The Bechdel test

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pineapplepie
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby pineapplepie » Sat Oct 30, 2010 1:15 am UTC

Female, nonwhite, dictators: Wu Zetian, Chinese empress, instituted merit-based examinations for government office, revered as a hero even today.
Actually, I think the Bechdel fails are partly influenced by writers "writing who they know" and basing their characters on previous movies, or their own experiences. Since a great deal of writers are men, and men have historically been overrepresented in movies, writers looking to write a script write their scripts about (guess who?) men. That doesn't mean that the script is sexist, but when too many scripts fail the Bechdel test, then that's sexism.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Sat Oct 30, 2010 1:43 am UTC

but when too many scripts fail the Bechdel test, then that's sexism.


I would rather have an interesting female actress rather than 900 horrible ones.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby CorruptUser » Sat Oct 30, 2010 6:39 am UTC

Introducing the Bechdel test for racism against Hispanics

The film must

1) contain at least 2 Hispanics, Spaniards, Latinos/Latinas, etc
2) who have a conversation together
3) that is not about non-Hispanics

Or Bechdel test for racism against Afro-Americans

The film must

1) contain at least 2 Afro-Americans (Afro-Africans do not count)
2) who have a conversation together
3) that is not about non-Afro-Americans

And so on and so forth.

Obviously, this is flawed; plenty of blaxploitation films would 'pass', although I don't think there are that many films with more than one Hispanic in them. "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" (the Ugly and Brother scene), "Machete", "Frida". Or maybe I'm missing something, and the logic behind the Bechdel test works for sexism but not racism?

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby *bird » Sat Oct 30, 2010 9:41 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:The problem with breaking it up into "white" and "non-white" is that I don't see Hollywood portrayals of Russian or Irish villains as that much less stereotyped than Hollywood portrayals of Asian villains. You might argue the stereotype is finer- "you can tell they're Russian, instead of not knowing whether they're Chinese or Vietnamese!"- but that doesn't necessary mean there's that much more information.


For Asians and Arabs specifically, there's another layer to that: they're also regarded as foreigners (regardless of assimilation status or generation) to a non-trivial percentage of the population. The Fu Manchu/terrorist style portrayals exacerbate this.

Possibly no less stereotyped, but the effect is different.

infernovia wrote:I would rather have an interesting female actress rather than 900 horrible ones.


If women must be perfect and men are allowed to be mediocre (and still get work), then that's definitely sexism.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby GoC » Sat Oct 30, 2010 3:30 pm UTC

Silknor wrote:He/him/-man being used as a gender-neutral default

The first two are indeed annoying but there's nothing wrong with -man being the gender neutral default. It was the gender neutral default long before it meant male. I think it would be easier to just reintroduce wer (that way we're only replacing one word instead of a thousand). :)

Jessica wrote:When genocide is portrayed, it's usually considered to be universally bad. The point of portraying it is to show that it's bad.

Though note that people do sometimes like media that portrays something horrific as neutral (for instance the webcomic Drowtales portrays slavery neutrally).
Not that that detracts from your point as society is currently not very accepting of slavery.

Isn't the majority of villains being white acceptable given that most of the US population is white? You'd normally default to the most common option...

Vaniver wrote:Now, do you think if they went from their current setup to a realistic setup, people would be happy they're less racist than they were before (by catering to stories that interest wealthy whites / reflect poorly on wealthy whites)? Or do you think people would suggest they are more racist?

Interesting... So there are cases were accuracy is actually harmful?
Aside: Is it theoretically possible for a rational, informed, and moral person to be sexist?
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sat Oct 30, 2010 3:37 pm UTC

CorruptUser wrote:Or maybe I'm missing something, and the logic behind the Bechdel test works for sexism but not racism?

Pretty much? The math is quite different when you're considering why one half of the population is featured less prominently then the other half then when you're asking why 9/10 of the population is featured more prominently then the other 1/10. Especially when you consider how the Bechdel and reverse-Bechdel are intended to measure what you might call "collisions," counting the number of interactions inside distinct groups - that nine tenths of the population tends to interact with itself more often then one tenth of the population interacts with itself is less than unsurprising.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Vaniver » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:20 pm UTC

GoC wrote:Isn't the majority of villains being white acceptable given that most of the US population is white? You'd normally default to the most common option...
I wouldn't be surprised if the demographics of villains are less white than the US population.

