Can Feminism Be Tested?

In the past few years, calls for feminism in media has brought a lot of attention to The Bechdel Test.  It’s a nice idea having at least two named female characters in a story who talk to each other about something other than a man.

As an X-Men fan, I’m fine with this idea.  I just don’t know if it’s a representative as it could be.  About a year ago, I found an alternative that works just as well, the Mako Mori Test.

This is Mako Mori, one of the main characters in Pacific Rim.  She’s intelligent, respectful, driven, and easy to get along with.  Miss Mori also happens to be the only female character of note in the movie.  Automatically, Pacific Rim fails The Bechdel Test.

As the only female character in an action movie, we expect Mako to drive the main character, Raleigh Becket, to excel, while also serving as a reassurance and object of affection.  None of this happens.  Mako, politely, corrects Raleigh’s behavior and mindset.  She is willing to work with him, not for him.  At the end of the movie, they grow close, but they don’t kiss.

Mako Mori also stands out because the middle of the film is dominated by her motivations.  She stood face to face with one of the monstrous kaiju as a child, giving her a need–but not a compulsion–for vengeance.  As much as she wants to fight, her protector, Stacker Pentecost, doesn’t want her to; he sees her too much as a surrogate daughter needing protection.

Many online have picked out the quiet ways that Miss Mori stands out.  She’s not a loud character, but her story speaks volumes more than the other characters.

Which is why it’s so odd that The Bechdel Test cuts her out.  She’s not the only victim of this oversight.  Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games barely passes.  The one-woman show of Gravity with Sandra Bullock playing Dr. Ryan Stone doesn’t have a prayer.  If there’s a more feminist movie than Gravity, I don’t know what it is.

So I ask, can feminism be tested?  Is this something we should worry about, or should we just look for good stories with female characters?


2 thoughts on “Can Feminism Be Tested?

  1. You missed another big flaw with the Bechdal test. Take any move and splice in a 30 sec clip of a shopping scene from “Sex in the City”, then the movie passes. This 30 sec clip doesn’t need to have any connection at all to the rest of the movie. No character development or significance just two named women talking about the magical pieces of plastic that lets them buy stuff.

    The biggest problem with making a test for ‘feminist’ is defining “Strong”. Really what does a strong woman look like. Is it one that runs just as fast as men carrying 250pounds of gear while sniping with an assault rifle on full auto? Or is it the woman that holds her family together through the greaving process after loosing a child? If we try to define “Strong” as “Man Strong” then there will be huge problems.

    1. I agree entirely. A scene can be disconnected from the bulk of the plot and still let a story pass The Bechdel Test.

      As far as the notion of “strength” goes, I think, as a culture, we’ve foolishly equated the notions of strength and masculine strength. The latter is only an example of the former, so it demands us to ask what is feminine strength?

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