The Bechdel Test // Rosanna Shoup

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Warning: The following contains spoilers from the film Jurassic World and (in case you missed the 90's) Jurassic Park.

I'm an avid film geek. Give me the science fiction, the fantasy, the action thrillers, the rom-coms, and the timeless classics. Some of my top five favorite films of all time right off the bat: Whale Rider, Metropolis, Amélie, Spirited Away, and Princess Bride. All of which have their smattering of strong women who challenge society, save the last one—where our heroine Buttercup is pretty much useless.

However, I cannot deny that one of my favorite movies of all time is Jurassic Park. I have fond memories as a 11 year old reading the book aloud with my Mother in the evenings after dinner. When I was finally allowed to watch the movie, it wasn't long before I had the movie memorized. The next year was a time when all the paintbrushes and shovels in the house and garage went missing as I scoured the backyard for dinosaur bones. By 8th grade I began talking to my parents and teachers about the morality of genetic research and what it would mean to bring an extinct species to life. By 9th grade I was taking advanced courses in science and had devoured all of Michel Crichton's novels at the time. And to prove I am in fact a card carrying geek, I still have this movie memorized—and have indeed proved it while hiking with friends in Northern California: music, foley, and other related ambiance included (although no doubt my rendition leaves much to be desired).

My favorite character was of course, Ellie, both in the book and the movie. What is only a passing mention in the movie, the expert paleobotonist foreshadows the failure of the system by noting that the beautiful plant in her room (a previously extent species reproduced by Jurassic scientists) is actually quite poisonous(dun dun dunnnn!)! An expert in her field, she was active in her choices throughout the movie, called out chauvinism when she encountered it, bravely tackled a number of problem-solving situations, was unabashed in her desire for children, and was damn sexy while wearing the right boots for the job.

Now enter “Claire” played by Bryce Dallas Howard in the film Jurassic World. To sum up Claire, the up-and-coming young professional director, is taking directions left and right in order to promote profits for the park. She makes bad decision after bad decision until she is forced to call in reinforcements who turn out to be the bad guys. Much to my irk, she wears high heels and a white outfit which is slowly worn down throughout the film until she resembles more and more like Fay Wray from the old 1933 King Kong movie. The movie reaches its peak when Claire runs full speed in high heels from a T-rex to save the day and concludes with her and Owen (Chris Pratt) walking romantically to a sunrise through a room full of wounded and dying people, presumably to begin a courtship lasting a few months before she is sued by these injured folks and convicted of various crimes for her part in the whole dino-debachle.

Now, whether you take an opposite perspective than me, and believe Claire to be a fully rounded human being, or Ellie as arm-candy to Allan Grant is second to this first overall question: Do these movies pass the Bechdal test?

The Bechdel test, as originally proposed in the cartoon above by Alison Bechdel in 1985, is as follows:
1)    Does the movie have more than one named woman in the cast?
2)    Do these women talk to each other?
3)    Do these women have a conversation about something other than a male?

The answer is Jurassic Park does NOT pass the Bechdel Test while (and I begrudgingly say this due to the over sexual objectification of our high heeled heroine) Jurassic World actually does pass. In other words, our competent young hiking boot clad paleobotanist actually has no direct conversation with  the other female in the movie (only off screen). Claire, has multiple conversations with other women in the film including the nanny for the boys, her sister, and a chief security surveillance team member.

“But Rosanna,” I hear you say, “this is what's known as a first world problem! Movies in movie theaters are something that only privileged people with money have access to and really, I'd much rather talk about the glass ceiling, or the lack of legal protection in domestic violence cases, or sexual assault statistics. Besides, who cares if I see a non-Bechdel test movie?”

To which I would say, if you are a privileged member of our society and occasionally consume media  I would say you are in a key place to use your unearned power to CHANGE society for the betterment of all humanity by supporting influential and positive MEDIA. If you are privileged to have more money leftover after the basics in your life have found stability, and you find yourself indulging in a  visit the movies, I would say BE A STATISTIC!

“Be a statistic?” I hear you ask. Yes! Be a statistic. You are the consumer Hollywood is catering to. Think of your movie ticket as a vote for future films. Hollywood is sitting on the edge of it's proverbial seat waiting to see what that weekend box office (to which the film industry will gain 100% of the profits that weekend) will show. For our high heeling special of Jurassic World we have the third highest grossing box office report in history! Second only to Avatar and Titanic (Quick: see if you can name one conversation between two females in those films). When you choose to see a movie on opening weekend you are voting for more movies that do or do not pass the Bechdel Test. And if so, by how much--so go and see movies like Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect, or Brides Maids especially on opening weekends!

