What is the Bechdel test?
The Bechdel test has been around for some time, but I wasn’t aware of it until I saw this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLF6sAAMb4s. When I did some additional research I came across a few sites that discuss the test.
The test is limited to the question of if women are in the movie, and does not address how well women are portrayed. There are three questions to answer.
1. Does the movie have at least two named women in it?
“The Barrier” has a total of 18 characters in. Of these 8 are women. Five of the women characters are named and speak during the movie. “The Barrier” therefore does have a positive answer to the first question.
There are six named male characters, so the gender balance is not too far off reality. There is one women character in the movie who is mentioned by name, but she does not appear.
2. Do Women in the movie talk to each other?
There are three times when a women character in “The Barrier” talks to another women character. The longest conversation is between Ling Pang and Meera Sharma. There are no other characters in that scene.
A short exchange occurs between Mayor Taylor and Councillor Stewart. This happens in a larger scene where other characters, all male, participate in the discussion.
The third conversation might be excluded because we don’t hear what the characters say. In the open house scene, Ling Pang talks to Zelda Zimmerman, but that happens in the background while Arthur Macdonald talks to George.
3. Do Women in the movie talk about something besides a man?
The conversation between Ling Pang and Meera Sharma covers a range of topics. The main topic is the technical issues with the barrier. They also talk about Ling’s career prospects and issues related to Arthur Macdonald and Brandon Baker. The discussion of the barrier does not involve men at all. Men are mentioned in the discussion of Ling’s career prospects, but they are not the main focus. The talk about Arthur and Brandon is of course about men, albeit Ling and Meera focus on office work issues.
The exchange between Mayor Taylor and Councillor Stewart is about the Glencoe development and if they should listen to what Arthur has to say. Although they do talk about Arthur, the issue they talk about is the development and Arthur’s analysis. They do not really talk about Arthur.
Since we can’t hear what Ling Pang and Zelda Zimmerman talk about, we can’t know for sure if they talk about men. However, given the context, it seems most likely that they would talk about Ling’s project, a traffic interchange. They do look at Arthur and George when they argue, so they might talk about that.
So, does “The Barrier” pass the Bechdel test?
This is not an easy question to answer. The answer to the first two questions is clearly yes. There are more than two named women and women do talk to each other.
The third question is less clear. It depends on how strictly you interpret what is meant by not talking about a man. In all of the conversations the women do talk about men, but they also talk about other things. I’m inclined to be generous and say that “The Barrier” does pass the Bechdel test.
Since there is a element of subjectivity to this question, and I am a little biased in favour of my movies, I can understand why someone else might conclude that “The Barrier” does not pass the test. I would like to hear if anyone disagrees with my assessment.
Does this make “The Barrier” a feminist friendly movie? I doubt that the results of this test would allow me to say so. The women characters do play a significant role in the story and some of them do come across as strong and independent. Again, I don’t think that allows me to claim it is a feminist friendly movie.