The Bechdel Test for Religion

If you’re an informed observer of media, you may have heard of the so-called Bechdel test, popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, that’s used to judge the female-friendliness of movies and other media. For a movie to pass this test, it has to have:

(1) two or more female characters;
(2) who talk to each other;
(3) about something other than a man.

Despite this being such a low hurdle – it doesn’t establish that the movie is in any way feminist, merely that it treats women as something more than an appendage or love interest of the male characters – it’s amazing how many movies fail it. And once you’re aware of this test, it’s easy to notice when a movie doesn’t pass. This makes it a classic example of consciousness-raising: it highlights Hollywood’s tendency to create movies where women exist only in relation to men and not as individuals in their own right.

This is such a useful way of highlighting bias, I think it’s worth creating a similar test for religion, to help believers notice sexism in their churches they might have overlooked. My suggestion is as follows. For a religion to pass this test, it has to have:

(1) at least one woman in a position of authority;
(2) who plays a formal, recognized role in shaping doctrine or practice;
(3) that is binding on male members of that religion.

Let me further explain the meaning of these tests. The first asks whether a religion has any roles of authority – any official position within the church that carries power – that are open to women, or whether female members are restricted to being lay members with no power. The second asks whether that authoritative role confers any power to actually define what will be the canonical elements of that religion – to issue decrees, to define the correct interpretation of holy books, to vote on church reforms, to shape official practice – and the like, or whether the only duties of that position are to passively transmit preexisting ideas. If women do have such authoritative roles, the third test asks whether they can set doctrine that applies to men who are members of that religion, or whether their decisions apply only to other women.

If a religion categorically excludes women from all positions of authority, it fails. If it gives women positions of authority, but only so that they can teach and pass on doctrine created by men, it fails. If it permits women to create doctrine, but doctrine that’s only applicable to other women, it fails.

For instance, Islam, as it’s currently practiced throughout most of the world, fails at the first criterion; women aren’t permitted to be imams or to issue fatwas, or to do much of anything other than obey the dictates of men. The same is true of Mormonism, which deliberately bars women from its priesthood, of the Southern Baptists, and of Orthodox Judaism.

Roman Catholicism fails at the second criterion; it permits women to be nuns, thus passing the first test (if only barely). But cardinals, bishops and ultimately the Pope, the only church officials who can define what’s authoritative in matters of belief and practice for Catholics, can only be men.

The conservative Anglicans currently threatening to break away from the rest of their church, meanwhile, would arguably fail at the third test. They wanted to permit women to be bishops only on the condition that a separate order of male-only bishops be created to minister to their congregations. This would imply that no male Anglican could be subject to a female bishop if he didn’t want to be.

As with the Bechdel test, the mere fact that a religion passes this test doesn’t mean that it’s a feminist or egalitarian religion. It could still be appallingly sexist. It could still have rules that treat women as inferior to men. And it could still be harmful in any number of other ways. But I would argue that this test is the bare minimum – the first necessary, but not sufficient, step for any religion to genuinely treat women as equals.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com Spanish Inquisitor

    I could never understand why women ever had anything to do with religion. There’s nothing in it for them.

  • Wednesday

    This is an interesting idea. It’s kind of stunning to me how complacent I can be about female participation in organized religion when it’s something I’m seriously concerned about in politics, academia, and the upper eschalons of industry.

    I’m wondering if maybe it’s also appropriate to have a similar test for religions allowing full participation of LGBTs, since “you allowed women and gays to be clergy” is a popular reason for conservative congregations splitting away from some of the more mainstream denominations like ELCA and the Episcopalians. Oppression of women as a group and of the LGBT community as a group go hand in hand; a lot of the motivation is related to preserving rigid gender roles. (I do recognize that it’s harder to justify a LGBT Bechdel test for film, if only because LGBTs are a statistical minority; what makes the original Bechdel test remarkable is how often it is failed even though women are in fact a slim majority of the population.)

