“The Bechdel Test”

This test is often applied to creative works (generally movies) as part of our critiques here. The rule/law/test has a lot of names but some fairly simple requirements. The work in question must:

1) Contain at least two women

2) Who talk to each other

3) About something other than a man.

This test doesn’t “guarantee” anything– movies can pass and still be misogynist dreck; movies can fail and still be impressive works of art worthy of feminist consideration. It’s just a way of thinking about women in movies, because even though a lot of movies fail the Bechdel Test, can you think of any mainstream movie that would fail the reverse Bechdel Test?

The origin of the test is here. I’ve heard it called the Bechdel Test, Bechdel’s Law, the Mo Movie Measure, the ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ test, and all sorts of other things. I’ve chosen to call it the Bechdel Test because, well, because. It’s the first I heard and therefore the first to spring to my mind, but the others are, I suppose, equally correct. It’s the concept that matters.


According to Eloriane, this is a term that ought to be adopted much more widely. The term, and its implications, are well-explained here. The short version:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms.  The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).

– Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books   New York

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid.  At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it’s more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they’re not the ones I find most dangerous. There’s a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down.


One Response to Terms

  1. […] Bechdel Test Posted by: eloriane | August 13, 2008 […]

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