The more interesting question, though, is sex. Villains, as a group, are disproportionately male. Is that unrealistic? I mean, criminals as a group are disproportionately male. But if we're ok with villains being more male than normal, can't we be ok with heroes being more male than normal?

GoC wrote:Aside: Is it theoretically possible for a rational, informed, and moral person to be sexist?
It should be obvious that it is possible for rationally obtained information to lead to sexism. The question is, is that enough to make one immoral? I suspect not. The moral cost to abandoning rational information should be higher than the moral cost to abandoning feelings.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:33 pm UTC

GoC wrote:
Silknor wrote:He/him/-man being used as a gender-neutral default

The first two are indeed annoying but there's nothing wrong with -man being the gender neutral default. It was the gender neutral default long before it meant male.

I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm having a conversation in Old English.

Until then, the word "man" and the suffix "-man" in Modern English are clearly marked masculine.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sat Oct 30, 2010 4:59 pm UTC

Erm. Not really to drag this too off-topic, but there's quite a bit of precedent of the potential for gender neutrality of the word - even if you have good reasons for disagreeing, should it really be stated as definitively as "clearly marked" in an aside?

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby ameretrifle » Sat Oct 30, 2010 5:00 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:The more interesting question, though, is sex. Villains, as a group, are disproportionately male. Is that unrealistic? I mean, criminals as a group are disproportionately male. But if we're ok with villains being more male than normal, can't we be ok with heroes being more male than normal?

Can't stop myself any longer, though I don't think this is the sort of forum I want to get bogged down in. Who is okay with that? You specifically are making a slightly different point, but it seems to me that everyone has been assuming that feminists don't want to see well-written women in negative roles just as much as they want to see well-written women in positive roles, for several pages now, and it's a little like being a geologist and watching a conversation about when the earth formed, 6000 years ago. No, feminists do not want to toss out all the "bad" stereotypes and keep the "good", thankyouverymuch, because the "good" stereotypes have a way of screwing you over just as much-- if not more, because you're less likely to fight them. Complaining about the Wicked Stepmother stereotype =/= blanket rejection of all female villains. You just have to write them carefully-- which is what you should be doing with EVERY character if you're any decent kind of writer anyway. I'll grant you that excludes an awful lot of Hollywood scriptwriters. >_>

My degree in Women's Studies could've given me a totally inaccurate idea of what feminists think on this matter, but somehow I'm inclined to doubt that...

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Sat Oct 30, 2010 5:53 pm UTC

If women must be perfect and men are allowed to be mediocre (and still get work), then that's definitely sexism.

Dude, what is wrong with you. I didn't say women should be perfect, I said I would rather have one well acted complex character against 900 crappy one. This goes the same with males too. Numbers, to me, seems worthless for a cinema lover.

Btw, really solid women roles:
Mrs. Robinson - Graduate
Kaeda - Ran

^ I just watched those yesterday, so they are the foremost on my mind.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Vaniver » Sat Oct 30, 2010 5:57 pm UTC

ameretrifle wrote:Who is okay with that?
People who haven't thought about it? People who think fiction should be representative of reality, instead of some ideal? Though, the second might conflict with anti-prejudice desires; feeling that men and women are equal is distinct from feeling that they should be equal. (Note that one could think men and women are intrinsically equal, but unequal treatment makes them unequal, and thus they should be equal but aren't.)
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby RAKtheUndead » Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:39 pm UTC

As far as I'm concerned, a lot of the best movies are the ones that don't pass the Bechdel test. Passing the test is no guarantee that the film presents women in a favourable light, and by shoehorning female characters into places they don't belong (or vice versa), you're just diluting the film's appeal for no reason.

Anyway, I can't remember The Good, The Bad and The Ugly passing the Bechdel test, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Doesn't make them bad films.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby smw543 » Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:17 pm UTC

RAKtheUndead wrote:As far as I'm concerned, a lot of the best movies are the ones that don't pass the Bechdel test.
Assuming the majority of movies fail the test, it seems like a reasonable assumption that a majority of the best movies also fail, barring other factors. So what's your point?