    @Spanish Inquisitor – there’s a lot of ways to explain why women have been involved in religion throughout history, including today, but here’s one that I think might make more sense to you: it’s significantly harder to be a “double minority”. If society already restricts your opportunities and power because you’re female, it’s going to be even harder to get by if you reject the dominant religion and thus have your opportunities and power further restricted for being a blasphemer/heretic/etc. And given that religious organizations in the US and Europe tended to have a lot more power in the immediate community in the past than they do today, it becomes easier to see why women would be a part of a religion that actively perpetuated their oppression.

  • Izkata

    Yeeaah, the Bechdel test is kinda invalidated for me when I realized that, if it weren’t for college, my life would fail it. So in my case, movies aren’t necessarily male-centric – they’re a reflection of real life.

    Careful yours doesn’t fall into some sort of similar trap. For example, a lone church that considers itself to be following its own religion, so there’s only one position of authority. Or the versions of christianity that don’t have positions of authority because they don’t go to church.

    (You forgot one of the Bechdel conditions anyway: The two women both have to have names, that are used within the movie)

  • Katie M

    I guess I’m not an informed observer of media, since I’ve never heard of this test.

    This sounds like a good way to determine which religions are more enlightened (comparatively speaking, of course) when it comes to women. There are no truly enlightened religions in the end. If there were, they’d listen to science :)

  • Sarah Braasch

    Yeah, I get really sick of people thinking they’ve made a fantastic retort against my pontificating against religious misogyny when they tell me that women are often the propagators of barbaric patriarchal traditions.

    If women conform, then they gain some power within the religious patriarchy. As long as they conform to their assigned role.

    There is usually no benefit and much detriment to be had by rejecting the religious patriarchy all together.

    That is why the women in particularly oppressive and patriarchal religious societies, like Pakistan and Afghanistan are such amazing heroes. They are literally risking their lives and well being.

    But, I think we all need to realize that this also takes place in the U.S. And, it’s not just in Muslim or Hindu or immigrant communities.

    Fundamentalist Christian communities in the US are some of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations against women.

  • L.Long

    SI says ….I could never understand why women ever had anything to do with religion. There’s nothing in it for them…….Me either but….
    I agree with Sarah but only partially…They also get a child like existence by NOT being allowed to make decisions.
    The male has to make all the decisions..He takes care of her…She does not need to think very much. These are general over-simplified but you get the idea.
    In Wicca SHE has to think,make the decision, be in control,live with the results of the decisions.There are lots of women who don’t want that. Yes there are lots of males who don’t that power either.
    I thought a few times how nice it was back then, with my daddy making the big decision and all I had to do all day is play. And when I had that option all I wanted to do was grow up. But many do not want to be grown up. This may not be the only reason for women to support religion as it is but it is what I have observed.
    And of course you have the years of programming and the absolute fear that there MUST be something beyond this , so there are many powerful reasons to hold the delusion.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I’m going to start looking for movies that pass the Bechdel test. Do you know of any?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    (1) two or more female characters;
    (2) who talk to each other;
    (3) about something other than a man.

    I vaguely remember hearing about this somewhere, but I had no idea it was called the Bechdel Test. It always annoys me when people make the separate but equal argument about women in religion, saying that God loves everyone but has assigned different roles for men and women. It always seems like the “different” role for women is almost always of lower status with less power.

    @Sarah Braasch (comment #4): I agree. It always amazes me when people of one religion try to say that it’s only the other religions which treat women badly, but theirs is actually so wonderful, even though they are also treating women horribly. Sometimes, those who discriminate against women try to defend themselves by saying that at least they’re not as bad as people who commit violence against women. I think it’s important to make the point that being better than the absolute wost example doesn’t necessarily make a person or group good.

    @L.Long (comment #5): Well, I have heard women say that they get special privileges (e.g. being cared for by the father and then husband) for being women, but I haven’t found that convincing. It seems like women are expected to give up actual power over their own lives and, in exchange, are told not to worry, since others will take care of them, making the difficult decisions. Personally, I’d rather have both the rights and any responsibilities or difficult decisions that go along with them.

