I’m going to take a break from reviewing a specific movie this week, and instead want to talk about some of the various “feminist” tests that are popular when viewing movies and seeing how well it represents certain identities.
Perhaps the most well-known of these tests is the Bechdel test, which derives from Alison Benchdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, in 1985. In the strip, a character states that she will only watch a movie if it fulfills three requirements;
- Has at least two women in it,
- Who talk to each other,
- About something besides a man.
While I believe that this is an interesting test and points out the lack of gender representation within a film, there have been many critiques of the Bechdel tests worthiness. For instance, Melissa Silverstein states, “The Bechdel Test is not a feminist test. It is a gender test…. The Bechdel Test doesn’t check for quality, it doesn’t check for violence, it doesn’t check to see how women are treated. It just asks a simple question—are women visible?”
I believe that the Bechdel Test works in that it points out the lack of gender diversity that exists within our pop culture. Our media is dominated by male characters and voices within all genres. For instance, within children’s media, only 17 percent of characters are female.
In response to some of the shortcomings of the Bechdel Test, who passes movies including The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Little Mermaid (as well as many Disney princess films), and The Savages– none of which I would consider especially feminist films, has come the Mako Mori Test.
The Mako Mori Test comes from film Pacific Rim where the main character, Mako Mori, is simple, a badass. She is strong (mentally and physically), brave, witty, and a leader. She has her own story arc and she excels. And, she fails the Bechdel Test.
From this, the Mako Mori Test has been created, stating to pass a movie has to
- Have at least one female character,
- Who gets her own narrative arc,
- That is not about supporting a man’s story
Arguably, it is possible for a film to not pass the Mako Mori Test and be feminist or for it to pass the test and still be sexist or gendered. I like the Mako Mori Test, however, because I think that it approaches movies from a different angle.
Neither of these tests is really meant to test whether a film is feminist or not, but to measure the exposure of gender within film today.
Another test, the Vito Russo Test, has also recently come onto the scene as well. Inspired by the Benchdel Test, the Vito Russo Test examines the exposure of characters from the LGBTQ+ community and evaluates movies based on
- If the film contains a character that identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender,
- The character cannot solely or predominantly be defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity,
- The LGBTQ+ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect
All of these tests help to measure different elements of film and to recognize who is and is not being noticed or represented in film. None of these tests are meant to be an absolute for defining what is or is not feminist. They help to create increased understanding on the issues that exist and ultimately, if we continue to create these types of tests and have discussions about them, the more likely it will be for change to occur.