Analysing a text: Researching The Bechdel Test (Part 1)

(Image via Seriable)

For my first text i decided to view it through a researching lens, of a well known and established social test for movies and tv shows. The Becdhel Test.

Essentially, you take any text and compare it to a series of statements to determine a fail or a pass. The Becdhel Test, named for American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, is used to indicate gender bias in works of fiction, and if two female characters discuss anything other than a male, sometimes with the added requirement if the female characters are named or not. Becdhel can illuminate this gender bias as if it fails, the text states that the only thing women can talk about it is men.

In order to pass, it must meet all the requirements that:

  1. It has at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man

You’d be surprised how many movies and tv shows actually do fail this simple test, without you ever realising. http://bechdeltest.com/ is a site entirely devoted to listing each movie that has failed or passed.

Take, easily the two most compared TV shows currently airing, Sherlock BBC and Elementary (which shall be discussed in Part 2) CBS: both adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. Where the drawing card for Sherlock, co-created and written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, has always been that they claim to have the most faithful adaptations to the books, it might be its downfalling point. The original works, were written and set during the late 18th and early 19th century, a time of profound female oppression, very unlike today.

Of 9 episodes from season 1-3, 8 failed the Bechdel Test, only one passing. Its sole reason for passing was for a scene in Season 2’s “A Scandal in Belgravia” where Irene Adler talks to her assistant, Kate about what she should wear. The brief interactions between the minor female ensemble of Sherlock, consist mostly of Mrs Hudson and Mary discussing her wedding to John Watson or Mary discussing a book with Mrs Holmes; tiny, almost insignificant moments in comparison to the episodes. The fewer times two or more women have been present on screen, they have no interaction with one another. Molly Hooper, an original character was inserted into the story simply to be in adoration of the oblivious Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock obscenely fails the Becdhel Test and representation of women in its episodes, but the Bechdel test does fail to accommodate the nature of this show, that it is the story of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson- two male protagonists from a predetermined story with limited characters. With the exemption of Mary and Moriarty, no other major characters whether female or male are imperative to the story.

The Becdhel Test is in no way an indicator of one single show if it lacks one element, it’s importance comes from when you compare it across multiple shows and movies. It is about awakening viewers to realising just how many shows, like Sherlock, lack proper representation of women. With the simple pass or fail model, and only three ways to get it right, of course it is more likely texts will fail.

In Part 2, I will discuss Elementary and it’s progression on the Becdhel Test, as well as another social test it passes, and how Bedchel is no longer relevant.


‘Bechdel test’ (2015) Wikipedia. Wikipedia. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test (Accessed: 8 April 2015).
Bechdel Test Movie List (no date). Available at: http://bechdeltest.com/ (Accessed: 8 April 2015).
“Sherlock and the Bechdel Test. Failing? Thoughts? : Sherlock.” Reddit Thread. Created by Punkist1984, Web. <http://www.reddit.com/r/Sherlock/comments/1xkoik/sherlock_and_the_bechdel_test_failing_thoughts/&gt;.

6 thoughts on “Analysing a text: Researching The Bechdel Test (Part 1)

  1. This was an interesting insight into Sherlock, something that I never even thought of. Now looking back to shows I watch, many fail the Bechdel test, especially when the protagonists of the show are women. When they are men they seem to talk about things other than women, It’s strange how they portray women like this. Interesting read.

  2. I enjoyed this blog post. I hadn’t heard of the Bechdel up until i read this blog, and wow, when you think about it how many shows would pass the test. Even shows that are an all female cast such as ‘Desperate Housewives’ is a show that mainly talks about men and most likely would fail the test. I feel that by reading your blog I’m now viewing tv shows differently. Why is it that tv shows are not able to discuss issues or people that are not men? Are they that prominent in our lives that we can’t speak about anything else. I also wonder that if this test was in reverse with two men talking to each other about something other than women, would they pass or fail, are we as women a prominent enough topic? I will definitely breeding part two of this study. Well done 🙂

    1. Why thank you! 🙂 that is a really interesting point about reversing the becdhel test because how many female characters can I think about that were killed off or injured to fuel the protagonist man angst, or Mangst as I call it. And you’re right! How are we not showcasing diversity and accurate representation on out tv’s already? Is it because it’s still constructed within a legacy media bound by its traditions? People fail to realise the power tv has on our perceptions. It’s people playing pretend and we forget it’s not our reality as we mould our behavior onto it.

  3. Your post totally introduced me to the Bechdel Test which I never knew even existed. The test is definitely different and brings a different outlook in films in relation to representation of women. I checked out that website you linked with the list of shows that failed/ passed the test and was shocked because when you watch them, you don’t usually look into it that much, however the site especially identifies how women are represented in the media. I ended up searching other relevant information about the Bechdel Test, so thank you for that! Really fascinating read that brought new insights. Keep up the good work and I will definitely be checking out your post for Part 2 and future works. Good Work!

  4. This post was great because you actually managed to keep my attention the entire time. It’s a curious test too, I’m not sure I agree with it entirely. Which is a point you made quite well.
    Nice job.

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