Opinion

Swedes to Apply Gender Ratings to Movies

Alison Bechdel, "The Rule" (detail) (© Alison Bechdel) (via Flickr)
Detail of Alison Bechdel’s seminal “The Rule,” which inspired the rating system. (© Alison Bechdel) (via Flickr)

Four Swedish film organizations are banding together to fight sexism by applying a letter-grade rating to new releases, the Independent reports. That’s awesome news in and of itself, but the idea is even cooler because it’s based on criteria that come from a comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

The beloved (at least in indie comics circles) rule is known as the Bechdel test, and it goes as follows: the movie must have at least two women in it, and those two women must talk to each other about something other than a man. Bechdel first wrote it out in an installment of her long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For. That comic, from c. 1985, is called “The Rule” and features an unnamed character explaining to her friend why she won’t see any of the movies currently playing at the theater they’re passing by. (They head home to eat popcorn instead.) You can see the whole comic here.

So the test is simple, right? You’d think so, but I recommend taking some time to actually apply it to movies you know and love. The results may surprise you. As the Independent points out, “The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all the Star Wars movies, The Social Network, Pulp Fiction, and all but one of the Harry Potter movies do not pass.” Nor do The Graduate or The Godfather Part I. Here’s a pretty comprehensive guide.

The test, of course, isn’t foolproof in either direction: some movies may contain only men but may not be sexist, whereas others may have lots of women but perpetuate lots of stereotypes. And I’m not sure that a movie set in, say, a monastery (because those are so popular right now) necessarily deserves a lesser rating. (Films that pass will receive an “A,” just like squeaky clean New York restaurants). But it’s refreshing to see some movie bigwigs remembering that yes, women have lives independent of men.

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