Adopt the Bechdel Rating System by Linda Layne

Cover for LAYNE: Feminist Technology. Click for larger imageMy co-author, Frances Bronet, Dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at University of Oregon, recently emailed me to tell me that some movie theaters in Sweden had adopted a rating system for films based on gender bias.

Joe Berkowitz, author of a blog post on the website Co-Create, explains that it is an application of a test for gender bias developed by illustrator Alison Bechdel in 1985, that has been adopted, with the support of the state-funded Swedish Film Institute by four cinemas and one TV station in Sweden.

“If a film passes the Bechdel Test, it gets an A rating. Qualifying films must a.) have at least two women with names, who b.) talk to each other and c.) talk about something other than a man. The paradox of this test is that it seems simple enough to meet these requirements, and yet countless films fail to do so each year.”

Berkowitz cites study whose results were reported in the Guardian, that showed that “of the top 100 U.S. films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists.”

An idea similar to this was developed by one of the teams in the interdisciplinary charrette that we had co-organized, described in chapter 7 of Feminist Technology, at which the participants had been tasked with designing a device which would increase gender equity in the home. That team proposed “a not-for-profit foundation with a website which described their mission, their awards program, a rating system (comparable to the current parental advisory system), and small grant program for innovators in media productions that show equitable division of domestic rights and responsibilities….” Other participants agreed that such an undertaking was “eminently doable, and was also likely to have positive effects in contributing to increasing gender equity in the home.”

It’s high time the US adopts the Bechdel rating system!

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