A lot of movies and TV shows are lousy at portraying female characters in ways other than how they relate to male characters. The three-question Bechdel Test is a classic measure of female presence in works of fiction.
Consider if the Bechdel Test applied to your everyday interactions, thoughts, and priorities. Would you find that you are the token woman character in your own life?
1. Are there two or more women?
It’s pretty safe to say that two or more women are part of your life. This question is really about whether we choose to engage in female relationships that foster friendship, mentorship, and intellectual challenge.
We have so much to learn from the women in our daily lives. Do find a female mentor at work. Do ask a professor for recommendations on classes next semester taught by her female colleagues.
Don’t let yourself think that one strong female influence in your life is plenty. Don’t lazily say, “I just get along better with guys.” You deserve intelligent discourse with women who have differing opinions and life experiences so that you can develop a worldview of your own.
2. Do the women talk to each other?
In addition to finding female role models, we can’t forget to prioritize time with our girlfriends. For me, this starts to slip when I get into a long-term relationship. I’ll rely exclusively on my boyfriend as my sounding board, which he is lovingly obligated to be. By and by, he becomes my only source of conversation, and I turn into a 26-year-old hermit.
So I get it. It’s comfortable to have a male partner who is your best friend. However, it’s a shame when we start not giving a hoot about keeping up with our girlfriends.
Guard the intimacy of female friendship. The way we tease, argue, laugh, cry, and just sit on the couch marathoning 30 Rock together is special, and no matter how fantastic your boyfriend is, he can’t relate like they can. Whether you and your girlfriends are more Beaches or Bridesmaids, make the effort to be there for them, and they’ll do the same.
3. …About topics other than men?
This is probably the toughest Bechdel prong to satisfy. The other night, three female friends and I went to dinner. After the waiter took the check I realized that the entire meal had been a roundtable discussion about our boyfriends and not-quite-boyfriends. Never mind that G. had just scored a prestigious clerkship, S. just finished the first season of Orange is the New Black, and E.’s stress fracture finally healed. We barely broached the subjects. Instead, we held four press conferences on each of our relationship statuses.
Ingrained habits are hard to break. As girls, many of us pretended to be brides and pushed baby dolls in plastic strollers. Many of our childhood movies (this was pre-Mulan, mind you) would have failed the Bechdel Test. Our implied role, first and foremost, is to be man’s caretaker. So naturally, even in a group of bright, capable women, we commonly revert to male-centric conversation.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t care about male viewpoints or our male friends’ wellbeing. We should, however, catch ourselves and examine ways to better take advantage of female friendships. Movies that pass the Bechdel Test typically do at least as well at the box office as those that don’t. The problem is not that we don’t find female characters interesting or entertaining, it’s that we’ve accepted story lines that put women second.