Passing the test is no guarantee that the film presents women in a favourable light,
Which is why, as has been stated many times, this "test" is really just a thought-provoking observation.

and by shoehorning female characters into places they don't belong (or vice versa), you're just diluting the film's appeal for no reason.
Who suggested this was a viable solution? (Actually, someone did, but not seriously.) The only way I could ever see this happening with any frequency is if there were some incentive/mandate that encouraged/forced movies to pass (fictional affirmative action?), and even in that absurd scenario, good writers will still make the token Bechdel scene good, because they're good writers.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Spots » Sun Oct 31, 2010 3:50 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:I suspect that this is only half the problem. The other half being that movies that fail the test, have a stronger tendency to become popular. If the population really wanted to see movies that were consistently passing the test, Hollywood would be making them.


I have to agree there. Forget movies. If you look at real life, on average male-male or male-female conversations are, in my opinion, more interesting than female-female conversations. And, yes, I am female. And yes, I have interesting conversations with other women. They're just less likely to be interesting than if at least one male is participating. And a very high percentage of those that are interesting are about a topic that doesn't interest a large audience (so not something you'd put into a movie you are going to mass-market).

Роберт wrote:Is it ethical to base what your art is based on what sells best?

Nobody said that movies are not being made which pass the test. But the movies into which a big sum of money is invested and that have expensive marketing campaigns are those that will make money. And for reasons I stated above, I think it's more likely that those movies will fail the test.
On a side note, is it ethical to put sex scenes in movies? Or extreme violence? It certainly does nothing for the plot, it's only there to make money.

Роберт wrote:It seems to me that, if movies that pass the test do well even when they suck, demand is not the problem.

Like I said before, it's not that all of the movies that pass the test are doomed to fail, it's just that it's less likely that they will be interesting.

Think of it this way. What do guys mostly want to watch? Actin scenes. Are girls likely to make up a bigger part of the cast in such movies? No. Would you like them to? I think not. What do girls mostly want to watch (those that don't prefer action movies)? Romance movies. Will those movies ever pass the test? Unlikely, unless it's a lesbian romance.
Okay, so there are exceptions and we all enjoy movies that make us think and whatnot, but we still want most of the movies to fall into the above tow categories and that's why there are more of them out there. Also, any other kind of movie takes a lot of work to make. And if you can make money with doing less work, why bother? (Yes, I can see how that proves your point, not mine, but it has nothing to do with sexism, just capitalism.)

JayDee wrote:It is trivially easy to pass the test, though, if a movie were trying. Even the most testosterone dripping action film could have a scene with a number of women talking, and then zoom out for the goodies and baddies interrupting it all with a shoot out. Easy I wonder if there are any filmmakers out there who do insert scenes purely to pass this test?

I certainly hope nobody is doing that. It would just make things worse. (Smells a lot like "token black guy")


Thesh wrote:The thing is, if the script is written by a man, well he is going to know more about what guys talk about and it is difficult to write about the conversations women have. Women are a mystery, and we don't know what you talk about in private... My guess is it's mostly talking about your weight, haircuts, makeup, clothing, and men, as well as gossiping about people you know and celebrities, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

That just made me laugh. But, after thinking about it, you are, unfortunately, right and it's a big part of the reason why I prefer talking to men. However, in my experience, men are very good at creating and maintaining female characters and vice-versa. Despite what you think women talk about, if they're a character in your movie, you can make them talk about anything.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Charlie! » Mon Nov 01, 2010 5:16 am UTC

Spots wrote:Think of it this way. What do guys mostly want to watch? Actin scenes.

Damn straight.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ4OMSi6qAg&NR=1

We just love watching muscles flex.


Okay, but seriously. Please don't make "most guys" personally responsible for this when there are relatively simple systemic explanations, or simpler ones that involve smaller numbers of guys. Neither should you use "people tolerate it" as an excuse to ignore the problems of sexism. Capitalism is an economic system, not a substitute for ethics.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Mon Nov 01, 2010 5:42 am UTC

Dude, action scenes are badass. Why would you even argue that point--even Shakespeare uses them! Like out of all the points you could have argued, that definitely should not be one of them.

