How We Move Beyond the Bechdel Test

December 3rd, 2019

Over the past 12 months, I’ve offered several modest calls to action we can undertake in our daily lives to pave the path for a more gender-friendly future. However, these are but mere baby steps and by no means sufficient to overcome the broad scale social injustice that poisons not only our film culture but our human culture at large.

As such, let me conclude my first Beyond the Bechdel unit by highlighting one additional shortcoming of the Bechdel Test—the most pervasive offender of them all: the absence of participation—and accountability—of men.

The Bechdel Test puts the onus of fair gender representation on cinematic portrayals of females, wholly ignoring the significance of male representation (both on and off the screen).

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, ““The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Yet here in 2019 we continue to see, ad nauseum, male characters who are lionized for bad and gratuitously aggressive behavior such as in BRIGHTBURN, a movie that suggests a physically threatening male without a conscience is both A) impervious to opposition and B) a superhero (doesn’t bode well for the next election – shudder).

We also continue to see the same played out, white male directors handed boatloads of cash to make multi-million dollar self-aggrandizing sausage orgies of violence in which women have  little to no value or agency (cough Tarantino, Scorsese cough, cough), while only a wee handful of women and minorities are so fortunate as to be offered meager support for female-driven films  (provided they fall within a painfully narrow scope of female-appropriate subject matter.)

Lamentably, I have no viable solution to overcome the structural violence of our society that perpetuates these problems save for those previously mentioned collective baby steps and raising our young to be more woke than our elders. With these efforts perhaps we’ll live to see a better tomorrow.

But what about today? How do we get by? How can we take this bullshit by the horns?

I’m reminded of how my partner and I learned to communicate with our rescue dog when we first brought her home. She was not yet housebroken and very confused by our household policies, so we rewarded all her good behavior with praise and love and currency (i.e. salmon treats), and we punished bad behavior with a firm declaration of “no!” thereafter withholding affection for a few minutes.

Perhaps we might employ similar tactics with males, and others, who perpetuate this bad behavior. For example, let’s not pay money to see another sexist film. Let’s not even mention it unless specifically asked, and then be sure to voice our reasonable reasons for witholding our support. If we deny supporting the perpetrators of bad behavior long enough, they’ll be forced to change their ways or eventually stop getting funded and go away. Win-win if you ask me.

Okay, that’s it for me for 2019. In the coming months I shall return with a review of what I consider the most feminist-friendly films of 2019 (and welcome all suggestions—I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch.) I will also launch into my second unit, all about Rom-Coms. And we’ll be featuring guest writers and interviews with feminist folks in film to broaden BTB’s perspective.

In the meantime, happy holidays and here’s hoping 2020 brings the clarity of vision its name implies.






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