My thing

by Starfoxy

I’m Starfoxy. I’m a married at home parent to two little boys. I’m a nursery leader in one of our ward’s nurseries. I have a degree in Astrophysics. I will also be blogging here regularly from now on, about which I am very excited.

Everyone has a thing. Something that you fixate on. Something that you care about, and think really matters. Lots of the time, people will agree with you that, yes, it does matter. Sometimes they won’t. Sometimes your thing is something you have a career in, sometimes not. My husband’s thing is intellectual property, and copyright law, he’s a software engineer.

My thing is the representation of women in media. I fixate on and analyze advertisements, movies, TV shows, news broadcasts, and books. Someday I would like to be Jean Kilbourne. I could go on for hours about some of this stuff, long after other people have lost interest.

One thing that I’ve come across is called the Bechdel test or rule. The rule was popularized by Alison Bechdel in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” Ms. Bechdel says that the rule originated with one of her friends, and is alternately called the Mo Movie Measure, or the Bechdel-Wallace test.

A movie is said to pass if it meets these three reqirements:

  1. It has at least two female characters in it.
  2. They talk to each other…
  3. About something other than a man.

This test is surprisingly stringent, and lots of movies that have ‘strong female characters’ do not pass this test. The thing I really like about this test is the ambiguity in the last requirement. If you get strict about it, you could even say that some chick flicks fail this test, because the whole movie revolves around ‘catching’ a man, no matter how many women are in it.

The other thing I like about this test, is thinking of how a movie could be changed so that it would pass, and what those changes would mean. For example, Finding Nemo barely passes, only because Flo asks Peach about the patient’s root canal during an ensemble scene. However, if any one of a number of other characters were female the movie would easily pass the test. If one of the other aquarium fish were female, Nigel the Pelican, One of the sharks, or Crush the Turtle to name a few.

Another thing it brings up is what sorts of behaviors we like in men or women. Again from Finding Nemo, if Bruce the shark had been a woman she would have been a less likable character. The loud, pushy, male stereotype is more likable than the loud, pushy, female stereotype. While Bruce was obviously meant to be annoying, he was still funny, and likeable. If the only difference was a woman’s voice reading the same lines, she suddenly becomes an insufferable mother-in-law sort of character- practically a villain. This is a clear illustration of how our society feels about pushiness in women as opposed to men.

Whenever my husband and I watch a movie we bring up this test, and play “what if” with it. It’s a great way to open discussions about what sort of stories are told, the roles characters play, and how we would feel about them if they were different.


Starfoxy is a fulltime caretaker for her two children.

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26 Responses

  1. amanda says:

    Shoot. I think this just ruined a whole bunch of movies for me.

  2. Ziff says:

    Starfoxy! I’m so glad to see you blogging here. I’ve really enjoyed your writing and I love the Exponent, so having you blogging here is wonderful! You make one more reason (as if there weren’t enough already) to read and follow regularly.

    Bechdel’s test sounds really interesting. I love encountering new ways of seeing things, although like Amanda, I guess I might find that the movies I like most are all hopelessly sexist. 🙁

  3. jks says:

    I also think it is interesting to observe how women are portrayed in TV and movies and ads. I’ll definitely remember this test.

  4. Alisa says:

    Welcome, Starfoxy!

    What a fascinating, simple test that I’m going to have to think on.

  5. esodhiambo says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing–and I love that you used Nemo to illustrate. I guess the scriptures don’t pass the Bechdel test.

  6. Caroline says:

    Starfoxy, what a great test! I’m going to have to think about that from now on when I see a movie.

    My thing (one of my things) is inclusive language. It drives me nuts when people talk about ‘men’ for all humans. You can imagine how the three hour block makes me crazy.

  7. G says:

    awesome! I love that Alison Bechdel was used as a reference in an exponent post!

    And Welcome Starfoxy!

    now, I’m going to have to revisit some of my movie favs and see how they stack up (I can already guess it may be a bit dim. Dang.)

  8. suzann says:

    Yikes, I am a sap for romance, chick flicks. How embarrassing!


  9. Starfoxy says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone.
    I do feel that I should say that I don’t think a movie that ‘fails’ the Bechdel test is necessarily a sexist or bad movie. It is not a bad thing to tell stories about men & boys where women are supporting characters. Nor is it a bad thing to tell stories about love and romance.
    I think it is a useful tool for finding trends in movies, and looking at the sorts of stories that get screen time. I don’t use it for labeling movies as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

    So, one movie that fails the test isn’t a bad thing. When every summer blockbuster fails the test *that* is a bad thing.

  10. Jessawhy says:

    This is an awesome post. I must admit to having read it a few days ago in queue, and I’ve been thinking of this test ever since.

    It seems to favor dramas, and not as much romantic comedies.
    So, what about Bride Wars? The movie is about friendship, but when the dialogue surrounds wedding planning, is that the same as a discussion about men?
    I know I just mentioned on the other thread that I thought Monsters V Aliens was a feminist movie, but now I’m not sure how it passes the Bechdel test.
    And I will defend Finding Nemo to say that at least Marlin and Dory are obviously not romantic interests. That in itself is a redeeming quality.

