“Fun Home” author Alison Bechdel coined the Bechdel Test over thirty years ago as a simple way to measure a story’s gender equity. The test is simple: Does a movie or TV show have more than two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man? Surprisingly few pass the bar, although things have been changing. Now, the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media has introduced their own test to determine whether or not a movie or TV show defies gender stereotypes.
“This matters because these rigid stereotypes are holding us back — politically, economically and socially,” reads a report released by Common Sense Media yesterday. “Gender stereotypes riddle our movies, TV shows, online videos, games, and more, telling our boys that it’s OK to use aggression to solve problems and our girls that their self-worth is tied to their appearance.”
“Everyone I encountered in the industry tried to tell me it wasn’t a problem any more, that it had been fixed,” actress Geena Davis told the New York Times. Davis is an advisor on the project and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. “Even people making these products are sure they’re gender-balanced when they’re profoundly not.”
Jack Dempsey/Invision for Chase Sapphire/AP Images
The group already evaluates media in seven different categories: Positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking, drugs and smoking. They will add an eighth metric to highlight positive gender representation.
The rates of measurement are more subjective than the Bechdel Test, causing some complicated choices. Despite depictions of violence and drug use, “Moonlight” received the stamp of approval for its singular and nuanced exploration of black male sexuality. The Fox series “Bones” made the cut for showing women as scientists, while “Bridesmaids” did not. “There wasn’t necessarily an intent to push against gender stereotypes,” said Common Sense executive editor for ratings Betsy Bozdech.
For now, the ratings will mostly be used as a guide for parents who feel frustrated by Hollywood’s use of outdated gender roles. As Common Sense’s influence grows, the seal of approval may guide potential advertisers as well.