15 Great Feminist Movies That Fail the Bechdel Test

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A recent Twitter dustup called into question the whole point of the Bechdel test, a set of criteria to help gauge the representation of women in popular entertainment first put forth by Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 and inspired, in part, essay from Virginia Wolf. By way of reminder, the criteria are thus (though there are variations): 1) A movie has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than a man.

Amid the recent release of Hulu’s queer-male centric Fire Island movie, New York Magazine writer Hanna Rosin took issue, referring to the Bechdel test in her tweeted criticism by noting the movie gets an “F- on the Bechdel test in a whole new way.” In fairness to the writer, she’s since deleted the tweet and apologized for, perhaps, taking unnecessary aim at a rare movie spotlighting the queer AAPI experience.

Nevertheless, Alison Bechdel herself isn’t nearly so precious about the test as are those who’d either use it to be overly critical, or criticize it as overly reductive. She responded to the hubbub by carving out a special exemption:

There are certainly movies that pass the Bechdel Test that certainly don’t qualify as masterpieces of feminism. Think of the sex comedies of the 1980s; Weird Science passes, but the story of two nerds who use science to craft a hot girlfriend likely isn’t quite what Bechdel had in mind. Similarly, as we’ll see, there are movies that don’t pass, and yet still have feminist cred to spare.

I’m using the broadest possible definition of feminism here, including movies with characters and themes that directly challenge misogyny, as well as those that feature well-developed, stereotype-defying female-identified characters with agency.

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