    (Now I’m imagining a regular Exponent Movie Watchers club. Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

    Thanks again for the wonderful post, and I am delighted that you’re here blogging with us. Hooray!

  11. Starfoxy says:

    You know, I never would have thought of Monsters V Aliens as a feminist movie. But again, I don’t think passing this test necessarily makes a movie good, or bad, or even feminist or not. Like you said about Finding Nemo, Dori and Marlin aren’t romantic interests. Dori is rather well educated, and is a female character with a developed personality. In that way the movie is very feminist.
    On the other hand, we just watched Despereaux which passes the Bechdel test, even though the only female characters are the (helpless) Princess and a servant girl who desperately wants to be a Princess. Not very feminist at all.
    So it isn’t an effective measure of how feminist a movie is, just a tool for teasing out some sexist patterns in movie making.

  12. G says:

    oh oh! I totally second an Exponent Movie watchers club!

  13. Jessawhy says:

    Did you see Monsters V Aliens?
    I wasn’t sure if you didn’t guess it would be, or you didn’t think so after seeing it.

    G, I nominate you to be the chair of the Exponent Movie watchers club (perhaps those of us in similar locations could watch movies together?)

  14. EmilyCC says:

    Starfoxy, I’ve fantasized about you coming to the Exponent for a long time! So glad we have you in our clutches!

    While I’m on fantasies, I also often fantasize about having a YW activity using Jean Kilbourne’s work to have the YW analyze media images.

    I’m going to see the Ghosts of Girlfriends Past with some friends from my ward tonight–any bets on if it passes the Bechdel-Wallace test? 🙂

  15. Starfoxy says:

    Jessawhy, I haven’t seen Monsters V Aliens, and until you mentioned it being an animated film I was thinking of Alien V Predator. So you know, that was confusing at best.
    And I totally agree about an exponent movie watchers club. It’d be like a feminist MST3K.

  16. jks says:

    Of course there is more than one way for a movie/tv show to be feminist, or non-feminist. I like how this test tries to determine if there are female characters (at least two) and if they talk to each other and what the subject matter is. In other words, do they exist just to further the true male action? Do they only exist as a relationship to the males?Are they actually real people with thoughts and ideas interacting without males?
    For instance, I was watching Castle yesterday (haven’t finished it) but after reading this I thought over what I had seen. Castle’s mother and the female detective were actually in the same room, but the conversation and the dynamics were really about Castle and his mother, and Castle and the female detective (possible love interest). When the two women spoke, it was about Castle and his hand and his bets and his bluffing or not.
    His mom and his daughter were also in the show. But only show while he is there, and they are both facing him and talking about him (and the detective).
    Even a decent romantic comedy should be able to show a woman character and another woman character having a conversation about something. If it doesn’t, then why not?
    There are very few movies/tv shows that do not show two men having conversations not about women.

  17. Starfoxy, I’m delighted to see you blogging here. And what a charming avatar pic!

    I’d never heard of this test before—an evangelical egalitarian does not a true feminist make, I’m afraid, but now I’m going to be thinking about it every time I watch a movie.

  18. Kiri Close says:

    Love this post. Viva la feminist du media!

  19. FoxyJ says:

    I’ve heard about this before, and it is surprisingly hard to do. We just watched Doubt and it definitely passes the test 🙂

    I do think that it’s an interesting exercise in analysis and a good way to shake up our usual view of things, but I wouldn’t necessarily extrapolate it out into value judgements or anything. One thing I’ve found from using it is that movies often have a group of men and one woman, but rarely a group of woman and one man.

  20. kmillecam says:

    This will be fascinating to try out from now on, in film and on TV and such.

  21. D'Arcy says:

    Starfoxy! Welcome. I’m glad we are coming on board at the same time and you bring out some things that fascinate me as well.

    Do you know what, I just got back from seeing Wolverine: X-Men Origins. I think there is exactly ONE converstion between two sisters and it deals with escaping from evil men, but it doesn’t actually talk about men, just an escape route. Would this pass?

    I would love to start doing some movie reviews on Exponent! I studied film for several years and it certainly is a major form of media getting into the minds of the masses.

    So many things out there telling us a certain way to be and who we are, it feels good when we finally start subscribing to our own ideals and no one elses.

  22. Rebecca says:

    Great post Starfoxy! I went back after reading your part deux from today. I just clicked on the Jean Kilbourne link. Some of the ads featuring women there are awful. I particularly hate the Bebe woman in a cage and the vodka vagina. What are people thinking? Oh my, and go google Diesel Be Stupid. It’s unbelievable.

    You talk about analyzing women in movies as your thing. The thing that bothers me most is all the toys and games marketed to girls that feature shopping. Barbie with a credit card, Silly girls giggling at the mall while they shop together, even the Webkinz website is mostly about shopping for your little animals. This is what women do. We shop. And giggle. And giggle while shopping.

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