Release Date
Worldwide Box Office
Estimated Budget
1. "Avatar" (Fox)
$2.78 billion
2. "Titanic" (Paramount)
$2.18 billion
$200 million
3. "Jurassic World" (Universal)
$1.52 billion
4. "The Avengers" (Disney)
$1.519 billion
$220 million
5. "Furious 7" (Universal)
$1.511 billion
$190 million
(Table from

Life imitates art. Girls and boys are imitating movie stars in the schoolyards and bedrooms. Teenagers are literally reenacting the social scripts in relationships which they have internalized from these forms of entertainments. Expectations in society are built on these internalizations and set patriarchal and racist unwritten rules, create glass ceilings, and weave webs of micro-aggressions, and make the way for privileged individuals. Movies can fuel a negative fire, or inspire a generation for action (See an Inconvenient Truth, or  Birth of a Nation)

We have millions of people across the globe who are somewhat financially privileged to make a difference in their choice of entertainment. The audience is hungry for something new. I have one word: Frozen. A whole movie about women as friends then enemies, making mistakes, learning from them, and finding love for one another! And the audience voted with their money. And now we have millions of little girls who want to learn to love their fellow sisters, have super-powers, be princesses, and expect men to either be lovable dorks or smart jerks.

Ok, so we've made a small step forward. (Huzzah to Tangled and Brave as well!)

However, I am a bit weary that we are still only this far. While film industry can and does make millions more if their movies pass the Bechdel test, it is still a minimum requirement.  I'm talking to you miss Jurassic Claire! While you technically met all the requirements of said rule, I am still concerned about the effects of your character on the 11 year olds today. If I had met you at age 10, I would have foregone the science entirely and probably have started on shoes and learning how to be liked by men... So to change Hollywood, let's go to the movies that support a well rounded cast and depth of characters.

I would like to ask those of you who indulge in media, of any kind, to consider what you are voting for when you spend your money on a movie ticket. And when you want to go to that new super-hero movie make it a point to talk to people after about ways in which women were poorly portrayed. And, if only for me, don't go opening weekend. Keep non-bechdel movies from the top of the weekend box offices (I'm talking to you James Cameron and your Avatar).

And if you're like me, and love to indulge occasionally non-bechdel-test home movies such as the latest Marvel movie, or Lord of the Rings fantasy marathon, or cry through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II for the fiftieth time, or snuggle on the couch with friends for an evening of that classic Princess Bride, make space to have conversations with children, teenagers, friends, and family members about the women in these movies and how they differ from actual three-dimensional characters who are in contact with other females of different ages, families of origin, sexual orientations, races, body-types, and religions.

We do this for all people, so everyone will learn that women are people who deserve to collaborate with cisgendered, transgender, genderqueer individuals who care equally as much in saving the world. Much as we are striving today in reality.

And so, in honor of Alison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace co-contributor, I have thought of a few of my own rules for some things that I try to avoid, and when possible support the exact opposite. It's my little way of trying to send my vote to future 10 year olds who may one day be inspired:

1)      Smurf Society: The usual means to prove your lead male is heterosexual and virile, by having only one woman in the movie, or as a part of a “team,” who is inevitably sexually inclined to the lead. How about having many different genders as a part of the team, or at least more than one. And what if this gender minority is not romantically attracted to anyone—or to one-another! (Well played Dodgeball and Big Hero 6)

2)      Tokenism: The “we're not racist/sexist/ablest—we have hired a (name of minority here) person.”  The world is full of people who live more deeply than your stereotypical characterizations could ever dream. (Sorry Independence Day, you failed; Well done Serenity)

3)      Body-ism:  The “I see you've managed to get your shirt off” fan-service scene. Wait. What if Hollywood would hire women and men of different shapes and sizes and found ways to celebrate their sexuality? (Yea for Pitch Perfect 2; Direct quote from Galaxy Quest 1999)

For a tremendous Ted Talk on how the Bechdel Test can influence a positive manhood, see here:

For more information on movie theater economics and the percentage of you movie ticket which goes to film industry profits, check out this blog:

A website which advocates for more women in film, and on screen:

The University of SoCal and their Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative and their influential article “Inequality in 700 popular Films: Examining portrayals of Gender, Race, and LGBT status from 2007-2014”

And check out the APA task force on Women: Specifically about the detrimental effects of sexualization of girls:

For tips and tricks on speaking about gender stereotypes here is a helpful resource (including a one page cheat sheet of tips and tricks):

Explore here for an enjoyable rant about “Claire” in Jurassic World vs. “Ellie” in Jurassic Park:

And here is another viewpoint who identifies “Claire” as a character of cliché, not a product of sexism:

And see here if the other top grossing films Avatar and Titanic pass the Bechdel Test and

“Smurfs” are the copyright of NBC and of Hanna-Barbera Productions, created by Pierre "Peyo" Culliford.

Written by Rosanna Shoup

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