Failing the Bechdel Test: Women on Screen Don't Have Much to Say

Cristen Conger

If you went to see a movie this weekend at your local cineplex, there's a good chance that the leading actor on screen was a man. Don't buy that assumption? Take a moment and consider the Bechdel Test, a three-question quiz on gender representation in film:

  • Does a movie contain two or more female characters who have names?
  • Do those characters talk to each other?
  • And, if so, do they discuss something other than a man?

Just try to come up with five mainstream movies that fit the following criteria, and you'll get the point. Although Hollywood has started paying more attention to women's roles in film, they still remain bit players by and large, accessory characters in male protagonist plot lines. According to the Bechdel Test, women's speaking roles tend to center around leading men -- when they even get a chance to speak, that is.

Reported in USA Today, "An analysis of the 100 top-grossing movies of 2008 shows that men had 67 percent of the speaking roles; women had about half that, 33 percent." Perhaps the male voice was so prominent among those 4,370 total speaking roles because 86 percent of the screenwriters were male as well. But while the study from the University of Southern California confirms that female actors in mainstream films don't have much to say, that doesn't mean they don't bare all on screen. Twenty-four percent of female characters appeared partially naked in those top-100 films, compared to just 8 percent of male characters.

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