The "Bechdel Test" is a website that rates movies on a few criteria related to female characters:
- The movie has at least two [named] female characters in it...
- ...who speak to each other...
- ...about something other than a man.
The "test" originates from a strip from Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For, wherein one of the characters explains that they will only watch movies which pass these three rules. The makers of bechdeltest.com have taken the rules to heart and set up a website wherein movies may be submitted and rated as to whether or not they pass the test, and to what extent. There is even some interesting discussion and a few disputed movies on the site. Some of the results are, frankly, a little surprising.
Below is a visualization of more than a century's worth of movies. The thickness of the line depicts the number of movies in the database for that year, the x-axis is time, and the y-axis is how close the average movie that year came to passing the test. Hovering over each year's segment will show you the exact information for that year, and clicking on a segment will take you to that year's page on bechdeltest.com
The male gaze is a term used to describe the hetrosexual male centric style of film-making that has dominated in the western world. In short, it is the tendency of film-makers to center the film around a heterosexual male character as the subject, even if they're not the protagonist, or even one of the main characters, while making female characters the object. The idea was first put forth by Laura Mulvey in 1975 in order to describe certain trends prevalent in film-making at the time and up until that point. As visible from the graph above, there has been a trend upward, though much has remained steady over the last two decades or so.
This trend is visible even in movies with strong female characters. The wildly popular 2012 movie The Avengers, for example, has two or three strong female characters: Black Widow, Pepper Potts, and Agent Maria Hill. However, none of these three characters speak with each other, much less even have the opportunity to speak about anything other than a man. This is how the Bechdel Test can act as one indicator of the Male Gaze. It is not a perfect indicator, as it takes nothing into account except dialog, and it certainly doesn't indicate whether a movie is good or not. However, it does provide an example of just how prevalent this sort of heterocentric, male-centric storytelling is within the industry.
This visualization was generated by pulling down the page for all results from bechdeltest.com and using the delightful BeautifulSoup package to pull the information needed into JSON, then building the visualization with Protovis.
- "The Bechdel Test". http://bechdeltest.com. Accessed June 24, 2012
- "The Male Gaze". http://www.whatwherewhy.me/blog/2012/06/11/the-male-gaze/. Accessed June 15, 2012
- "Male Gaze". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male_gaze. Accessed June 25, 2012