Get out the popcorn, it’s movie time! Sigh.

It’s summer, so I’ve been thinking about movies. This week, my husband and I watched a movie that did not pass the Bechdel Test. What’s that? Why, it’s a pretty funny, in a sadly telling way, measurement of a movie maker’s view, either of  women, or of the movie-going public.

To pass the test, a movie has to have these three features: at least two female characters, who talk to each other, about something other than men. Now that I’ve learned about this test, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch a movie in the same way again.

It’s not necessarily a test of the movie’s misogynistic or feminist tendencies. The movie Inception passes based on a 10-second conversation, although there is some debate over what the conversation is about, according to this website that rates movies. Some failing movies have a female protagonist.

To me it just says that there are plenty of filmmakers out there that don’t see women as full people in their own right, but only in their relation to men. Jennifer Kesler, a former film student writes about her experience in a blog post, “Why film schools teach screenwriters not to pass the Bechdel test:”

“According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story. Only if they heard the name of a man in the story would they tune back in. By having women talk to each other about something other than men, I was “losing the audience.”

The movie we watched was a Will Ferrell movie, so I didn’t expect much from it – sometimes he’s pretty funny, and that’s all we were looking for…

Sadly, though, there are so few quality children’s choices that feature girls. Probably far fewer than those available for adults. One day, just making conversation, I asked husband and 11-year old son, PD, how many kids’ movies feature girls in the lead role, did they think. They both figured around 5 percent. They are getting used to my wacky, out-of-the-blue questions.

This summer, I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for Despicable Me, despite the presence of the hilarious Steve Carrell, and the prominence of some little orphan girls.  To me, it was just another big children’s animated summer movie featuring another male protagonist. Following Toy Story 3 and Shrek whatever – 4 is it? It’s just disappointing.

Lately, big animated movies included: How to Train Your Dragon, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Ice Age 3, Up, 9. All male leads. There was Coraline, but although animated, it wasn’t really a children’s movie. Too scary.

But what about The Princess and the Frog, which is said to have an empowered, active girl? A good role model and all, but clearly, with the princess theme, marketed only to girls. So boys continue to get the message that girls are secondary, inferior. They are helpers, sidekicks, romantic interests, a victim to be rescued, decorative elements.

I heard a theory that movie makers believe boys only want to watch boy heroes but girls will watch anything. So you make the hero a boy to appeal to the broadest possible audience. I asked PD if he would watch a movie with a girl as the main character. Sure, he said, as long as it wasn’t a princess movie. So, something you are interested in, like an adventure movie? I asked. Yes, he said. In fact, both boys enjoyed the partly-animated Alice in Wonderland, featuring a non-sexualized, monster-slaying Alice. I quite enjoyed it myself.  In fact, I don’t think that movie has received enough praise. Alice was tough and smart, but like a real person, not some kind of superwoman. She bravely fought the monster, even though she was afraid. And she did it fully dressed, wearing appropriate armor, not some kind of metal bustier. Alas, Alice in Wonderland is not a good choice for younger kids.

The Secret of Roan Inish

Two other movies we have seen lately featuring adventurous girl protagonists that the boys liked: Nim’s Island and The Secret of Roan Inish. Both the kids liked these movies, even though the girls were on the younger side. Great movies, appropriate for all.
I understand that Pixar is about to come out with its first female protagonist after some 10 movies. So what is she? A princess. Yes, it’s disappointing. The thing is, no matter what this girl does, boys are not going to a movie about a princess. Why does Pixar believe that any movie with a female protagonist can only be marketed to girls?

There was a fascinating discussion about Disneys’ movies that I wanted to let you know about, here.

There were some very interesting takes on Disney princesses, the absence of mothers, the presence of mean step-mothers. One comment: “Why are the majority of Bad Guys in Disney women?” Heh… psychosis, anyone?

There were several different deconstructions of the Little Mermaid, including one very positive, feminist one. Clearly, if your daughter watches the movie, she should also read the book, because the original fairy tale has a very different message.

Are you happy with the movie choices for children? If not, make your voice heard.


  1. Did you see "The Kids Are All Right?" I would love to hear your take on that one – and whether it passes the test…

  2. Hi Carol – I thought it was refreshing to see middle-aged women acting in leading roles, rather than just being the wife or some other secondary role. It definitely passes the test. It's rated R, though, with sexual content that is not really for kids. Otherwise, if teens see it, I wouldn't be concerned about negative messages to them. It depicts a strong family with supportive parents who aren't perfect but still do a good job, and teens that think for themselves.

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