Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Testing the Bechdel Test: Round Three

In earlier posts, several people expressed reservations when it comes to the Bechdel test—it’s not as great as people think. I say fair enough: it shouldn’t be. Though movies that fail the test don’t always suffer from a lack of awesome ladies, a movie that passes the test doesn’t guarantee spectacular female representation, either.

(Remember: to pass the test, a movie must have two [named] women, who talk, about something other than a man.)

Dubiously Satisfactory Female Portrayal, 

Passed Bechdel

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Labyrinth (source)


Sarah’s story revolves around correcting a big mistake—delivering her baby brother, Toby, into the hands of Jareth, the Goblin King—by traveling through a labyrinth. Labyrinth passes the test due to a couple conversations: first, with her stepmother about dating and babysitting, and second, when the Junk Lady (yes, that’s her name) tries to deter her from her quest with toys. However, both conversations’ validity are disputed.

Now, it’s kind of obvious that this movie isn’t much into girl power. Sarah’s greatest allies are all male puppets and the women she runs into are often her obstacles—beginning with her stepmother. Sarah and her stepmom don’t get along, and what’s more, most of their conversation is about boyfriends and Toby. Even if Toby is not yet a man, the conversation is male-centric. But why should the Junk Lady’s words be disputed if they are talking about toys, not people? Well, because within the movie’s greater context, Labyrinth is a romance.

It sounds creepy because David Bowie was almost forty when this came out, but it’s true. The reason Jareth takes Toby in the first place is because he is in love with Sarah (age 15). In fact, the entire movie is set up almost like a love triangle—deep down, Sarah loves both Jareth and Toby, and on her journey she must decide which one to choose. Jareth tries to keep her from choosing Toby, and so the Junk Lady deterring Sarah is not just about toys, but about boys. Even the stepmother’s conversation hints at this—it lays out Sarah’s options of romantic or fraternal love. I think this movie passes the Bechdel test because, at least in language, the Junk Lady just talks about toys, but I don’t think Labyrinth portrays women well, either. Sarah’s struggle is about her relationship to males… and I think most women are a whole lot more.

A small scale pass, but grand scale creepy. Representation… um, no.

via

Big Hero 6 (source)

Big Hero 6 excites us because Aunt Cass, Honey Lemon, and Gogo are awesome. Aunt Cass is a cat lady raising two nephews, but she also runs her own business. Honey Lemon and Gogo are superheroes, of course, but they’re also young women thriving in a STEM field, and racially diverse to boot. BH6 has good characters to start with, but passes with dispute because the only female conversation is in the heat of battle. Gogo is like “Get the mask!” and Honey is like “Right behind you!” and though it is a loose interpretation of a conversation, apparently it counts. Also, sometimes women converse onscreen, but not audibly.

Yeah… Not a lot of female bonding in this movie. The girl characters just don’t interact that much—Gogo and Honey matter to Todashi and Hiro as friends and Mr. Kabuki Mask as enemies… but writers didn’t go out of their way to characterize them as friends or sisters-in-arms. It’s a good movie without that, but still. A cloth company felt comfortable removing Honey and Gogo from a BH6 print because boys think girls are icky. The girls’ significance was limited to the screen. And no, it wasn’t the movie people themselves, but reputation comes from many places. It’s worth remembering.

I like the characters, but the test is seriously lax. Representation okay.

*****

The Bechdel test ignores the context of Labyrinth’s plot. In demonstrates how little women have to say to one another in BH6. Also, just because girls exist in a fictional world doesn’t mean that they get the attention they deserve. If these movies tell us anything, it’s that the Bechdel test isn’t an accomplishment. It’s just something that tells us that two women talked, and that for the most part, lots of women get the short end of the stick in film.


Are there movies you know of that pass the Bechdel test but don’t promote women very well?