    @SuperHappyJen (comment #6): If you follow EbonMuse’s link “Bechdel Test” it goes to the tvtropes site, which has lists of books, movies, comics, etc. which pass the test.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Good points, Sharmin.

    Women don’t need to be “protected” by the men in their families and communities.

    Women need to be protected by their laws and constitutions.

  • http://kpharri.wordpress.com/ Keith Harrison

    For interest sake, I’d like to see the Bechdel Test applied in the opposite direction, i.e. to test the appearance of two or more men talking to each other about something other than women. I have little doubt that the list of movies passing this test will be considerably longer than that of the original test, but I suspect there would be numerous failures, too (think of romantic comedies like “You’ve Got Mail”, which probably fail both versions of the test).

    It is hard to imagine, though, that a reverse run of the religious Bechdel test would reveal much. I don’t think I’ve heard of a single religious tradition that eschews the involvement of men (some forms of Wicca, perhaps?). Anyone have any examples?

  • Katie M

    “Special privileges”

    Ick. Give me control over my own life any day.

  • Lynet

    Your test is unfortunately inapplicable to religions which have no binding dogmas, such as Buddhism or modern Unitarianism. Or do they pass steps 2 and 3 automatically?

  • Katie M

    I don’t know about Unitarianism, but I do know that in Buddhism it is considered impossible that there will be a female Buddha. I think what they’re trying to say is that women will never become enlightened at such a high level.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Seriously, Katie M? I did not know that about Buddhism.

    I used to hold a semblance of respect for Buddhism as a life philosophy, not a religion.

    But, that has just been wiped away completely.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com chanson

    @6 Have a look at The Hathor Legacy. They talk about it all the time, and their archives will lead you to plenty of movies that pass the test.

  • Katie M

    Well, as Ebonmuse pointed out, religions bear the stamp of their time.

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/03/fossilized-opinions.html

    And this one mentions Buddhism-

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2006/11/religions-harm-to-women.html

  • Entomologista

    In that case, the Methodist church passes. At least, the Methodist church in Wisconsin. When I was a kid the bishop for the state was a woman, and she decided not to let gay people marry in the church. It’s so ironic, it’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.

  • Philip

    Katie M: Depending on the tradition there are female buddhas, including Kwan Yin and Tara. Apparently Vajrayana Buddhism has a fair number of female Buddhas and bodhisattvas, as listed here.

    N.B. – this is a Google search, not an in-depth study into the development of Buddhist tradition. For all I know, these could have all been traditionally male deities until recently.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    OT: I suspect comment#1 is spam.

  • http://reverendredmage.blogspot.com/ Reverend Red Mage

    (1) two or more female characters;
    (2) who talk to each other;
    (3) about something other than a man.

    Just as a kind of off-topic yet apropos-to-the-first-paragraph comment here, you’d be surprised as to how many video games actually pass this test. First one that comes to mind is Bayonetta, despite its over-sexualization (even though it doesn’t take itself seriously).

    Yet another is Final Fantasy X-2… it features three females.

  • Jeff

    Depending on the tradition there are female buddhas, including Kwan Yin and Tara. Apparently Vajrayana Buddhism has a fair number of female Buddhas and bodhisattvas

    Yes, but in practice, Tibetan religion (like Tibetan culture in general) was highly patriarchal. For centuries, monks were the fair-haired boys of Tibetan society while nuns were treated like crap. Even now, you see vestiges of it, particularly among older Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has tried to change it, but as has been the case with everything else he’s tried to change about their culture, he’s had limited success.

  • Lion IRC

    A religion which had to pass a test set by a human would be something of a contradiction. Putting God to the proof is certainly problematic for monotheism.
    It amounts to telling God….I will obey you but first you have to obey me and pass this test which I set.
    Lion (IRC)

  • http://cafeeine.wordpress.com Cafeeine

    Lion IRC, I disagree. This test has nothing to do with putting a god to a test, which would be absurd (Even if you happen to follow some specific god concept, you can’t make the same argument for every other religion) nor is it strictly set as a prerequisite of belief. Finally, your claim that it forces a “God” to obey something is nonsensical. The religion either fits the criteria or it doesn’t.

