Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Testing the Bechdel Test: Round Two

Back to the Bechdel test and its limitations. Last week, I discussed two movies failing all three criteria needed to pass the test (two named women, who talk, about something other than a man). This week I’m moving on to movies that still failed the test, but still meet one or two criteria.

How do they measure up?

Less Satisfactory Female Portrayal, Failed Bechdel


Star Wars: A New Hope (source)

I realize that subsequent Star Wars productions have plenty of awesome ladies not featured in the original trilogy. However, that’s why I’m looking at the first film of the original trilogy—this is George Lucas’s vision. And his vision for women? Just two: Aunt Beru, Luke’s adoptive mother, and Princess Leia, a delegate in distress hailing from the planet Alderaan.

Though A New Hope only passes the first part of the test (no women converse), Leia’s character in particular enthuses us despite the lack of other women. After all, she’s a spy transporting information at great personal risk, withstanding torture, and leading the rebellion in secret. She is significant and impacts the plot, remaining Luke’s friend and ally during the resistance—even into the next movies. Of course, other than Beru, Leia, and Mon Mothma, all other females in the trilogy are sex slaves. Where men have many options—as Jedi Knights, government employees, soldiers, bartenders, space pirates, bounty hunters, or even moisture farmers—women have few: princess or sex slave. Suffice it to say that this galaxy isn’t as women-friendly as we might like.

Leia is okay; the rest of the universe isn’t doing so hot. Representation… ehh.


Igor (source)

(This is among my favorite children’s films but you probably haven’t seen it. Let me catch you up: Igor wants to prove he can be an evil scientist despite beginning as a hunchbacked henchman. With the help of Scamper (a suicidal, but immortal, rabbit) and Brain (a brain in a jar), Igor reanimates human remains to create a perfect monster. Problem being that she doesn’t want to be evil, she wants to be an actress.)

This film depicts three classes of people: evil scientists (all men, minus one), Igors (all men), and the scientists’ girlfriends (all women). Most women are extras, but there are two women of significance: Eva and Jaclyn. Eva is Igor’s creation, and her dream is to play Annie on Broadway. Jaclyn is Dr. Schadenfreude’s girlfriend, and she manipulates people.

Eva and Jaclyn only speak to discuss Igor romantically—only passing two Bechdel criteria—but they still shine. Take Eva. Eva is good. Literally, her goodness defines her friendships, her worldview, and her every action. Though her passion for theater motivates her, Eva’s goodness is apparent even before she can speak: she gives piggyback rides to blind orphans! Though men surround Eva, her character is less about being a women among men, but being infallibly good in an evil world. She represents our own struggles between good and evil, and her most important choice is not about a boy, but morality.

Jaclyn is the opposite, but I like her. Jaclyn is hard to appreciate on the surface because her appearance defines her identity and she exists to seduce and steal from men on behalf of another man—her boyfriend, Dr. Schadenfreude. Still, in a world where men control the government, the world, and doomsday device production, Jaclyn impresses me. She is an unusual villain, because where all other villains battle each other in a competition no one truly wins, no one can compete with her own brand of evil, and no one defeats her, either. The great irony is that while Schadenfreude gives Jaclyn the power to be a villain, he doesn’t recognize her as one. In my opinion, she trumps them all.

If only Igor took place in a world where women have significant political and social power, too…

I love Eva and Jaclyn, but more girls can be evil too! Representation… ehh.


Last week, I felt that movies without female characters don’t represent women very well (surprise, surprise). This week, I’m torn—neither movie passes the Bechdel test, but I like what Leia, Eva, and Jaclyn bring to the table. But my problem isn’t with individual women, but rather the world they live in. These three women live under phallocracies, and that isn’t a problem solved by the plot. Women still get the short end of the stick. I’m left wondering… what is the significance of a strong female character if she is unique in her universe?

Has anybody else seen Igor? I want to be friends with you. Do you think likeable female characters or societies favorable to female characters say more about female representation?


  1. *sad face* I've wanted to watch Igor for ages, but one way or another, I've never had the chance. But it sounds super interesting. I'll have to check out the library in my new town because it's possible they might have it. My sister says they have a good movie selection.

    But yeah, it is so hard to determine what is good representation and what is unsatisfactory. While it's wonderful that Leia is the way she is, it is quite sad that she seems the be the only one (or, one of the only ones) of her kind. On the one hand, the universe can just be interpreted as dystopian and very clearly not right. But it does seem that there are quite a few movies and books like this with very limited strong female characters. Honestly, I'd say one is better than none, but passing the test doesn't necessarily mean you're doing well, and neither does failing mean you're doing poorly, necessarily.

    I was actually just thinking about this yesterday. On the one hand, I would love a balanced cast of female and male. But on the other hand, books where the men outnumber the women but the women outshine the men aren't horrible, either. My biggest beef with poor representation would definitely be when women are only used as objects to be saved. Like, we're people, not plot points. But I totally get representing societies where men take more dominant roles, but then showing how some women claim their places in that society anyway--like, I kind of like stories like that because they can showcase our strength and determination.

