Alison Bechdel Claims Feminist Bechdel Test Was Originally A Joke, Dismayed About Films Taking Shortcuts With “Strong Female Characters”

(L-R): Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, and Teyonah Parris as Captain Monica Rambeau in Marvel Studios' THE MARVELS. Photo by Laura Radford. © 2023 MARVEL.

Alison Bechdel, who coined the feminist Bechdel Test in her 1985 comic strip “The Rule” recently claimed the test was a joke and was not meant to be taken seriously.

Alison Bechdel. Photo Credit: Chase Elliott Clark, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In “The Rule” a woman explains to a friend that she will only go see a movie if it satisfies three rules. “One it has to have at least two women in it who two, talk to each other about, three something besides a man.”

The Bechdel Test

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In an interview with The Guardian back in July Bechdel admitted the test is a joke.

She was asked, “How do you feel about it these days?” In response, she said, “It was a joke. I didn’t ever intend for it to be the real gauge it has become and it’s hard to keep talking about it over and over, but it’s kind of cool.”

(L-R): Natalie Portman as Mighty Thor and Chris Hemsworth as Thor in Marvel Studios’ THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER. Photo by Jasin Boland. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Bechdel was then asked if she found it dismaying that movies continue to fail the test.

She answered, “What’s really dismaying now is the way so many movies cynically try to take shortcuts and feature strong female characters – but they just have a veneer of strength and they’re still not fully developed characters.”

(L-R): Huyang (David Tennant) and Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) in Lucasfilm’s STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved

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Bechdel’s criticism echoes what a number of top female actors have said in recent years. Back in November 2022, Emily Blunt shared with The Telegraph, “t’s the worst thing ever when you open a script and read the words ‘strong female lead.’ That makes me roll my eyes. I’m already out. I’m bored.”

She added, “Those roles are written as incredibly stoic, you spend the whole time acting tough and saying tough things.”

The Angel of Verdun (Emily Blunt) looks on as Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) embarrasses himself on the battlefield in Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Warner Bros. Pictures via Blu-ray

The Angel of Verdun (Emily Blunt) looks on as Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) embarrasses himself on the battlefield in Edge of Tomorrow (2014), Warner Bros. Pictures via Blu-ray

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law actress Tatiana Maslany described the concept of a “strong female lead” as “reductive” in an interview with The Guardian back in August 2022.

Maslany elaborated, “It’s just as much a shaving off of all the nuances, and just as much of a trope. It’s a box that nobody fits into. Even the phrase is frustrating. It’s as if we’re supposed to be grateful that we get to be that.”

(L-R): Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos and Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer “Jen” Walters/She-Hulk in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

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Emma Thompson also told Culture Blast back in December 2020, “So all the women screenwriters I talk to, I say, ‘Well, what’s the story?’ Because it’s not good enough simply to give the women the guns, and then make the women badass, as well.”

“Now women have to be badass — if they’re feminine in the way that they used to be, and they’re not badass, then they’re not welcome,” she sighed. “Also, they’re not allowed to cry, apparently, anymore, because we’ve just got to be like the men.”

She continued, “And I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s not what we meant.’ When I got a group of women together in my thirties, and I said, ‘Okay, what’s the female heroine? Who is that? What does she do?’ Because she hasn’t got the wherewithal to do the Superman, to do the Godfather, that’s not the point. That’s not where our heroism lies. So how do we make it heroic?”

Emma Thompson as the Baroness and Andrew Leung as Jeffrey in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What do you make of Bechdel admitting the test was a joke and was not meant to be taken seriously?

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