Since winning this big grant to educate college, high school and middle school students on the paucity of women in the media, I have begun stumbling upon new websites, blogs, and video blogs that address this issue. And boy, am I learning a lot!
As a theatre person at heart, I do not spend a lot of time studying film, movies or Hollywood. It has just never appealed to me. I like a well written, well acted, and well directed movie, but my first love is for plays and live theatre. Interestingly, people often assume if you like to act or direct than you want to do film. This may be because so many Hollywood “stars” come back to Broadway to do plays, now more than ever. But I have done some small film work and found it mind numbing. (See the side of my face as an extra at the airport in 27 Dresses. I walk in front of Malin Akerman).
This week in my research I stumbled upon Melissa A Fabello’s video blog on women’s representation in horror movies. She and her friend discuss the Bechdel test. From there I found the v-blog Feminist Frequency, run by Anita Sarkeesian, who also talks about media representation and the Bechdel test. One of my best friends, who is a filmmaker and movie buff, knew all about it. But I’m writing about it today because I don’t think the general public does, and you should!
Basically it was started, kind of tongue-in-cheek, by Alison Bechdel, in her famous comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (Mo Movie Measure). The “rule” or test, goes like this: (1) there has to be at least two NAMED women in the movie, (2) they have to talk to one another, (3) about anything other than a man. In last year’s Academy Awards nominees, only two of the nine movies nominated met the test. And as Anita Sarkeesian said, “Let’s remember that this was made as a bit of a joke to make fun of the fact that there are so few movies with significant female characters in them. The reason the test has become so important in recent years is because it actually does highlight a serious and ongoing problem within the entertainment industry.”
What has also been illuminating for me in this research and work I am now consumed with is that “chick flicks,” often fail this Bechdel test. Wouldn’t it be great if before we went to the movies or downloaded that movie to our television we could make sure they pass this test? Anita Sarkeesian has suggested adding another question to this test; (4) Do the two women talk to each other for at least 60 seconds? When you add this fourth question, even more movies fail the test.
While I do my best in this blog to critique pop culture and educate my readers, there is NOT always a takeaway in terms of social change. Today I am trying more than ever to live what I preach. After winning my award I decided I couldn’t subscribe to my favorite local theatre because they are producing no plays by women this year. So in this case, don’t go to movies that fail the test. Do go to movies that pass, particularly those with women directors. Go on the Friday of opening weekend. This is the date Hollywood uses to judge how well the movie did. There’s a rumor out there that some amazing feminist film folks are developing an app for this. I can also recommend subscribing to Melissa Silverstein’s Women and Hollywood if you are into the indie/women/film scene.
If we don’t start using our consumer voice to tell the world how WE want it, those in control will continue running it the way they want to see it: white, male, with women serving as prop pieces.