind immediately evaluated the film. I wondered if "Raiders of the Lost Ark" had passed the the Bechdel-Wallace Test.

One of the most popular methods for assessing a film of how female characters are represented, the Bechdel-Wallace Test presents this set of criteria:

  1. The film must have at least two female characters with names.
  2. These two female characters must talk to each other.
  3. These two female characters must talk about something other than a man.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Sounds simple, right? Here's how "Raiders of the Lost Ark" stacks up against the rules:

  1. There are two female characters: Marion and Sallah's wife, Fayah. Both characters are named.
  2. Marion and Fayah only speak to one another for a very brief amount of time.
  3. Their conversation involves whether a stray monkey should be permitted to stay at the home of Fayah and Sallah.

As demonstrated by this assessment of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the film passes the Bechdel test, yet the representation of female characters described above appears to be weak. The question is: how fair is this assessment in achieving its goals?

The Bechdel Test—which went viral from a 1985 comic strip by feminist cartoonist Alison Bechdel—has faced a range of mixed reviews. Those who applaud the test as an effective method to evaluate films for feminism commend it for FINALLY calling attention to sexism in Hollywood. IMDB introduced an F-rating system to evaluate films based on the Bechdel Test and the presence of female film personnel (see here and here). Similarly, in Sweden, a number of cinemas employed the Bechdel Test to serve as a rating system for gender bias in films. Yet, despite its popularity, critics of the Bechdel-Wallace Test point out the holes in its criteria.

The most notable critic of the Bechdel-Wallace Test was a Tumblr user, chaila, who expressed her frustrations when a recent film—with a strong, heroic female protagonist at the helm—was tagged as a movie that was unable to meet the criteria. (Her account has since been deactivated.) This film was 2013's "Pacific Rim", and in her post, she argued that this method of feminist film evaluation should be reformed into a different formula.

Her reason? She expressed her frustration that a film such as "Pacific Rim", in which the female protagonist, Mako Mori (above), leads the narrative fails the Bechdel Test simply because she is the only female character in the film. Chaila also expressed disappointment that a film such as "Pacific Rim" can so easily be dismissed as “anti-feminist", while a film like "Thor" can pass the test in the beginning of the movie due to a brief scene in which two female characters, Jane and Darcy, discuss astrophysics.

After venting her frustrations online, chaila was hailed for pioneering a new set of criteria as an alternative to the ideas of the Bechdel Test: the Mako Mori test. The test is comprised of these set of rules:

  1. The film must have at least one female character with a name.
  2. At least one female character has her own narrative arc.
  3. The female character's narrative arc does not support a man's story in the film.
When using the Mako Mori test, movies that were once deemed “not feminist" for failing to meet the criteria are given some redemption. Of course, "Pacific Rim" could now be fairly evaluated. But with this test, other films such "Gravity" (2013), or even Marvel's "The Avengers" (2012) and the original "Stars Wars" trilogy (1977-1983) that involve just one female character who does not aim to serve male characters (but rather work beside them) seem to be better represented by Mako Mori's criteria.

Films that are not action and adventure-based, such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) or "Casablanca" (1942), that were once unable to fulfill Bechdel's rules also found a victory with the Mako Mori test. (Sadly, when reevaluated, 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" only satisfies the first of the three criteria.)

However, proponents of evaluating films for strong female representation should understand one thing—these tests should not be used as THE measure of how “feminist" a film is (or is not). SURE, these tests are a great way of measuring whether female characters are represented well in elements of a film such as story, dialogue, etc, and when evaluating films with both tests, there's less room for films to fall through the cracks. Yet, these tests do not present sufficient criteria to label films that fail as being “sexist". Instead these tests should be taken with a grain of salt; Alison Bechdel has even said this herself. The criteria of both tests, while generated for a noble cause, can be extremely subjective.


movie-screencaps.com

For one, while these tests attribute their criteria to feminist ideals and call out the lack of female representation in movies of recent decades, both tests do not seem to be based on actual feminist theories, especially those specifically geared to film.

Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey's “male gaze theory" is an example. Mulvey's theory suggests that since Hollywood is--and has been throughout its history--a business largely dominated by men in the roles of directors, producers, screenwriters, etc. Female characters are often portrayed through “their eyes", and as a result, are often depicted as objects of male desire.

This theory is largely referenced in describing sexist cinematography of female characters, (such as the above scene featuring Marion in "Raiders of the Lost Ark") but Mulvey goes onto explain that because many films, even those with female characters in the lead roles, women are forced to view films through a “male perspective."

However, neither the Bechdel or the Mako Mori test include criteria with the goal of evaluating the presence of the male gaze or male perspective in films. Similarly, it important to consider how the presence of male figures in the making of a film shaped how females were ultimately portrayed.

