Most likely, you have a full and robust understanding of the Bechdel Test, but, just in case, let’s assume you don’t. The Bechdel Test is a metric introduced to evaluate the strength of female characters in film. It consists of three components: Does the movie include more than two named female characters? Do said characters speak to each other? Does their conversation address anything or anyone aside from a male character? Shockingly few films pass the test, though perhaps surprisingly, Fifty Shades of Grey does.
When I go to the movies, I like to play a game with my brother wherein we guess which previews will play based on whatever we’re seeing. This is fun. Once the movie actually starts, the amusement of running a Bechdel Test in real time quickly fades to frustration. I tend to opt out, enjoy the plot, reflect and consternate later.
But in the wake of Valentine’s Day weekend, I decided to do the “if my life were a movie” thought experiment, and Bechdel Test my life, if you will. I passed the first and second rounds with flying colors — all my female friends have names! And we all speak to each other! Frequently! Having established that the film version of my life includes an adequate number of female roles, I began to look into our conversations. (It’s worth noting that this is a completely anecdotal analysis based on absolutely no hard numbers.)
A sampling of dialogues from yesterday include: a quick exchange about where I was going after class, encouragement from a friend while working on a programming pset, a debate on gauging the sexuality and flirtyness of a TA, a check-in with a friend going through a rough patch, a discussion of details for next year’s housing, delegating tasks for organizing an event and a little bit of romantic advice. Examining my Bechdel results given this surely incomplete tally, I don’t feel like an Aaron Sorkin character, but I’m certainly no Heather.
To address this issue, I tried to look for trends that could ultimately lead to strategies that would minimize male-centric conversations. Via text, I had only one conversation about a man, so perhaps I could limit face-to-face interactions (obviously not a solution, but it does say something about a desire to have conversations about one’s personal life in person, which is probably a good thing.) It seemed the later into the day, the more likely I was to speak about the men in my life. I’m tired, I had a serious discussion in a seminar — I crave a conversation high in calories and low in nutritional value. Simply the deeper I was into a conversation, the more likely it became for the topic of discussion to turn to a man.
For some people, this operates like a verbal tick. I have one friend who peppers the second half of her conversations with probing, “So… how are things?” her signature conscious or subconscious attempt to guide the conversation toward matters of the heart. Once I recognized that she employed this particular prompt, I became better able to stay the conversational course and continue our discussion of books we’re reading and trips we want to plan.
I realized that I have essentially restricted my analysis primarily to conversations that place men in a romantic context. That’s not because choosing to talk about male friends, family and co-workers is Bechdel acceptable, but rather because many of my conversations involving men tend to take up romantic themes. And it is this type of exchange that I find to be the least productive, the most clichéd and frankly, a bit cloying. I tell people about my intense eye contact experience in line at Blue State on Tuesday night, but wouldn’t it make more sense to just start a conversation with said eye-contactor while waiting for our drinks? (That said, 12 oz. capp, if you’re reading this, my email is below.)
So this awards season, let’s talk about the opposite sex less. If my performance is up to the test, perhaps there will be an Oscar — I mean an Academy Award — in my future.
Caroline Sydney is a junior in Silliman College. Her column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.