Please don't make "most guys" personally responsible for this when there are relatively simple systemic explanations,

And yes, action scenes are usually littered with males. Why do you consider it a problem? Also, this statistical test ignores about 90% of the material actually in the movie to make a gender-specific statement. A relatively simple counter is to use an argument that generalizes 90% of the intricate viewers that actually watch the movie.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Spots » Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:33 am UTC

Charlie! wrote:Okay, but seriously. Please don't make "most guys" personally responsible for this when there are relatively simple systemic explanations, or simpler ones that involve smaller numbers of guys. Neither should you use "people tolerate it" as an excuse to ignore the problems of sexism. Capitalism is an economic system, not a substitute for ethics.


I'm not making anyone responsible, I'm simply saying that movies are watched for entertainment and the things that are entertaining to most people (boys and girls included) will produce the sort of movies we are seeing. I was trying to make a point that it doesn't make them sexist because they're not a consequence of sexism, but of what both genders find entertaining. Hence, I never said that people tolerate it (though I agree that they do).
And I know capitalism is not a substitute for ethics, that's why I mentioned it.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Charlie! » Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:22 am UTC

infernovia wrote:Dude, action scenes are badass. Why would you even argue that point--even Shakespeare uses them! Like out of all the points you could have argued, that definitely should not be one of them.

Was that directed at me? Should I perhaps have bolded the comical typo? And should you have perhaps followed my link to see the awesomeness of actin scenes?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL99pwdvmhU
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby mister k » Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:38 am UTC

Its very easy to say that if audiences bought more female roles they'd be making them. As mentioned, studios are pretty risk-averse, so they stick with what they knows work, particularly the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces"]hero's journey[/url], which is pretty male centric. Also an industry with mostly male representation is likely to produce male work. Capitalism will necessarily produce stuff that makes money, but it won't produce the only stuff that produces money. Innovation is risky, and if people aren't spending money to do it, then things won't change.

Bear in mind that films have drastically changed since, say, the 70s, with new hollywood producing films aimed at 30+ males, now the demographic has shifted lower to where the money is believed to be.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Thesh » Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:16 am UTC

Has anyone seen "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"? It certainly passes the test, but it heavily exploits sex. I'm curious what feminists think of films like that.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Mon Nov 01, 2010 6:50 pm UTC

Charlie! wrote:Actin!

To be fair, I was commenting on the latter half.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby fr00t » Mon Nov 01, 2010 9:54 pm UTC

Роберт wrote:Is it ethical to base what your art is based on what sells best?


Does it matter? No. Because what sells best is what is prominent, and what is prominent is what will form the social environment that contributes to the very gender roles that started the whole cycle, as well as influencing future art. If there is a problem, as in, something solvable, it is demand. Individuals may decide they no longer accept social mores and demand something else. It is irrelevant, uninteresting, and meaningless to debate whether or not some artist is ethical because he did or didn't depict some chicks talking about something.

Vaniver wrote:The more interesting question, though, is sex. Villains, as a group, are disproportionately male. Is that unrealistic? I mean, criminals as a group are disproportionately male. But if we're ok with villains being more male than normal, can't we be ok with heroes being more male than normal?


Given that "heroes" are also more frequently and characteristically male, why not?

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Dark567 » Mon Nov 01, 2010 10:00 pm UTC

fr00t wrote:
Роберт wrote:Is it ethical to base what your art is based on what sells best?


Does it matter? No. Because what sells best is what is prominent, and what is prominent is what will form the social environment that contributes to the very gender roles that started the whole cycle, as well as influencing future art. If there is a problem, as in, something solvable, it is demand. Individuals may decide they no longer accept social mores and demand something else. It is irrelevant, uninteresting, and meaningless to debate whether or not some artist is ethical because he did or didn't depict some chicks talking about something.

Not only will it be the most prominent, if the industry is very competitive, what sells best can become the only thing that sells. If the only studios that survive are the ones that do X, well, those are the only movies that are going to be made, whether or not X is ethical.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby *bird » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:36 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:
If women must be perfect and men are allowed to be mediocre (and still get work), then that's definitely sexism.

Dude, what is wrong with you. I didn't say women should be perfect, I said I would rather have one well acted complex character against 900 crappy one. This goes the same with males too. Numbers, to me, seems worthless for a cinema lover.

