So where are the women?

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test or the Mo Movie Measure?

It originated from Allison Bechdel’s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985 and is a sort of litmus test to assess the presence of women in movies.

To pass the test a movie has to get a “yes” for all three of the following three questions.

1) Are there two or more women in it who have names?
2) Do they talk to each other?
3) Do they talk to each other about something other then a man?

It’s truly amazing (and more than a little depressing) just how many films don’t pass the test.
For example

Avatar
Star Wars (Episodes 1-6)
The Lord of the Rings Triliogy
The Dark Knight
Shrek
Watchmen
Transformers
Bruno
Ghostbusters
The Big Lebowski
Wall-E
Clerks
Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3
Austin Powers 1, 2 and 3
Men in Black
Fight Club
The Fifth Element
The Princess Bride
The Wedding Singer
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Truman Show
From Dusk till Dawn
Trainspotting
Mission Impossible
Toy Story
Gladiator
X Men
When Harry Met Sally
Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
Tomb Raider
Pulp Fiction
Interview with the Vampire
Home Alone
Up

There are 3378 movies in the Bechdel Test database, 1809 (53.6%) of which pass all three tests, 377 (11.2%) pass two tests, 835 (24.7%) pass one test and 357 (10.6%) pass no tests at all.

In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post (22.11.2012) “Women Are Underrepresented, Oversexualized In Top Films: Study“, Amy Lee writes

A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top 100 films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 32.8 percent of actors are female and 67.2 are male — 2.05 males to every one female. This means that less than 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.

Perhaps more disturbing is the finding that women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing (25.8 percent to men at 4.7 percent) and more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).

Women are also more likely to feel the effect of their age on their career. Though teen girls (12-20 year olds) are more likely than adult women, 21-39, to be shown as sexy, or partially naked — 21.5 percent to 13.8. But older women, aged 40-64, are not only less likely to be shown as attractive (3.8 percent), but less likely to be shown at all. Only 24 percent of all characters aged 40 to 64 are female.

Earlier in the year, there was an uproar over the lack of female presence of amongst directors in competition for the Palme d’Or (award) at the Cannes Film Festival.

Melanie Goodfellow wrote in article for screendaily.com called “Cannes sexism debate explodes on eve of festival” (14/5/2012)

A fierce debate over whether the Cannes Film Festival is sexist or not has exploded on the eve of its opening this Wednesday, following a high-profile opinion piece in the Le Monde accusing the event of sexism.

The article published on Saturday and signed by Baise Moi director Virginie Despentes, filmmaker Coline Serreau and actress Fanny Cottonçon attacked the festival over the lack of women in competition this year.

Feminist group La Barbe (the beard), which was behind the initiative, simultaneously launched an online petition. By Monday morning, more than 1,000 people, mainly women involved in the French film world, had signed up.

“The directors of the 22 films in competition this year are all, by happy coincidence, men. For the 63rd time in its existence, the festival will crown one of its own, defending without fail the virile values which are the nobility of the seventh art.” Despentes, Serreau and Cottonçon wrote.

“Once in 1993, the Golden Palm was awarded to a female director, Jane Campion. And in 2011, probably due to a lack of vigilance, four women featured among the 20 nominees in competition,” it continued.

“This year, gentlemen you’ve come to your senses and we are overjoyed. The Cannes Film Festival will allow Wes, Jacques, Leos, David, Lee, Andrew, Matteo, Michael, John, Hong, Im, Abbas, Ken, Sergei, Cristian, Yousry, Jeff, Alain, Carlos, Walter, Ulrich and Thomas to show one more time that “men like depth in women, but only in their cleavage.”

And in a article called “Where are the women in film?” for The Guardian (18/5/2012) Amelia Hill interviewed Producer Trudie Styler and director Lucy Walker

Each of them had the following things to say

Lucy Walker : There is a remarkable problem. In Hollywood last year, just 5% of the 250 biggest films were directed by women. That’s down from 9% a few years ago. What’s going on? It’s not that women don’t want to do it: in film school, 50% of students are women. There is something going on between women wanting to do it, and getting to do it. It’s absolutely remarkable.

…When a man directs a turkey, he’ll typically be hired much quicker again than a woman who has had a film bomb. But what’s most heartbreaking as a director are the success stories; the films directed by women that do fantastically well. Look at what happens to those women. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight film – a hit that came out of nowhere – was not hired to make the next one, but was described as too difficult to work with. Her next film had a budget twice as big as Twilight, but she couldn’t get the same fee. In Hollywood, when a guy directs a hit, his fee goes up, no questions asked. She was very upset about that.

Amelia Hill: Why is the film business allowed – and why does it feel it’s OK – to openly treat women so differently?

Trudie Styler: We let it go on and on, and none of us have answers. It just is. That’s not acceptable. There’s a very powerful woman in Sony [Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures], but look at her slate: she’s obviously being dictated to by a strong pool because she’s producing bad boy, action movies. Everyone is concerned in these lean times to show a profit, but while only 7% of directors in Hollywood are women, 23% of producers are women. It behoves those to be inviting women directors to step up and say: “We’ll develop your product. Bring it to us.”

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