(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:
- It has at least two women in it,
- Who talk to each other,
- 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.