My advice? Use these tests as guidelines or “suggestions," not rules, to create your own criteria of what is important to you as a feminist AND a film consumer.

In my case, when reflecting on "Raiders of the Lost Ark", I found myself disappointed with Marion as a female lead. In introducing us to Marion, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" lead us to believe she was tough and could hold her own, but then she quickly became a “damsel in distress" trope. I would have preferred to see a character similar to Diana in this summer's (hopefully) game-changing "Wonder Woman": a female character who not only demonstrates strength on her own, but also played out to be a multidimensional character. As Diana fought Aries, her battles served a specific purpose: to fight for her principles.

To develop an idea of how to assess the media you consume for quality female representation, try developing a set of questions that reflect your views; one example could be “Do I want to see more female directors, producers, and screenwriters to better represent females in films?"

In addition to using these tests, make an effort to inform yourself on various studies in feminist film theories, criticism, and history; a great start would be reviewing the books and other works written by feminist film theorists and historians such as Laura Mulvey, Molly Haskell, and Jeanine Basinger (just to name a few). And then ask yourself: what does a “feminist film" mean to me?



Would you say that your favorite films reflect standards of feminism? Why or why not? Tweet me your thoughts @missjulia1207!

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
Rebecca Alvarez

Rebecca Alvarez is many things: founder, sexologist, CEO, mentor, and more — as a Latina businesswoman, each of her endeavors is grounded in the strong principles of inclusivity and diversity, especially in sexual health and wellness. Bloomi is the product of her all of her shared passions, and with it she has fostered a community of like-minded, passionate women.

Keep Reading... Show less

There is not a consistent standard for health education in the United States. There are a lot of variables that go into this — what state a student lives in, whether they go to a public or private school, and the district's funding and priorities. These variables can be argued for any subject, not just health class. But as we continue to grow as a society, hopefully bettering our education system along the way, it's crucial to consider this often-forgotten element of a child's schooling.

Keep Reading... Show less

In March, the whole country shut down. School was online, extra-curriculars were canceled, and I found myself laying in bed all day every day. One day, as I was laying in bed contemplating my laziness, I decided that I wanted to do something to make myself more healthy. I was feeling so down on myself and my laziness so I decided to make a change.

Keep Reading... Show less
Entertainment

10 Songs That Made It Onto My September Playlist

September is the month for Los Angeles natives and Australian music fans.

2235

The Neighbourhood, Bad Suns and The Driver Era are three Los Angeles bands that released songs this month. Not only was it a month for Los Angeles bands, but many Australian bands released new music — San Cisco's fourth studio album, Surf Trash single, Skegss single, and High Tropics single. I made new discoveries this month and was pleased by the amount of new music.

Read the listicle below to learn what came out this month in alternative rock music:

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Staying Active While You're Stuck Inside IS Possible, It Just Takes Some Small Steps

I know the last thing you want to think about right now is exercising, but it's time to put down the controller and put on your workout clothes.

158

As someone who has also been living on a bed since March, I can guarantee you that working out has been the last thing on my priority list. It's pretty far down there, along with my motivation and brain cells I used to use for work. However, I have made an effort in the past couple of weeks to move up exercising to at least number three on my priorities list.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Got Clean At A Very Young Age, And It Honestly Saved My Life

At 18, the world looked so much different for me than it did for most other 18-year-olds that I knew.

380
Emmie Pombo

Going into rehab when I was 19 was hands down the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. My addiction started when I was around 17 and spiraled and spiraled out of control, as addictions always do. However, looking back, I'm so lucky my addiction started and ended when it did.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

7 Things Your Partner Can Do To Support You When You Have PCOS

Don't be afraid to ask for help or comfort if you need it.

12517

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may not be totally visible to the eye, which makes it a lot harder for your partner to understand what's going on with your body.

If you are in a relationship, it's important that you communicate your PCOS symptoms with your partner. I say "your" symptoms specifically because everyone's symptoms are different.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Watched 'The Social Dilemma' And YIKES, I'm Terrified For The Next Generation's Mental Health

Millennials can remember a time without online social affirmation, but we may be the last ones.

6652
The Social Dilemma / Netflix

I've been in a media job for the entirety of my professional career. From part-time social media internships to full-time editorial work, I've continued to learn how to tell stories, write catchy headlines, and keep people interested. I believe working in media is a big responsibility, as well as a valuable way to advance our world.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

One Indictment, Three Charges, And No Justice For Breonna Taylor

We can't settle for this decision or a system that is fundamentally broken and unequal.

19717

On March 13, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was fatally shot in her apartment by police who were executing a "no-knock" warrant. Since then, there have been rallying efforts both in the streets and on social media demanding justice for Taylor and keeping her name known.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments