Name a movie where there were two named men who had a conversation that was not about women. With the exception of Barbie movies I watch with one of the girls I babysit, I can think of…every movie I’ve ever seen. Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, Die Hard, Every Disney Princess movie, every Disney Pixar movie, the Batman series, the Superman series, The Avengers…I’m having a harder time thinking of a movie where this does not apply.
And then I try to do the same with female characters. And all of a sudden, it becomes difficult. The women who are named in Lord of the Rings (Arwen, Eowyn, and Galadriel, because there are only three) never speak to one another. There are only two women with names in the original Star Wars series (Aunt Beru and Princess Leia) and they never meet. Even in Disney movies it’s difficult. Pixar movies only pass the test half the time, with Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Wall-E, Up, Monster’s Inc., Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo coming up short. Avengers came pretty darn close, I mean, Natasha Romanov and Agent Hill were in the same room, standing ten feet away from one another. They just never actually said anything.
The Bechdal Test is applied to movies to unofficially label them as gender-equal or not. To do this, it asks a few very simple questions: are there at least two male and female characters who have a name? Do they speak to each other? and Do they talk about something other than a love interest? Most movies fail the test, and let me give you a hint: it’s not because they don’t meet the standards for men.
Now, the test isn’t a way to claim that Star Wars or Lord of the Rings are sexist movies. They are not. Princess Leia and Eowyn are strong, capable, powerful women who proved to me, even as a toddler, that girls could live up to the same world-saving status as men. However, the test does prove a point. Being introduced to Star Wars at a young age, I had a few options of who to look up to and model myself after. Leia, or Padme. I didn’t even have Jedi. My brother had Luke, Anakin, Obi Wan, Han Solo, Yoda, Mace Windu, Qui Gon, Lando, even Chubaca was male. There was such a diverse set of characters, it left guys with a higher probability of relating to who they saw on the big screen. If you weren’t a goody-too-shoes like Luke, you could have been an anti-hero like Han Solo. If you stuck to the rules of tradition, there was Yoda, but if you were a rule breaker and hated boundaries, there was Anakin. You had options. If I don’t relate to someone, I’m kind of just out of luck.
The fact that different characters are being explored, especially in the “superhero” category, means we’re making progress. There seems to be this idea that if there are too many girls in a movie, it will somehow become less appealing to guys. I don’t understand why men would care if a girl is punching something in place of a guy, but even if I stretch far enough to give in to that, there are major flaws with the logic. If you’re going to say guys like action movies more than other genres, fine, I guess other people know more about that than I do. But saying more guys like action movies than girls is frustrating, because I have been able to quote action movies since the age of five, and it’s not because I’m a rarity. More women are exposed to, and love, superheros and wild adventures than we are given credit for. We have no problem watching men fight in not-skin-tight suits, so I’m not sure why female superheros have to show skin. We have no problem watching a team of guys save the world, so I’m at a loss as to why someone would have a problem watching a team of girls save the world. As it stands right now, there is no balance, and there is no reason that there is no balance.
And when someone tries to make the argument that the movie industry doesn’t express any gender bias, it just emphasizes the point that they aren’t even trying.