Okay, so imagine there’s a doctor. She’s examining you, but in order to give you a diagnosis, she’s got to run some tests. So she gives you an X-Ray and a urine test
Of course, I’m sure some of you have seen urine test results before, and all of you have probably seen an X-Ray at some point
It’s not like the results will just say “Whoop, they have diabetes and a broken arm.” She has to read the urinalysis and come to the conclusion that “well, this person’s urine has ketones in it, which means their body isn’t producing the right amount of insulin, so I say that they have diabetes.”
And the X-Ray results don’t come with a post-it that’s like “this person has tested positive for broken arm.” She has to look at the test results, see the break in the bone, and say “your arm is broken.”
This is what a diagnosis is.
That being said, a “pass” or “fail” on the Bechdel test is not a diagnosis. They’re test results that mandate further analysis to reach the diagnosis. When you use the Bechdel test, you’re trying to figure out whether or not the women in the story have independent agency, whether their motivations and goals are their own, and whether they exist in their own right beyond how they relate to the male characters
But the Bechdel test doesn’t test that. The Bechdel test measures whether or not a film passes the Bechdel test. A film can fail and still have spectacularly rounded women who are completely their own agents in the story, and a film can indisputably pass and still treat the women like an extension of the men around them.
It’s a good thing to have in your head when you’re watching an individual movie, because it forces you to examine the roles of the lady characters, and from there you can see whether or not they are independent agents in the story. It’s good to have on a larger scale because it makes the disturbing trend of not having two women in a movie directly observable.
But the Bechdel test isn’t a diagnosis, and you shouldn’t treat it as one. It’s there to make you examine the roles of women in any given film. If you’re already doing that on your own metrics, then you don’t have to also include someone else’s metrics for measuring the same thing.
tl;dr: the Bechdel Test is a really good thing, but please don’t treat it like it’s a scientific principle and that a “pass” or “fail” inherently means anything other than a “pass” or “fail” on that specific measurement. Don’t expect it to do all the work for you, you have to still analyze the Bechdel test results once you’ve got them.
yes yes yes. The Bechdel Test was never meant to be a test “for feminism.” It comes from a very specific cultural context (i.e., lesbian subculture circa 1986), and was proposed as a “test” from within that culture, for that culture’s own purposes.
That feminists have found it useful in recent years is one thing, and I don’t really have a problem with feminists using it per se. But there’s something more than a little appropriative about all the square-peg-into-a-round-hole mashing that has been going on, trying to make it over into something it was never meant to be.
When she said, “I only go to see a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements,” she was speaking as a member of a community that orients itself around other women, a community in which a large proportion of your relationships and emotional investments are in other women. That was normal. In that comic, she is speaking about the alienation of going to a movie, and seeing very little of the norms of her own life and community reflected on the screen. Not only do these movies not have lesbians, they don’t even have women who talk to each other.
(Or in fandom terms: not only did these films not have lesbians — dear god, what we would have given for on-screen lesbians! — there wasn’t even the slightest hope of femslashing anyone.)
The Bechdel Test wasn’t for testing for the presence of strong, well-rounded female characters that drive the narrative. It was for testing whether certain primary traits of lesbian culture had any presence on the screen whatsoever.
It isn’t for straight feminists. It’s for lesbians. That’s why the Bechdel Test never seems to fit your needs right. It was never meant to.