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Swedish Cinemas Push Hard for Gender Equity

Swedish Cinemas Push Hard for Gender Equity

What is it about Sweden? What’s in the water? On the heels of my recent piece about what the Swedish government is doing to combat the gender disparity in the directing ranks, now comes news that four Swedish cinemas are creating a gender rating for films using the Bechdel Test as the criteria.

The cinemas will hand out the A rating to films that pass the test.  For the uninitiated, to pass the Bechdel Test you have to have two women talk to each other about something other than men.  The reality is that most Hollywood movies wouldn’t pass the test and quite frankly, most indies wouldn’t pass either.

The rating is not any acknowledgement of quality, rather it seems to me to be an acknowledgement of the fact that we live in a world where women’s stories and experiences are not valued in the same way as male stories and experiences. 

The rating has already caused a stir including with Swedish film critic Hynek Pallas (who by the way is a dude) saying: “There are far too many films that pass the Bechdel test that don’t help at all in making society more equal or better, and lots of films that don’t pass the test but are fantastic at those things.”

To me that quote misses the point.  The Bechdel Test has never been about saying that one film or TV show or anything is better because it has women in it. The point is to highlight the lack of gender diversity that rules most of our popular media. Quality is a whole different conversation. It goes without saying that I have seen crappy movies and TV shows that pass the Bechdel Test.

This is clearly something that it on people’s minds – both pro and con. The AP story that got picked up in the Guardian has over 10,000 Facebook likes and 500 comments since it went up. 

It would be great if we lived in a world where the media we consumed reflected the world we live in. That is not the case. By highlighted the gender disparity this allows us as a culture to confront these very difficult and much needed conversations. 

Bring it on.

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Funny that FUBAR hit on "alien" as an example. That's the punchline in the the original DTWOF comic strip that immortalized the test. (See Bechdel test on wikipedia.) The strip also makes it clear that the test isn't a gauge of quality. Rather, it's one righteous, quirky lesbian explaining to another what her personal rules are for seeing a movie. There are a lot movies, and as fans of the strip know, she's got a busy life, and limited funds to spend on movies. So she only sees movies where two female characters (of any species!) have a conversation (about anything other than a man). It's not strange that a woman-focused-woman would like to see interactions between women, and films where women help to drive the plot.

But outside of the comic, the "Bechdel rule" took on a life of its own. As people tried their hand at making lists, it became starkly obvious how startlingly few movies made the cut. Try it yourself, and contrast your results to the thousands of movies where men talk to each other about all kinds of things. So the test has become a consciousness raising device. It's a way to remind directors (as well as moviegoers) that character development and plot development do not actually require that a man be onscreen.


I don't understand how this test works. Pacific Rim, The Avengers and Aliens (don't know if Ripley talking to Newt counts) don't pass the Bechdel Test but Sex and the City 2 and Last House on the Left do. Does that man SATC2 and Last House on the Left are inherently better? Or does this test only apply to movies that are not that good?

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