12 comments :

  1. Hmm, I've never seen Labyrinth (because it looks kind of weird and I don't know if it will freak me out), but I think you're dead on about Big Hero 6. I think we need a better test than the Bechdel Test, because it would be nice to have a test where, if you pass, it actually means something rather than just meeting the barest criteria. I definitely want to see more stories where you can't take out the women characters without losing a great deal of the plot. *sulks*

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    1. *ponders* It didn't freak me out but most things don't. And yeah, the test clearly does not mean a whole lot, which is disappointing. :P

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  2. I haven't seen Labryinth either. D: But I never really thought about BH6 passing or not passing the test...I guess I assume movies do when there are cool women characters BUT YOU ARE SO RIGHT. Just because a movie "passes" doesn't actually mean much because you don't have to do much to pass. *sigh* Why is it so unusual to have females talk together!?? That's what I want to know. :(

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    1. *nods* Cool women characters are cool but there are no guarantees and stuff. Which is disappointing, because Honey Lemon and Gogo Tamango are about as awesome as awesome can be. I don't know, though. Probably because male audiences or something.

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  3. I started Labyrinth several years ago, but I was like 13 or 14, and it creeped me out way too much to finish. :p

    But about Big Hero 6, that's interesting, it's scoring on the test. I think, though, that one has to take it in context. I mean, the movie isn't about Gogo or Honey Lemon. It's about Todashi and Hiro and about Hiro's journey, so everything that's in the movie needs to in some way relate to Hiro and his journey. Their relationship with him is shown because it's important, but their relationship with each other, while important to them, really doesn't matter much to Hiro's journey, so it wouldn't make any sense for them to have a long conversation that he wasn't involved in. It would feel more like a random nod to women rather than something that actually flowed with the plot of the story and made sense. And, while of course I'm all for female representation, I think the number one goal of any storyteller should be to tell the best story they can within the context of the idea they have. And, I could be wrong, but I don't think that it's possible to completely represent everyone in every context.

    Cool post though. Can't wait to see what the next ones are. :)


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
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    1. Really? I didn't think it was quite that bad...

      *nods* I mean, obviously there is the context that it is indeed Hiro's story, and I'll admit that Hiro has plenty of interaction with Gogo and Honey in a positive way, so it's not like they're totally being ignored. But I think my point was really to show that the Bechdel test is sort of faulty at times like this because sure, if Hiro's story is about Hiro and girls shouldn't be a main focus in that, fine, but at the same time, we shouldn't act like something is more than it is if, in reality, it has little to do with the subject in question. Y'know?

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    2. I don't know. I guess it depends on what you would say it takes to "represent women." Like, what exactly does that mean to you (which I assume you're going to address in later posts on the test. :) ).

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  4. Allow me to throw my iPad across the room with frustration. This subject is very close to my heart and the thought of that clothing company removing GoGo and Honey Lemon from their t-shirts turns me into an angry ball of fire and acid. (But they did change it in the end, so I'm better now.)

    It's also sad that the Test doesn't mean a lot, whether or not there are strong female characters in it :/ Thankfully, I think more movies are coming to realize this issue of female representation and are trying to fix it. I did an English report on women in action movies once and it's insane how much everything has improved, even if it's not quite there yet. For example, in Agents of SHIELD about half of the women on the team are female (with racial diversity, too, extra points!) and smart and professional and good at what they do. Most women in movies from the 1930s-1990s were completely useless. (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) is one in particular that I looked at and the female representation was absolutely atrocious.)

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    1. I know, I was super mad about that when I heard, but they did change it. And I am glad that they were willing to, even if they probably shouldn't have needed to in the first place.

      I definitely agree that more recent movies and TV shows are doing their best to make female representation a bigger priority, although I have to imagine that TV shows make it a bigger deal. It's great that Agents of SHIELD is like that, but obviously the other Marvel movies don't have quite the same ratio. But, you're right, the older they movies are the worse they are. :P Yuck.

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  5. *thinks of recently watched movies* The Sound of Music passes because of Maria talking to the mother Abbess and other nuns, but considering it's so old the female representation really isn't too bad. The Hundred-foot journey doesn't pass because of the conversation part, but I only watched the second half so I'm not 100% sure. The Lunchbox might pass? Ila talks to her mum about her dad which is male-centric, and talks to Auntie about vegetables as well as her husband and Fernandes, but she's using the vegetables to make food to make the guy like her? Interesting analysis, Heather :)

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    1. Yeah, I didn't think of using Sound of Music, but you're right. I haven't seen the other movies, but I'm glad they have you to think about them. :) Thanks for reading, Shar!

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