    Finally, claiming “A religion which had to pass a test set by a human would be something of a contradiction. Putting God to the proof is certainly problematic for monotheism.” is especially absurd when every believer does exactly that when they decide which branch of theism they think is true.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Given that religions are human constructs, Lion, I don’t think that testing them is out of order.

  • jemand

    @Jeff, the Dalai Lama may be trying to change it, but as far as I know it’s pretty solidly specified that the next Dalai Lama will always be male and I haven’t heard him say anything against that practice. Maybe some more female representation in the intermediate levels, but I don’t get the impression he’d like a female successor.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    A religion which had to pass a test set by a human would be something of a contradiction.

    What’s contradictory is thinking that an all-loving god would designate women as second class citizens and intentionally set up a sexist system that denigrates them.

    Putting God to the proof is certainly problematic for monotheism.

    It shouldn’t be a problem if god really is the moral paragon of virtue that Xians would have us believe. god’s actions should be beyond reproach…yet they are not. Why is that?

  • Rollingforest

    I agree with L.Long that there are some people (not necessarily women) who enjoy having other people take all the responsibility and care for them. This is the reason I have heard (this may seem like a strange comparison but I think it is valid) why some people enjoy taking the sub position during bondage play.

    However, it is true that the vast majority of people (women included) would rather give up the care and take on the responsibility if it gives them control of their own life. Women follow patriarchal religions that stop them from doing this because women (and men) feel that a newly created religion that is friendly to women would lack authenticity. The fact that Christianity is old seems to make it more likely to be true in their mind (the idea that old equals true is a concept that developed in the Middle Ages and still holds on today in religion). Even denominations that have been formed more recently (Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses) still claim to representing the faith as it was in Jesus’s time, not inventing a better way.

  • Sarah Braasch

    My babyish distillation of Buddhism: Sit around and meditate on how to be enlightened. Take responsibility for your own life. Take responsibility for the impact you make upon others.

    But, what makes Buddhism a religion — they just had to jump the shark and include:

    Oh, yeah, but women are subhuman and incapable of doing such.

    Classic.

    The problem with giving up your power is that you are giving up your power.

    Power differentials necessarily lead to abuse and oppression. I’ve pretty much decided that that is a fact of human nature.

    This is why our government was devised with the intent of minimizing power differentials to the greatest extent possible.

    The biggest obstacle: religion. And, its insistence on placing itself in a privileged position in society.

    People made all of the same arguments in favor of maintaining the institution of slavery back in the day — i.e. the slaves were like children and they needed to be taken care of and they needed the protection of their owners. And, there were some slaves who didn’t want to leave their owners. They were forced into an unforgiving world that didn’t want them to start their lives anew with zero resources.

    Women wanting to leave patriarchal religious communities often face the same dilemma. Really ending slavery required a complete societal revamp during the Reconstruction Era. The feds stepped in and said — I don’t care about your religious or cultural expression. You don’t get to make that choice. We’re doing a reboot in order to save our democracy.

    We realized that slavery based upon race is incompatible with a liberal constitutional democracy.

    Then we realized that segregation based upon race is incompatible with a liberal constitutional democracy. (And, people made all the same arguments for and against Jim Crow laws and segregation. And, the feds stepped in and said — we don’t care about your religious or cultural expression. We’re doing a reboot. We’re taking control of the public space, even if we have to send in armed guards to desegregate.)

    Now we just need to realize that slavery and segregation based upon gender is incompatible with a liberal constitutional democracy. We need the Equal Rights Amendment. (Who was responsible for killing it? Religious groups. They told women they would have to give up all of their “protections”.)

    Sorry. I think I may be off topic. I just got all riled up about this. I’ll stop now.

    The problem with religious communities and groups is that they don’t allow their community members (who were probably never asked if they wanted to join up in the first place) the right to a real, credible choice in the matter of handing over their power to the community leaders or no.

    This is incompatible with a liberal constitutional democracy.

    If we really had a truly secular government, then this wouldn’t be an issue.

