Hollywood, like most other industries in the U.S., has a woman problem. The ratio of male to female characters in films is two to one, making it twice as difficult for lady actors to land a role as their male counterparts. When women do snag a little screen time, they're often required to strip down for exploitative sex scenes -- far more often than is required of men. And often, that's their only function in the film; women characters are rarely shown talking to each other about anything other than men, relationships, or sex.
There have been a few films working to correct Hollywood film biases in recent years -- 2011's Bridesmaids, for example -- but for the most part, Hollywood honchos seem pretty comfortable with the sexist status quo. In Sweden, on the other hand, film fans and movie theaters are taking action.
Swedish cinemas have launched a feminist ratings system for films, the AP reports, one that measures how effectively a particular movie performs under the standards of the infamous Bechdel test.
To get an A rating at one of the four Swedish theaters that have adopted the new ratings system so far, a movie must contain the following:
- At least two female characters -- ones important enough to have names (not just, say, Girl #4)
- At least two of those named female characters must talk to each other on screen
- That conversation must be about something other than a man
Two women talking to each other about literally anything other than a guy? This should not be difficult to accomplish; after all, women, much like men, talk to each other about a wide range of topics every single day. It's because real-world women also have lives and passions and frustrations of their own, you see. They're not just a bunch of sex objects and manic pixie dream girls who exist solely to advance the life stories of the men around them.
But as Alison Bechdel pointed out in her 1985 comic Dykes to Watch Out For, it's something that happens only rarely on the big screen. And though that observation has been passed around feminist circles for nearly 30 years since, nothing has really changed. It's hard as hell to find a wide-release film that gets an A on the Bechdel Test these days.
Of course, not every movie that passes the Bechdel test is a shining beacon of gender equality. Iron Man 3, for example, totally fits the bill -- but still ends with Tony Stark swooping in to save a bra-clad Pepper Potts.
Still, if cinemas advertised which of their movies passes the test, it'd be a lot easier for audiences to find films with compelling women characters. Maybe people with a vested interest in changing the culture of Hollywood would see more films in general. And remember: When you go to the theater, you're not just buying a movie ticket; you're casting a vote in favor of the type of film you're about to see. Studio executives make decisions based on the amount of money they think they can make on a particular project. Why not tell them that there's a large audience for films that treat women like, well, actual women?
I can hear you already, men's rights activists: Why does this even matter? Shouldn't I be allowed to watch a testosterone-fueled festival of tits and ass if I want to? Isn't this rule just encroaching on the free speech rights of filmbros worldwide? Why do you women want to ruin everything, gawd?
But guess what: The Bechdel test isn't preventing these movies from being made. It's been around for nearly three decades, remember? Has barely made a scratch. That's unlikely to change if it's more broadly advertised in the theaters where audiences choose and watch their films. In fact, all you Gavin McInnes types can use Bechdel ratings to your advantage, too. Looking for a movie with strong female characters? Go see the A-rated Hunger Games. Looking for the exact opposite of that, because you're a sad, angry man who hates women? Last Vegas is still there for you, dude.
It's sad that we live in a society that still treats women like accessories to the more important and interesting stories of men. And the movie theater, a place that's supposed to offer an escape from the frustrations of reality, so often fails to give women a break from that mindset. Feminist movie ratings aren't the whole solution, of course. But it's a start.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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