Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Does the Bechdal Test Work for TV?

The other day our members had a heated discussion about the Bechdal test–Does it work for TV?

Originally created to judge the lack of good female characters in movies, the test asks 3 questions:
  1. Are there two female characters?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk about something other than a man?
To pass, the answer to all three must be yes.

Naturally given the nature of our membership, long and involved discussion ensued. Weighty issues were thoroughly considered and consensus was finally reached.

Our conclusion:

  1. The Bechdal Test can only be applied to the entire run of a TV show, not individual episodes.
  2. It is not a good test because a character's role is more than just dialog with another woman. Given the time constraints of fixed length episodes, there is rarely time for conversation that doesn't drive the plot forward in dramas. In comedies the conversation often is the point.

We reached these conclusions by testing a variety of popular shows from the past.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Naturally this was the first show we discussed. It passes the test and has great women role models.

Xena, Warrior Princess Ditto.

Dr. Who Rarely do two women talk to each other in this show. Donna and her mother were great exceptions. Leela didn't talk much at all, but she was certainly a strong female character.

Battlestar Gallactica Starbuck. Need we say more? Who cares about conversations when there's a character like her in the show.

Supernatural The show is about two guys. Any other character, male or female, is subservient to that. Yet the show has given us Charlie Bradbury, Jody Mills, Ellen & Jo Harvelle, Mary Winchester, Abbadon, and lots of other string female characters.

Ghost Whisperer Two female characters often talk about things other than men, though the husband and son tend to come up frequently in their conversations. Not every woman is a babe in it.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Clearly this show flunks since there's rarely two females in an episode.

Another Period Lots of women talking about lots of things, so it passes the test and provides employment to many actresses.

The Beverly Hillbillies Grannie and Elly Mae had lots of conversations that weren't about men, covering topics like possum stew and animals in the cement pond. Elly Mae was the sweet but idiotic eye candy, but completely independent and not looking for a man. Miss Hathaway was a hilarious stereotypical successful but man hungry professional working woman. Granny was the matriarch who everyone deferred to, though they didn't always obey. Were these women good role models? We decided they might well be because they were always themselves and no one demanded they change.

Green Acres Lisa Douglas often talked to Mrs. Ziffel and the lady plumber/contractor, and they rarely talked about men (though Arnold was a male pig). Lisa's conversations with her mother-in-law were almost always about Oliver though. Can't say this show had any meaningful roles for women, though everyone in it accepted everybody else for who they were, quirks and all.

Bewitched Samantha and her Mom always talked about Darren. This show didn't have meaningful roles for women since Sam had to change to fit her husband's ideas of a good wife.

The X-Files Dana Sculley talks to all kinds of women about all kinds of things, so it passes the Bechdel test. Plus she's on heck of a female role model.

Wonder Woman Diana Prince/WW talks to a variety of women (my personal favorites are the German agents in the first season). They rarely talk about men.

Hazel (Does anyone remember that show? It's on reruns here.) The maid talks to women about all kinds of things, rarely about men.

The A Team The lady newspaper reporter often talked to women clients, and it was usually about how the team could help. Or two women clients talked about their problem, usually caused by men. Does this count? This show flunks. But who cares–it's too fun to watch.

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