Are Your Friendships Passing the Bechdel Test?
Written by Mara Strobel-Lanka
In the last few years, pop culture has shifted its gaze with affecting focus. We’ve become more aware than ever of the many ways the world is and has been shaped by and around men. A term that’s made its way to the forefront of that conversation is the Bechdel test. Originally theorized in 1985 by Allison Bechdel, the pop-culture test is simple, yet failed by the majority of movies and shows we consume. The test itself has three rules: (1) that there are two women, (2) that those women talk to each other, (3) about something other than a man. Wondering if this is a real thing? Next time you Netflix and chill, make a tally of substantial, non-patriarchal conversations cast between female characters. If you’re like me, you’ll be shocked, angry and left feeling a little helpless.
Obviously the Bechdel test’s performance in fiction doesn’t reflect reality (thank God), but it does draw necessary attention to the conversations we do participate in. I started to consider if the friendships in my life would pass the Bechdel test, and was elated to think first of girls’ camping trips and wine nights with long discussions about the environment, the state of politics and the potential of our careers. But behind those prized conversations and relationships are some that wouldn’t fair the test as well. I’m often lead to recognize the haunting failed Bechdel grade of drinks shared with old college friends, once-a-year coffee dates, lunch breaks with coworkers or even a solid friendship suffering some stale rhetoric. Often, these Bechdel blunders happen by accident, leaving you to abashedly remember if there were any substantial conversation pieces after the the wine glasses are empty and the gals have already gone home.
Confiding about and dissecting our romantic relationships among friends is important, but if it’s dominating conversations, it’s often a sign of an unhealthy or unfulfilling friendship. Noticing that your girl gang isn’t passing the Bechdel test? Consider trying these methods:
1. Keep an agenda
Each of the women in my life, including myself, has an impressive expanse of talents, hobbies and community involvement. Keeping track of it all is tough (and sometimes impossible), but writing a list never hurts. Next time you book a friend date, or a FaceTime with a long-distance bestie, write out an agenda for conversation to make sure you’re covering all of your bases. Romantic relationships will certainly make the list, but they won’t command the convo with a visual reminder to chat about any career changes, voting ballots or books you’ve read to keep the chat flowing.
2. Date your friends
Some aspects of dating can be borderline miserable (to say the least), but the drive to create meaningful conversation and connection isn’t one of them. Asking ice-breaker questions can lead to hour-long debates and dialogue. Where’d you grow up? What’s your favorite childhood memory? What’s some place you’ve always wanted to visit? Skip the Tinder introduction and court your friends instead. There’s nothing better than leaving a girls’ night giddy from stimulating conversation.
3. Stay curious
When you’ve been friends with someone for years, it’s easy and comforting to feel as if you know everything about them. Hopefully, we’re always challenging ourselves to learn and grow alongside our friends. Stay up-to-date with your girl gang and challenge each other to keep learning by asking about what they’ve read, watched or researched lately. With unlimited access to new podcasts, documentaries and YouTube tutorials, it’s inevitable that the women in your life have something new and interesting to share with you.
4. Check in on that glass ceiling
We’re all fighting the good fight to keep making cracks at that glass ceiling, which makes it easy and necessary to engage with your girlfriends on their progress, promotions, prides and problems in the workplace. Odds are, they’ll have plenty of constructive advice to give or at least a comfy shoulder (or wine glass) to cry into.
5. Filter your friendships
At the end of the day, not all of our friendships are (nor should they be) created equal. Some of them have more potential than others, and some of them will never pass the Bechdel test. Be conscious of what energy and etiquette your friends bring out in you, and filter accordingly. We all may need our fix of a D-rating Bechdel test rom-com every once in a while, but we sure as hell couldn’t live in one.
No one needs to tell you that women are delightful, valuable company with humor, wit, and a lot more to talk about than just men. Sometimes, we just need a little push to keep that reminder at the forefront of our friendships and the foundation of our conversations. Whether debating generational divides at our babes-only book club or sitting cross-legged on my BFF’s kitchen counter, nothing fills my heart quite like smart women articulating challenging topics. Next time you’re soaking in the warmth of a cherished gal’s night, keep these pointers in mind and relish in the intellect and insight that comes your way.
Now text your besties, grab a beverage and get to talking, babes.
Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mara is a political field organizer by day, and the BWH Creative Director by nights and weekends. Her passions include writing, sailing, walking, thinking of her next meal and planning her next dinner party.