Gaming | Film | TV
Gaming | Film | TV

Why Sweden’s Bechdel test film ratings system is misguided

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As certain cinemas in Sweden incorporate the Bechdel test into film ratings, one of our writers wonders how effective the move will be.

Sweden has blessed us with many great things, from your Volvos, to your Abbas, to your Ibrahimovics. It’s a pretty cool country. But on the other hand, Sweden has also produced a lot of duff, chief amongst that duff being Ikea; I hate Ikea, and their meatballs. And it’s Sweden’s latest invention that belongs in the sterile halls of Ikea rather than the luxurious leatherwork of a polished Volvo.

To pass the Bechdel test, a film must have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man

Selected cinemas in Sweden have started to rate films in terms of sexism, along with the obvious violence, nudity and profanity. What this means? Well, in order to pass the Bechdel test and get an A rating, the film must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s a pretty stupid idea. Of course, that’s not me dismissing gender equality or anything – it’s obviously something we should strive for throughout any industry. But the Bechdel test seems like something we should have introduced 20 years ago, not now.

The fact is, sexism isn’t really much of an issue in films anymore. But more than that, the criteria the Bechdel test imposes seems incredibly rigid and narrow-minded. It means that major franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter would fail to get an A rating. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really think of any examples of these films being sexist. Yes, Eowyn mopes after Aragorn a bit, but she also kills the Witch-king, which no man could do; hardly sexist and in no way demeaning to women.

aragorn eowyn

More and more we’re seeing strong female characters leading films and generally a greater equality in films between the two sexes. Women are no longer there just to be saved anymore. Look at Jennifer Lawrence in the latest Hunger Games film: She couldn’t give a shit about the two dudes pining after her. Even in Iron Man 3, it was Gwyneth Paltrow wearing only a bra that saved everyone, and not Robert Downey Jr.

Of course, there are films with underdeveloped female characters, but that’s not sexist, that’s just bad filmmaking. It normally happens to the main character’s love interest. I can’t even remember the names of the men in the Angelina Jolie-led Salt whilst in, for example, Jack Reacher, it’s Rosamund Pike’s character who is drastically underdeveloped. It’s not anything sexist; it’s just bad filmmaking. That’s all.

Of course there are films with underdeveloped female characters, but that’s not sexist, that’s just bad filmmaking

Then there’s the thorny issue of gender stereotypes, or tropes, that reinforce negative clichés. One of the most popular of these stereotypes is the so-called ‘manic pixie dream girl’, as highlighted in this here video. I’ll leave you to decide whether you agree or disagree with Anita Sarkeesian’s views, but personally, I think there’s a distinction to be made between sexism and stereotypes. Is a manic pixie dream girl sexist or just a lazy stereotype, a role that crops up in a lot of films to fulfill a particular purpose? None of these stereotypes are offensive – they’re just over-played. There are obviously negative female stereotypes, but there are just as many negative male stereotypes.

alice eve star trek

The more prevalent problem isn’t so much stereotypes or the roles women play in films, but the objectification of the actresses themselves. Case in point: Alice Eve’s random strip in Star Trek, a moment with no purpose but to give randy teenage boys a boner. There are times when it’s all just a bit ridiculous, like when directors (Michael Bay, I’m looking at you) look for excuses to use the camera as a virtual peephole. It’s not so much that these filmmakers do it; it’s more the motivation behind getting women to show some skin. Filmmakers know it sells. But, again, this isn’t really something exclusive to film but to the whole entertainment industry. Miley Cyrus, anyone?

The more prevalent problem isn’t so much stereotypes, but the objectification of actresses

The effort in parts of Sweden to seek gender equality is a noble one, but misguided when aimed at film. Directors like Ridley Scott and James Cameron have always championed strong female characters. Of course there are still traces of sexism in cinema, which should of course be eradicated. But really, sexism in film isn’t as big a problem anymore. Sweden should instead focus their efforts on gaming, now there sexism is a problem.


Featured image: Marvel

Inset images: New Line; Paramount


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