Btw, really solid women roles:
Mrs. Robinson - Graduate
Kaeda - Ran

^ I just watched those yesterday, so they are the foremost on my mind.


Except it isn't because almost all actors and actresses start out relatively crappy. There may be the rare one-in-a-million actor/actress that's really good right off the bat, but most get better over time. Just like any other skill. But opportunity to get better is also a problem (if there are less women in meaty roles in industry, they get less chances to be better.)

Also, if you meant one well acted complex character is better than 900 crappy ones, you should say that and not make it gender specific.

vaniver wrote:I wouldn't be surprised if the demographics of villains are less white than the US population.

The more interesting question, though, is sex. Villains, as a group, are disproportionately male. Is that unrealistic? I mean, criminals as a group are disproportionately male. But if we're ok with villains being more male than normal, can't we be ok with heroes being more male than normal?


The Hollywood rationale is that you can't sell villains that aren't "other" to your main "audience" whomever they are. Other in this case may not indicate just ethnicity or sex.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Thu Nov 04, 2010 12:10 am UTC

Also, if you meant one well acted complex character is better than 900 crappy ones, you should say that and not make it gender specific.

Lets see if you can follow this conversation:

someone: If you don't have a lot of women in movies, that is sexism and bad.
me: I would rather have one complex and great actress than 900 bad one.

Can you see the point I made here? Hint: It is not "only perfect actresses should play really complex characters always, and this should only be applied to actresses." Notice that we are talking about actresses in the conversation, which is why I did not make the sentence gender neutral.

Except it isn't because almost all actors and actresses start out relatively crappy.

You guys are arguing with me about inconsequential things. How does that change my preference to have one really good and well-acted character instead of 900 crappy ones? It doesn't.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Mavketl » Thu Nov 04, 2010 12:47 am UTC

infernovia wrote:someone: If you don't have a lot of women in movies, that is sexism and bad.
me: I would rather have one complex and great actress than 900 bad one.
Thanks for simplifying! That makes it much easier to respond to.

How is your statement in any way a response to "there are not enough women in movies, sexism", unless you assume that having more women in movies would necessarily mean that they are bad actresses?

They are separate arguments. Yes, we would all like to see more good actresses (or actors) than bad ones. And we would also like to see more actresses than we do now, because women should be represented in popular culture. The two are not related.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:15 am UTC

It is not the idea of sexism but the idea of it being bad, as if it is something worth criticizing. When you say we should eliminate this difference in the movie, you are saying movies will be better with that quality. Moreover, that it is important. But I think the quality of the product is not improved from such a criteria, really, I think it is inconsequential (or stagnant) for the most part. What would be a better critical argument is "women in X movies are too simple and dumb to excite my senses."

Another thing I was commenting on here is that more is not always better, especially if the standard and quality overcomes the number of movies that say otherwise. So just because such actors are rare does not have straight correlation with the impact on society. A powerful actor/story/character has a much deeper impact than the opposite. That would be my preference, I don't really care if there are x more women in the movies I watched (Gladiator, Fight Club, etc. etc.).

So basically, I was commenting on how hard it is for me to get hyped up about this kind of argument. The questions behind such a test is: What kind of movies do you think could use more women but don't? What kind of movies do you want to watch that involves more women that the producers should be making? Is having more gender neutral characters the kind of movies you want to watch? What goals do you want to achieve with this kind of production?

I don't know the answer to the first two (I haven't watched too many movies, mostly films like Ran, Fight Club, etc.), but I don't want more gender neutral characters. As for the other questions, I don't think this kind of thought process creates any goals to achieve or understands the effect on wider society. It just establishes that there are more men in the movie making industry than women.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Mavketl » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:33 am UTC

infernovia wrote:It is not the idea of sexism but the idea of it being bad, as if it is something worth criticizing. When you say we should eliminate this difference in the movie, you are saying movies will be better with that quality. Moreover, that it is important. But I think the quality of the product is not improved from such a criteria, really, I think it is inconsequential (or stagnant) for the most part.
I don't think the quality of a movie is dependent on the amount of women in it.

