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Recently, four cinema companies in Sweden announced their intention to use the Bechdel test to rate the films aired in their cinemas. The Bechdel test is a rating that means films are evaluated according to their gender bias. In order to be given an A rating, a film needs to have a conversation between two named female characters about a topic that does not concern men.
Now, I’m all for gender equality, but even for me this is a bit ridiculous. The Bechdel test rules out so many iconic films that to rate a movie based on gender bias is to alienate the Swedish audience from some of the best films created; Pulp Fiction, Avatar to name a couple. Take the Harry Potter films, for example. According to the Bechdel test, all bar one of these films would fail the test and would not be given an A rating. That’s pretty much the equivalent of the Oscars refusing to honour the franchise with one of its awards – which was a scandal if ever there was one.
Do we really need to be told whether a film contains a conversation between two female characters that isn’t about men? I’m pretty sure the majority of us would argue that Harry Potter is fairly low on the scale of sexist films and on the scale of the under-representation of women in blockbuster movies, if it even gets onto the scale at all. Next we’ll be receiving warnings telling us ‘this film contains gender bias’ in conjunction with ‘this film contains scenes of a sexual nature.’
The point is that we won’t use the Bechdel test for a good reason – it’s complete rubbish. We don’t go to the cinema for the purpose of assessing whether a movie is purporting patriarchal relationships in society; we go to the cinema to have fun and to be entertained. Needless to say that not every single film we see will be brilliant, but nonetheless we’re still paying money to have a good time. Would any but the staunch feminist be put off by a rating that indicates a film may be under-representative of women?
Even feminist films themselves may not actually pass the test. Donald Clarke pointed out that Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, “one of the most important feminist pictures,” actually fails the Bechdel test. Even Gravity, a new film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, fails the test despite revolving around a headstrong young woman. It may be true that women are under-represented in Hollywood, but will a rating telling us this fact actually change anything in the industry? I would argue not. It’s the same principle of films becoming ever more sexual and violent; just because a film carries a rating telling us this fact, it won’t actually stop Hollywood directors filling their movies with such scenes.
It’s almost as if the powers that be in Sweden have decided that we’re suddenly incapable of spotting sexism and the under-representation of women when it’s plonked in front of us with the million-dollar special effects that blockbusters have these days. Surely if a film really were that sexist, to the point where it becomes offensive, we’re all gender-bias aware enough to be able to spot it ourselves and to raise the issue ourselves. Sexism in the Harry Potter films has never been a problem before the Bechdel test, so surely it can’t be that much of an issue in the grand scheme of the fight for gender equality.
It’s simply an issue of insignificance when it comes to the Bechdel test. A film shouldn’t be advertised as poor or unworthy purely because of a lack of female conversation not about men. Films should be assessed on the merit of their plot and the actors’ performances as opposed to the gender bias apparent in them. We’re quite capable of realising sexism for ourselves, and if a film doesn’t prioritise an all-female, man-excluding plot, then it’s not the end of the world for gender equality.