A low bar

Theatres in Sweden have embraced the Bechdel test to provide a new rating for if a movie is feminist.

Those Swedes are known to take their ideas of gender equality rather seriously — see, for instance, their insistence that all genders take parental leave, and the recent adoption of a gender neutral pronoun. Now, four Swedish movie theatres have banded together to certify a movie not just on the basis of how violent or sexy it is, but also on whether it passes the so-called Bechdel test. The Bechdel test refers to a general rule of thumb, adapted from a comic strip by Alison Bechdel, wherein two named female characters should have a conversation about something other than a man to validate a film's feminist credentials. The movies that pass the test — unsurprisingly much fewer in number than the movies that don't — will receive an "A" rating. That means the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Social Network, all of Star Wars and most of Harry Potter fail to make even this low grade.

The extent of the marginalisation of female characters on screen was driven home in a study by the University of Southern California's school of communication, which analysed gender roles in the highest grossing movies of 2009 and found that only a third of all speaking characters were female. Of course, Sweden is hardly going to fix overnight the grossly skewed ratios of representation of women in cinema by running movies through this most basic of filters. If a movie passes the Bechdel test, it doesn't mean that the film will be free of all gender stereotypes. The Bechdel test is often treated as the one-point norm on which to judge gender representation in movies, yet films like The Avengers or Pacific Rim, both summer blockbusters with female characters who had a narrative arc, fail.

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