I think that if you look at all movies and you find that there are very few women in them (who talk to each other about something other than men), you can draw the conclusion that women's stories are being told less than men's stories. The Bechdel test is useless for an individual movie - it only has meaning when you look at a large group of movies.

Equivalent:
If one particular senator/minister/CEO is not a woman, that does not mean there is something wrong. If of all the senators/ministers/CEOs very few are women, then there is something wrong.

Ehm. Rereading your post. Are you really saying that sexism is not something worth criticizing? Because I think I've found the source of our disagreement right there.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Silknor » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:36 am UTC

If of all the senators/ministers/CEOs very few are women, then there is something wrong.


Maybe. And by that I mean the problem is very different depending on where the imbalance is:
If most experienced/leading actors are males (and those positions are played by experienced/leading actors), then the character-gender imbalance reflects the actor-gender imbalance.
If most real world senators/ministers/CEOs are men, then the character-gender imbalance (probably) reflects real world imbalances.
Etc for if most writers are men and men write male leads better, if audiences prefer male leads, if movie execs prefer male leads and so on
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Mavketl » Thu Nov 04, 2010 1:40 am UTC

"The problem is different" is perfectly consistent with "there is a problem". :wink:
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Silknor » Thu Nov 04, 2010 2:01 am UTC

Yes it is. But I think it's too easy (not that it happened in your post) to assume that it must be the movie industry at fault somehow if the Bechdel test is repeatedly failed.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Thu Nov 04, 2010 2:04 am UTC

Ehm. Rereading your post. Are you really saying that sexism is not something worth criticizing? Because I think I've found the source of our disagreement right there.

Misogyny is a problem. This, I don't think relates to such an agenda.

I think that if you look at all movies and you find that there are very few women in them (who talk to each other about something other than men), you can draw the conclusion that women's stories are being told less than men's stories

Ok, but why is this a problem? There are many jobs that are attractive to solely one gender, or one gender greatly prefers it to the other. And why should there be an equality of interest in a certain hobby among the genders anyway? This is not guaranteed, and it is questionable if it is even desirable or important. Note that I know people want such a thing to happen, but it is not clear WHY (with gamers it is obvious, but with car mechanics it is hard to argue, especially as a hobby).

And I don't see the point about movies. If males need a fantasy to deal with the realities of life and use movies as such an escape, why is it such a problem that more of the industry is focused towards this need? Again, the more important and interesting questions are the ones I posted before. The statistics would be just a clever way to illustrate the answers to those questions, even if it is very shallow.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby GraphiteGirl » Thu Nov 04, 2010 4:28 am UTC

Thesh wrote:The thing is, if the script is written by a man, well he is going to know more about what guys talk about and it is difficult to write about the conversations women have. Women are a mystery, and we don't know what you talk about in private... My guess is it's mostly talking about your weight, haircuts, makeup, clothing, and men, as well as gossiping about people you know and celebrities, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Ok, this post is just terribly embarrassing for the human race. You seem to have confused "women" with "women's magazines".

Here is an exercise for any aspiring writers. Make a list of all the things you habitually talk about when alone with your male friends, and then a list of things you habitually talk about with mixed gender groups of friends.
Now, imagine that those are things women also talk about together when there are no men present (and I assure you, they often are).
Here is a second exercise for aspiring writers. Make some female friends. Converse with them, and ask them what kinds of things they tend to talk to their other female friends about, apart from the stereotypical things you just listed. Note down the things they say. Combine this list with your prior list.
Your results may include topics such as:
- popular media (music, books, films, games)
- current events and politics
- friendships and relationships
- work and study
- philosophy and morality
- problems in need of resolution within their own lives or the world
- hobbies and interests (the creation of art/study of science/writing of RPGs etc)
Obviously, not all women will talk about all of those things often or always (though most of the women I have met tend to), but hey, you are writing characters, and you can decide how interesting and nuanced those characters are going to be. If someone comes up to you and asks, "Hey, shouldn't your female characters be talking about hair, shoes or Brad and Angelina's babies to the exclusion of other topics?", you can confidently conclude that they are a) a bit stupid and b) probably not a woman.

Congratulations - you are now capable of writing a convincing conversation between two women with no men present.