  • Jeff

    @jemand:Maybe some more female representation in the intermediate levels, but I don’t get the impression he’d like a female successor.

    The Dalai Lama isn’t the problem. He’s said there’s nothing to preclude the next DL from being a woman. For that matter, he’s said that it isn’t imperative that there be another DL, that it’s up to the Tibetan people. He’s also said that he doesn’t particularly want to be the DL in his next incarnation, but when he says things like that, the Tibetans either freak out, or go into denial – “He doesn’t really mean it!”

    @Sarah Braasch: But, what makes Buddhism a religion — they just had to jump the shark and include:

    Oh, yeah, but women are subhuman and incapable of doing such.

    What makes Buddhism a religion isn’t misogyny, it’s that its core tenets – karma, rebirth – have to be accepted on faith. They tell you not to take anything they say on faith, until you get to those concepts – then, all of a sudden, it’s a different story.

    Buddhists like to present Buddhism as “a philosophy, not a religion”, but it isn’t true. Taoism may be able to make that claim; Buddhism can’t.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Sorry, Jeff, I was overcome with “righteous” rage, and I expressed myself clumsily.

    I was trying to get across the notion of — of course Buddhism is a religion and not a philosophy, it’s misogynistic.

    Not that misogyny is an element of the definition of religion, but it might as well be.

    It is for sure a tell tale sign.

  • anna

    I created a Facebook page called “Women Don’t Need Guardians” opposing the fact that Saudi Arabian women are required to have the permission of a male guardian to travel, study, work, or do pretty much anything of consequence. It would be really great if you would hit the “like” button or write on the wall so I can get this page rolling:

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Women-Dont-Need-Guardians/138248439539086?v=wall&ref=ts

    As for the Bechdel test, the website bechdeltest.com lists movies alphabetically and shows whether they pass the test or not. You can also add info about movies you have watched to the page.

  • anna

    Oh, and the Dalai Lama did say the next Dalai Lama could be a woman: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1571850/Dalai-Lama-says-successor-could-be-a-woman.html

  • Rollingforest

    According to http://www.bechdeltest.com, it looks like around half of movies produced in the last couple of years pass the test.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I greatly doubt that’s a representative sampling. The people who are aware of the test and who visit and submit to that site are also more likely to see the kind of movies that pass it.

  • Rollingforest

    Although, there are around 100 movies from each year posted for the last few years, so that seems like a pretty good sample. I know that a lot of movies come out each year, but it can’t be much more than a hundred right? At least not if you are only counting ones that are in more than say 500 theaters (and it does seem like the site is focused on these movies)

  • DR

    @Lion IRC: Putting a religion to the test is not the same as putting “God” to the test. There is no possible way to argue for a “divine” origin for any religion, *even if* you believe. Christianity had a number of “fathers”, but “God” certainly wasn’t one of them. If Christianity had a divine origin, how would you explain the schisms? Which Christianity is objectively closest to what “God” intended? How would you even start to attempt to answer such a question? Apologists have been trying for nearly as long as Christianity (or even religion) has existed, and they have, to a man/woman, failed. No endeavour in the history of mankind has been as fruitless as that to justify a specific religion (as opposed to “Religion” as a whole).

    So the test is made against something which is nothing but human; hence your argument fails.

    Oh, and btw, THERE IS NO GOD.

  • http://davidellisart.blogspot.com/ David Ellis

    This discussion brought to mind a question (and I’m amazed I’ve never heard it discussed before):

    Could sexism be one of the elements leading to the rise of monotheism?

    Most polytheistic religions, after all, have goddesses (which, obviously, puts a woman in a pretty exalted position).

  • Sarah Braasch

    Joseph Campbell talks about this in the Power of Myth.

  • Rollingforest

    Well, I think Judaism originally was polytheist and, like a lot of polytheistic religions, chose one Deity as the one in charge of protecting their particular country. That eventually evolved into the one God that controlled all of creation and also cared for them, which made the Jews (as well as future Christians and Muslims) feel much better because they didn’t need to worry about other gods meddling in YHWH’s affairs (even the devil is seen as powerless against God when the final battle comes).

