Sweden is Now Rating Films for Gender Bias

An A for "Bechdel Test Approved"

We have ratings for violence in film—now Sweden is rolling out a rating system for movies’ gender bias.

With the support of the Swedish Film Institute, four cinemas launched the effort to give films an “A” stamp of approval if they pass the Bechdel test.

Named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, movies that pass the Bechdel test must have two named female characters who talk to each other at least once about something other than a man. Since only about a third of top-grossing movie characters are female, a disappointing number of films fail the Bechdel test—including, for example, all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When standing outside a theater trying to decide what movie to see, it would be nice to know which films will be completely devoid of women.  A giant “A” stuck on the movie poster could help me, at least, make up my mind about what movie will be worth my money.

Of course, the Bechdel test is not flawless system for determining whether a film is exclusively male-focused. Gravity, for example, fails the Bechdel test, even though it centers on a complex female protagonist. But the test is a good way to draw attention to the lack of female characters and female-driven storylines in mainstream cinema. 

“For some people it has been an eye-opener,” Swedish art house theater director Ellen Tejle told the Associated Press. “The goal is to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.”

When thinking about why so many popular films fail at including even two real female characters, it’s worth looking at who is working behind the scenes in the film industry. Across the board, the industry is male-dominated.

A graph shows that women are only 18 percent of behind-the-scenes workers on films

According to a depressing pile of reports from the Center for the Study of Women in Film and Television, women comprised only 18 percent of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012—that’s up only one percent since 1998. Meanwhile, men also wrote 82 percent of film reviews. If we were to grade the mainstream film world on whether it includes women, the whole industry would get an F. 

Related Reading: Why don’t more female-directed films get nominated for Oscars

Infographic from the Women’s Media Center. H/t to @BitchMedia Twitter follower Megan Dorothea.

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

This is a foolish idea

...and so far, it's only going to happen in Sweden, which is good.

If women want to see more movies with women in them, then women have to start getting into film school, and be prepared to do all of the work need to become a film director, writer, or producer (while being aware that film is a stressful business to be in.)

Don't give the industry an F

Don't give the industry an F because it fails to "include" women. Nobody is stopping women from getting involved in the filmmaking process. You want more female centric roles, write quality roles. And it's kind of a crappy rating system if a movie like Gravity fails to get the female stamp of approval.


...That's not accurate. My sister works in the film industry, and she works hard. But you have to recognize that the industry is still a male-dominated one, in which the "old boys" club is, sadly, still a factor. To say "Nobody is stopping women from getting involved", you are oversimplifying the issue and overlooking the fact that while, LEGALLY, nobody can stop a woman from doing something, they CAN make it difficult for them, refuse to give them the respect (or promotion) they deserve, and generally hinder their progress and enjoyment of their job. While the Bechdel test is not perfect, it is at least a step in the right direction---toward realizing and accepting the fact that there IS a problem with gender bias in our world, and that we must be aware of a problem before we can take steps to solve it.

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