Unfortunately, your post definitely did highlight one of the major problems with men writing women - sometimes, they think like you did in that post. It's a surprisingly easy mistake to make, apparently, since so many romantic comedy writers seem to make it.

Oh, here is a third exercise for writers - read some work written by women that cannot be classified easily as either a Harlequin romance or "chick lit" and is not marketed with a picture of a bride or a shoe on the cover (though honestly, even something like The Nanny Diaries would work; it's a work shelved in chick lit for the lightness of its tone despite the fact that it is not primarily concerned with romance and is often more focused on ethics, interpersonal disasters, responsible parenting and career aspirations - but hey, it's about a lady, so chick lit it is!). See what kinds of things the women talk about in those books. Examine your assumptions accordingly.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby guenther » Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:10 am UTC

I have a new question for the thread that's hopefully not too off-topic:

Many people dismiss the link between simulated violence in entertainment and real-life violence, which after doing some googling seems to be in line with what research tells us. But it seems many take it for granted that there's a link between gender-bias in movies and real-life sexist behavior and attitudes. I had trouble finding data to support this notion.

Let me be clear that I do believe that sexist beliefs show up in movies, particularly movies from older eras. But how much of that still happens with modern movies? A gender bias in movie characters could come from sexism, but it doesn't have to. How do we know if a movie trend is sexist? I'd argue that we'd need to look for the artists' expression of sexist ideas or a causal link between watching the movie and sexist behavior and attitudes. But I can't find data linking the two.

By the way, I don't assume the data doesn't exist just because my google skills haven't pulled it up. And I don't claim that modern moves aren't sexist, just that we should make such claims based on evidence like the case of violent video games, not merely on failure to meet certain gender balance quotas.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby mister k » Thu Nov 04, 2010 9:50 am UTC

guenther wrote:I have a new question for the thread that's hopefully not too off-topic:

Many people dismiss the link between simulated violence in entertainment and real-life violence, which after doing some googling seems to be in line with what research tells us. But it seems many take it for granted that there's a link between gender-bias in movies and real-life sexist behavior and attitudes. I had trouble finding data to support this notion.

Let me be clear that I do believe that sexist beliefs show up in movies, particularly movies from older eras. But how much of that still happens with modern movies? A gender bias in movie characters could come from sexism, but it doesn't have to. How do we know if a movie trend is sexist? I'd argue that we'd need to look for the artists' expression of sexist ideas or a causal link between watching the movie and sexist behavior and attitudes. But I can't find data linking the two.

By the way, I don't assume the data doesn't exist just because my google skills haven't pulled it up. And I don't claim that modern moves aren't sexist, just that we should make such claims based on evidence like the case of violent video games, not merely on failure to meet certain gender balance quotas.


I think you are failing to understand how some might use sexism here. I would propose that in of itself a lack of female representation in mainstream films is sexist. The individual causes of these may not be directly sexist people, but that doesn't matter. The outcome itself is an unequal one, and one that is bad, and something I would label sexist.

Now some of this thread has posited potential causes for this- an over representation of men in the film industry, a tendency to view male as the default (this is a sexist attitude most people have ingrained in them), a belief that women do not sell as well as men. All these potential causes, are sexist, excepting possibly the last point if its true.
[slight off-topicness. While technically it is true that believing something that is accurate about differences between men and women could be called sexist, I don't believe its necessarily helpful.]
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby Zamfir » Thu Nov 04, 2010 11:12 am UTC

guenther wrote:Many people dismiss the link between simulated violence in entertainment and real-life violence, which after doing some googling seems to be in line with what research tells us. But it seems many take it for granted that there's a link between gender-bias in movies and real-life sexist behavior and attitudes. I had trouble finding data to support this notion.


Well, one important difference is that most movie and video-game violence is very clearly intended to be fiction of the suspense-of-disbelief kind. The more extreme the violence, the more this is the case. Sometimes a movie does try to be realistic about violence, and the few acts of violence in such movies are much more unsettling than the mass-slaughter of, say, Universal Soldier.

But most parts of any movie are not part of the suspense-of-disbelief. The way people look, walk, talk, dress, show emotions, for example are usually intended to be realistic, even when they are fictional. Of course, all of those are sometimes not intended as realistic, but then the audience is aware of it.

