Welcome to Beyond the Bechdel

November 12th, 2018

As you probably know, the BECHDEL TEST hails from a gag from DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR, a 1980s underground comic strip by CERTIFIED GENIUS, ALISON BECHDEL. It unfolds when two women pass by a movie marquee and one asks the other if she wants to catch a flick. The friend declines with the following qualification:

“I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements. One, it has to have at least two women in it who, two, talk to each other about, three, something besides a man.”

She concludes that the last movie she was able to see was ALIEN [1979].

To reiterate, this idea came from a comic strip, that’s C-O-M-I-C, meaning it was intended to be funny. Yet, since then it’s evolved (devolved?) from a witty exaggeration into a cinematic aspiration. And why? Because so many contemporary Hollywood films fail this absurdly deficient litmus test. And when the occasional anomaly does manage to hurdle this ridiculously low-hanging bar, some people have the poor taste to call that “progress.”

How did this happen?

Well, much of this mess can be attributed to—go figure—the 1980s, shortly after the aforementioned Alien was released. The film production company AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES implemented a promotional strategy they referred to as “THE PETER PAN SYNDROME,” which is arguably, evidenced by the bulk of mainstream Hollywood fare today, still afflicting the film industry. The logic went as follows:

  1. a) A younger child will watch anything an older child will watch.
    b) An older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch.
    c) A girl will watch anything a boy will watch.
    d) A boy will not watch anything a girl will watch.

As such, the powers-that-be determined that, in order to capture the largest audience, they must target their films to 19-year old males.

Well, we think—and hope you do too—that this kind of myopic marketing sucks. Do we really want the whims of 19-year-old boys (and presumably straight, white, bourgeois ones at that) dictating our cinematic options? A quick look at the box office numbers for, say, the latest POWER RANGERS FLOP suggests not—and that’s a good thing.

Let there be vexation without representation!

Let us not aspire to merely pass the tragically comic Bechdel Test but rather to create quality movies that explore the broad range of human experienceS (note the emphasis on the plural). Given that over half the world population, not to mention over half the box-office paying audience, is female, it stands to reason these human experienceS should include women with actual names and voices, not to mention concerns beyond those solely revolving around men. To boot, these women should not all be straight, white, skinny, wrinkle-free and with perfect teeth and money to burn.

Honestly, Hollywood, is that too much to ask?

Well, that’s what we at Beyond the Bechdel are here to find out. We are not here to grandstand about politics, sexual or otherwise. Naturally, some social politics will inevitably enter the discourse given the topics we plan to explore, but as our URL name suggests, we’re here to grasp a better understanding of how we’ve arrived at this vexing juncture, and more importantly, how we can all finally move Beyond the Bechdel.

I’ll be back on Thursday with “The F Word (and why it’s not so bad).”

In the meantime, we strongly urge you to support ALISON BECHDEL, whose work reaches far behind the single comic strip for which her name’s now best known (her graphic novel FUN HOME and its musical stage adaption are especially inspired.)

Next up, the F Word (and why it’s not so bad)!





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