The Gender Gap And The Bechdel Test

You see it in movies, documentaries, on television… the gender gap is still present in the media and entertainment industry. In this article, we analyze the current situation of this gender gap, as well as the films and series that meet the criteria of the Bechdel test.
The gender gap and the Bechdel test

Just over a year ago, actress Robin Wright spoke out against Netflix. She got paid than her co-star Kevin Spacey, both protagonists in the series House of Cards. Since then, dozens of actresses, female producers and directors have told their own stories about the fact that a gender gap still exists in this industry.

Forbes published a list of the highest paid Hollywood actors and actresses. The highest-paid actor, Dwayne Johnson, made a total of $89.4 million last year, while the highest-paid female actress, Scarlett Johansson, made $56 million.

Between these two are also six male actors, meaning that the highest-paid actress in the film industry earns only as much as the sixth-highest-paid male actor.

From this it is clear that the gender pay gap still exists. But it’s not just about money. In Spain, a survey by the Auge Group and the Union of Actors and Actresses indicated that only one in three actor roles goes to women. In addition, only 34% of the lead roles are female.

The same study also found that these data are also due to the age variable. So as a woman gets older, she’s less likely to take a leadership role. Of all the films analyzed, only 24% of the older lead roles were given to women. This number dropped to 20% for characters in the film who are 64 years of age or older.

The gender gap in the movie world

The role of women on the silver screen and the gender gap

From the very beginning, the film industry has evolved over the years. Every decade, films portrayed the beliefs and social realities of the time and, of course, the role of women in society.

However, feminist movements and the multiple demands for gender equality in all life situations have changed the way we see women in movies.

A clear example of this is the comparison between the early Walt Disney films and the later films. Ariel, Snow White and Cinderella all play a very different role than Elsa or Moana.

The stories and actions of these last two characters have little to do with men. Their world isn’t about finding their ‘prince in a white horse’. Instead, they focused on their own journey of empowerment and personal growth.

The Bechdel test and the gender gap

The Bechdel Test was created in 1985 in the comic strip titled “The Rule,”  by Alison Bechdel. It arose from the idea that in order to avoid a gender gap, a movie, TV series, comic strip or any other form of entertainment had to meet the following requirements:

  • There must be at least two female characters.
  • These two characters have to come into conversation at some point.
  • No man should be involved in their conversation.

That last requirement doesn’t just refer to romantic issues. In fact , the conversation shouldn’t be about the male gender at all. Also, no men should be involved: no men, brothers, fathers or neighbors.

According to the film list on the Bechdeltest website, in 2015, about 61% of the 130 films analyzed passed the test. But again, the Bechdel test is not always synonymous with equality. For example, there are films that meet all three requirements. However, due to their storyline, they cannot be considered pro-gender equality.

Thelma and Louise

Films that passed/failed the Bechdel test

  • Passed: Mad Max, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Lion King (2019), Argo, Spirited Away, Children of Men, Blue is the Warmest Colour, All About My Mother and Thelma & Louise.
  • Failed: The Wolf of Wall Street, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (the original trilogy),  Avatar, Citizen Kane, The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean, and  The Godfather. 

TV series that passed/failed the Bechdel test

  • Passed:  Friends, Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, Lost, The Good Wife, The Golden Girls, The Handmaid’s Tale, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Shameless, Parks and Recreation and  Veep.
  • Failed:  Narcos, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Law & Order, The Sopranos, Gossip Girl, and The Wire. 

The film industry is an industry in which the gender gap is still present. Age is also a big factor when it comes to female actresses getting roles, which isn’t as important for male actors. This is why the Bechdel test was created almost 35 years ago.

The aim was to establish a number of parameters to identify gender equality in films. In recent years, however, there has been a debate about whether or not to update this method and whether it is effective. Some say the requirements of the test need to evolve to study contemporary movies.

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