What is seen on screen leaves a lasting effect on the mind — it’s a fact that parents love to stress with their children as a way to control media consumption.
But maybe instead of just children needing to hear that message, it’s the totality of society.
There are countless tropes and cliches used in film.
From the “manic pixie dream girl” to the “she was beautiful all along,” there are numerous ways that directors and producers have chosen to portray their characters that create an unrealistic pressure or stereotype on a specific gender.
It’s the constant use of these stereotypes in film that circulate the idea that these are actually how men and women operate in the real world.
In 1986, the Bechdel-Wallace Test was born. Originally created as a joke in a comic strip by Alison Bechdel, Bechdel’s character had three rules when going to see a movie.
First, there had to be at least two named women in the movie. Second, these two women had to speak to each other, and third, these two female characters had to be talking to each other about something other than a man.
While the comic strip was simply drawn to be a commentary on the film industry, Swedish movie theaters started displaying the test before movie showings as a way to direct viewers' minds to female representation in film. Movie-goers began to realize that so many films did not pass these simple requirements.
Last updated in October of 2021, bechdeltest.com is an open database where viewers can add films they have analyzed and indicate whether a certain film has passed the test. With 9,329 movies listed on the site, 56.7% pass all three tests, 10.2% pass two of the tests, 21.9% pass one test and 11.3% pass zero of the three tests.
While this test is able to tell viewers if there is at least a degree of female representation, it fails to inform which women are granted dialogue, overlooking the silencing of women of color, women of specific ages and women who do not have English as their first language.
It might be considered progress that at least half of the movies logged on bechdeltest.com pass the Bechdel-Wallace test, but not nearly as many provide representation to these specific silenced women.
However, while the test may lack representation, where it does succeed is by expressing how men and women are portrayed differently in films and play largely into stereotypes and biases. Women have been ultimately looked at through the lens as a pretty face to appear on screen, and they have been given roles that serve solely as the romantic interest of the male lead or the damsel in distress.
Tropes like these have been solidified in film culture, and in turn, they influence the minds of viewers.
And it’s not just women who are held to an unfair standard in film. While women have been used for their bodies, men have been used for their strength.
A common trope that can affect the growth of young boys is the one that shows that a real man is physically strong, he never cries and he exploits women with his power.
This stereotype is commonly expressed in the realm of superheroes and action movies. Regularly shown to boys as their main source of entertainment due to the overwhelming number of male superheroes and action stars, this content influences a boy’s idea of masculinity at a young age.
Writers continuously replicating what they see around them and what they have been taught allows for these toxic ideals to keep being expressed in the film and media consumed today.
While this topic continues to gain traction, and the conversation around it grows, a multitude of other tests have joined the Bechdel-Wallace to ensure that filmmakers are doing what they can to portray realistic and strong characters.
Not only this but there are tests and research studies that aim to discover how many women are working behind the scenes as well. If there are only men on the crew of a film, there will be an unrealistic representation of women, the same way this would occur if only women were behind the scenes.
It’s important in an industry that specializes in creating representations of real people to employ a diverse group that can paint a full picture of the world around them. One perspective will never be enough.