Arguably, the more realistic-intended a feature of movie is, the more powerful it is to set an example or norm. And in many cases, the relative lack of developed female characters is not intended as suspense-of-disbelief irrealism. It's just part of the normal background, like the streets and clothes and offices you see in the movie.

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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby guenther » Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:01 pm UTC

mister k wrote:I think you are failing to understand how some might use sexism here. I would propose that in of itself a lack of female representation in mainstream films is sexist. The individual causes of these may not be directly sexist people, but that doesn't matter. The outcome itself is an unequal one, and one that is bad, and something I would label sexist.

Why is this unequal outcome bad? And why does it make it sexist? (EDIT: Fixed very poor grammar :))

Zamfir wrote:Well, one important difference is that most movie and video-game violence is very clearly intended to be fiction of the suspense-of-disbelief kind. The more extreme the violence, the more this is the case. Sometimes a movie does try to be realistic about violence, and the few acts of violence in such movies are much more unsettling than the mass-slaughter of, say, Universal Soldier.

Would we be in better shape if more movies shifted to depicting overt, gratuitous sexism? And what of movies that depict violence is a more realistic style? Do they pose a threat in terms of increasing real-life violence?

Zamfir wrote:Arguably, the more realistic-intended a feature of movie is, the more powerful it is to set an example or norm.

Is this true? Maybe the reverse is true. Instead of movies setting our expectations of life, maybe they have to conform to our pre-existing expectations to help us immerse ourselves into their story. Of course, both might be true to some extent. So how do we know how this plays out for the representation of women in the movies? I argue that we need data. And without the data, it's a weak argument, just like linking violent video games to real-life violence.

My theory is that to have movies effectively combat sexist notions of gender equality in real life, we don't need perfect symmetry in the movies, or even to hit any arbitrary quotas. We just need enough examples of women doing traditionally male roles so that when people see women aspiring to that, they don't think it's out of place. But even when the movie industry isn't helping fight that battle, it doesn't mean it's sexist. It's noble for entertainers to fight social ills, but their job is to entertain. Movies are sexist when they communicate sexist ideas, and we can measure that by seeing how our consumption of movies impact our views on gender. Thus to know if movies are sexist today, we need the data.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby mister k » Thu Nov 04, 2010 6:35 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
mister k wrote:I think you are failing to understand how some might use sexism here. I would propose that in of itself a lack of female representation in mainstream films is sexist. The individual causes of these may not be directly sexist people, but that doesn't matter. The outcome itself is an unequal one, and one that is bad, and something I would label sexist.

Why is this unequal outcome bad? And why does it make it sexist? (EDIT: Fixed very poor grammar :))



Becuase an unequal outcome is sexist. Thats kind of the definion I'm using here. If I see a job where all the top positions are held by men for no good reason, then I consider that a sexist outcome as well.

As to whether an unequal outcome is bad... well if we believe that theres nothing inherent about women which makes them less interesting, or capable of filling most film roles, then we should believe an unequal outcome is bad.

But even when the movie industry isn't helping fight that battle, it doesn't mean it's sexist. It's noble for entertainers to fight social ills, but their job is to entertain. Movies are sexist when they communicate sexist ideas, and we can measure that by seeing how our consumption of movies impact our views on gender. Thus to know if movies are sexist today, we need the data.



Yeah you're not getting it. When feminists talk about sexism [real feminists, please correct me, I am a poorly schooled male after all], they often mean the societal outcomes caused by underlying social pressures. They don't mean active sexism, which is easy(er) to spot and fix. Society as a whole already(mostly) abhors the easy sexism- statements made by men as to the general inferiority of women. Instead there is the issue of the patriarchy, which is a society in which male is default, which leads to unequal representation for no good reason.
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Re: The Bechdel test

Postby infernovia » Thu Nov 04, 2010 8:06 pm UTC

As to whether an unequal outcome is bad... well if we believe that theres nothing inherent about women which makes them less interesting, or capable of filling most film roles, then we should believe an unequal outcome is bad.

"If we assume that women are equal to men, then anything that is unequal among them is bad."

Well, here is my question. Can two intelligent beings have completely different interest? Does it make one inferior to the other that they do?


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