    Sorry, that was ramble. Anyway, great post, and thanks for sharing!

    1. WATCH IGOR. And listen to your sister. :) Like, I had to cut 400 words from this post just because I spent so much time discussing Igor, and I didn't even turn this into a short post. XD

      *nods* Yeah. It's like you don't want to discount the characters that are succeeding, but at the same time you kind of want to say... "But what about this?" I mean, even if there was a lady Leia talked to, I don't think it would have really changed how girls are portrayed in Star Wars and stuff. :P

      It's interesting you say that, because I don't disagree. Stories with more boys can be good. And books with equal numbers. But I also think that stories with girls almost dominating the cast could end up being really good, too! Different kinds of books and movies can explore different people in different kinds of ways and none of them suck. *nods* I guess, for me, it's just that more often than not I see the problems you were talking about. :P

      Thanks so much for your rambling, Liz! I enjoyed it. :)

  2. I always feel a little torn when my favorite movies don't pass the Bechdel test. One of my absolute favorites, Fury, is set during World War II, so the absence of a bunch of female characters is understandable, but the one who does show up, instead of being, say, a wartime nurse, or something even more interesting, exists solely to sleep with the main character and then die. She's a good character, but it's still a sort of stereotypical portrayal.

    1. *nods* Historical movies can end up like that. But I do hate when the only women written in are there just for the sexual content. Two of the most... anti-woman movies I've ever seen, I guess... *growls and gets ranty but stops herself because responsible blogger here* Yeah, having a flat character, whatever her purpose may be, is entirely frustrating. :/

  3. I don't mind watching or reading about societies that are unfavorable to female characters, as long as there females surpassing the society's expectations of them. To me, that says even more than just having likeable female characters. It says that women can be strong, and be accomplished, and shine despite the tough circumstances they're in.

    It doesn't bother me so much to see women who aren't rising to the challenge their society presents, either. Because that's just realistic. That's just people. Some people are just complacent, content to settle for what they have. And that goes for both women AND men.

    What does bother me is when ALL the men are brilliant and NO women are. In Star Wars we have Leia, and she is. But other than that, we don't really see many women except for sex slaves, like you said. Which I don't find the presence of offensive. But what would have been nice is to have seen just your average girl fighting against those boundaries. In short, the galaxy not being woman-friendly isn't what bothers me. It's the lack of women rising to the challenges that galaxy presents.

    Thought-provoking post, Heather! :)

    Ally @ The Scribbling Sprite

    1. Mm, I can appreciate that while at the same time feeling a little bit opposed to it at the same time. Because, yes, it's always good to see that women are surpassing society's standards—because, obviously, that's what male characters do all the time. That's kind of the plot of every superhero movie, too. At the same time, I think a movie's society isn't about low expectations and is more about legalized oppression against women, as in how all of the women we meet on Tattooine (except Beru) are in slavery, including Anakin's mom in the following trilogy.

      But yeah, I don't think I'm ever offended by these things but I'm always disappointed by them. Still, yeah, just because of how rare a woman-friendly society is in many movies... I guess I get slightly more bothered.

      Thanks for reading, Ally!

  4. Oh my goodness I had never heard of Igor, but now I am desperate to watch it. That movie sounds fantastic. :D

    Also, interesting discussion. Though obviously I'm not okay with women being nothing more than sex slaves, I love stories where a heroine (or a hero, for that matter) has the opportunity to rise above their station despite all the odds. I love watching them struggle and fight and I love getting the chance to root for them when everyone else is against them; it just makes the story more fulfilling for me. I guess that might be why some movies that technically fail the Bechdel test don't bother me. Because as long as there are a couple of strong female characters to root for, I may not even take note of the rest of the society (like with Star Wars. I'd honestly never thought about general female representation in it because Padme and Leia were there).

    I guess maybe it's because I'm more interested in the characters than the society as a whole. I mean, people make up a society, and since people aren't perfect, no society is perfect, so it doesn't seem unrealistic to me for a society to work in these ways. But when the character gets a chance to rise up and be epic and make a difference, that, for me, is enough to have a fantastic story that I will fall in love with. :)

    At the same time, it would definitely be good to see more stories that featured true gender equality and gave women the same footing as men have from the beginning. :)



      *nods* I think those kinds of stories are okay—I mean, if it's My Fair Lady or Captain America we do have plenty of those stories, and they are quite good (except also I dislike My Fair Lady somewhat). But, like you said, just because a movie doesn't pass the Bechdel test doesn't mean you don't like or root for the female characters. They can be awesome and we can support them, and I think that's cool.

      That is true. We do latch on to characters and stuff pretty fast in our storytelling ways, don't we? But, still, for me, a society kind of tells you where a character's place is in it, and then in those situations people can get the wrong ideas or like something that is uncool. :P

      But, yeah. There are a lot of situations where we can like the girl characters no matter what. :D


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