    So while I don’t think sexism caused monotheism, I think it definitly left its mark on the gender of the deity and the dogma of the faith.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I think the two are synergistic, and reinforce each other.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Joseph Campbell wrote and spoke about how, when the Hebrews became nomadic (and therefore warring) herders, there was a denigration of all things female. Women were dead weight, but you had to keep them around to make babies and you had to make sure that those babies belong to your tribe and not the tribe next door (whom you want to kill or conquer, of course).

    And, because man makes religion, and not the other way around, the Hebrews chose a warring father figure god who despises women and demonizes female sexuality and power as a threat. They purposefully and purposely did away with all things female in their concept of divinity.

    Voila. And, we’re off to the races.

    It makes sense to me that this would result in monotheism.

    Pantheists represent male and female as separate god concepts.

    But, if you’re going to do away with the female god concept, monotheism seems to be a good way to go about this.

  • Rollingforest

    Actually, what Sarah said is pretty much how I believe sexism got started. During the Paleolithic era, when hunting and gathering were the only sources of food, no one could afford to go to war with each other because even losing one food collector could be disastrous for the tribe.

    However, eventually farming was discovered (given what comes next, it is ironic that it was probably a woman who discovered this while gathering). With farming, populations rose exponentially because now there was a much more available source of food. As populations rose, tribes began to fight over farmland. Because men were the stronger gender and because they were biologically more dispensable (to make babies, you need wombs. If you lose some men, you still have plenty of sperm) it was men who ended up forming the armies.

    And, as always happens in history, if you let armies do whatever they need to protect your country, eventually they are going to conquer their own nation. That’s exactly what happened. Now the chieftains and kings were leaders of the armies and, being all male, male superiority was assumed. This is how human history continued for the next 10,000 years until recently.

  • Em

    Responding to someone way up-thread…

    So in my case, movies aren’t necessarily male-centric – they’re a reflection of real life.

    Actually, that means your life is male-centric, not that the movies aren’t. Also, the point isn’t whether the majority of movies might happen to represent someone’s life. The point is that lots of people go to movies, many of whom are not just like you. Half the potential audience is female, and in the male half, not all of them spend their time in nearly all-male company. So why do so many of the movies reflect your life, and so few theirs?

    According to the MPAA, in 2009, 55% of movie tickets were purchased by women. Even assuming that they bought some of them for children or friends etc., you’d also have to assume that some of those children and friends were also female, or males who spend more time with women than you do. So again, why do movies represent your life more often than the majority of the audience’s?

    To take it back to the religious version of the test: in your lone church example, you would look at it over time. If the church has been around for a while, has there ever been a woman in that one position of authority? If it’s new, are there any restrictions against the next person in authority being a woman? Did/could this woman shape doctrine which would be binding on the entire congregation, not just the women? And so on.

    The test isn’t supposed to be a definitive, final determination. It’s a rough measure to see if there’s a trend – and it is about trends, not just a single snapshot. One single movie which happens to have an effectively all-male cast is no big deal, but if the majority do, that’s significant. One single small congregation which happens not to have a woman pastor (or equivalent) at the moment is not necessarily a problem, but one which never has a woman pastor or has restrictions against such is.

  • Rollingforest

    Capitalism is supposed to provide the consumer with what they want or else the company goes out of business. If women are buying 55% of the tickets, then I wonder why the movie industry isn’t taking notice? Wouldn’t they be risking their own long term success? You’d think after the Tomb Raider movies, Hollywood would learn that boys will go to see movies with female leads.

  • Em

    Well, that’s assuming Hollywood is logical :D One old argument is that women only go to non-chick flick movies with their boyfriends/husbands or children, so it doesn’t count even if they technically bought the tickets. There’s also a nice Catch-22 setup: if women don’t go to movies, then obviously they aren’t interested and there’s no profit in catering to us, but if we do go, then we’re obviously happy with the status quo and there’s still no profit in catering to us.

    Even if some bright director gets the idea that they could make more money by making movies with women who aren’t primarily focused on romance sometimes, there’s a perverse logic to not doing it: they know they can make money doing what they’re already doing, so why risk millions on something untried? They aren’t trying to make maximum profits, just “big enough,” which it seems they’re doing. (And if you do mention the odd Bechdel-passing or female-action-hero exceptions, often you’ll hear that those were flukes and don’t prove anything. The power of believing that The Way We’ve Always Done Things Is Best, Despite Evidence Otherwise is very strong… as we see in many areas of life.)

    Then you also have Hollywood apparently being more invested in excusing some of its members’ heinous behavior than doing good PR. To cite only one example, why else would so many of them say that they think Roman Polanski did indeed knowingly get a 13 year old drunk and “have sex” with her despite her saying “no” repeatedly, but that they don’t think it’s a big deal? (In Whoopi Goldberg’s words, it “wasn’t rape-rape.” I guess it’s a kinder, gentler form of child rape that’s okay in her book.) They must trade legal tips with the Pope. If they’re that unconcerned or clueless about how they present to the world, why would we expect them to get more subtle things like “your audience isn’t homogeneous and might like something different more often”?

    Which isn’t to say that change is impossible, but it will probably take a while. I didn’t compare them to the Catholic Church hierarchy randomly – I think there are some similar thought processes at work, and not just in sharing a tradition of putting women in subordinate roles. The same cultural memes and faith-based (in the sense of not relying on evidence) thinking that influence religion get into movies and everything else, too, and it’s all one big self-reinforcing mess.

  • Em

    Sorry to go on about movies so much – I do think the reason this religious version of the Bechdel Test (is it the Ebon Test?) works as a rough guide is that there are some shared biases and thought processes going into both movies and religions, which is probably the more pertinent point.

  • Rollingforest

    Also, I bet it is hard to break into the movie business. Only the big movie producing companies have enough cash to make movies that the theaters will buy. Any small company will be ignored by most theaters and won’t really have a means of getting their movie out there. This probably skews the capitalist system to some degree.

  • Nathanael

    Three responses to three different people!

    “Yeeaah, the Bechdel test is kinda invalidated for me when I realized that, if it weren’t for college, my life would fail it.”

    WTF is wrong with your life?

    Seriously, in the circles I live in, two women often talk to each other about something other than men.


    “For interest sake, I’d like to see the Bechdel Test applied in the opposite direction, i.e. to test the appearance of two or more men talking to each other about something other than women. I have little doubt that the list of movies passing this test will be considerably longer than that of the original test,”
    Including every action movie ever. It’s practically impossible to find a movie which doesn’t have two male characters, practically impossible to find one where they don’t talk to each other, and only in romance movies and porn is there even a *chance* that they will only talk to each other about women.


    “What makes Buddhism a religion isn’t misogyny, it’s that its core tenets – karma, rebirth – have to be accepted on faith.”
    Those are actually core tenets of *Hinduism*, and were just accepted as “facts” by the Buddha. They’re not really tenets of Buddhism, they’re pre-Buddhist, and Buddhism actually seriously subverts them. Admittedly Buddhism has had quite a lot of trouble figuring out how, philosophically, to make sense without those Hindu assumptions, since if you’re *not* reborn, the logic of Buddhism (life is suffering, and we must pursue these practices to escape this suffering) seems to point to suicide. It’s a philosophy which unfortunately develops holes if you don’t assume a Hindu religious background. Atheist Buddhists have to modify the basic rationale for following the Eightfold Path.

    Of course, everything from Tibetan Buddhism onward is a vast distortion of early Buddhism — the moment Boddhisattvas got involved, the whole idea of taking responsibility for your own future went out the window. As with other religions, it’s interesting to see the memetic pressure: it appears that savior figures who make your life “someone else’s problem” generally make religions reproduce and spread more effectively. Buddhism started out without them, now they’re in most versions, and Pureland Buddhism is practically indistinguishable from Christianity in its “savior” doctrine (but evolved independently!). Hinduism started out without them, now “devotional” Hinduism is the primary form. Islam didn’t start out with a conventional savior, and now Shia has the Mahdi….


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