New Swedish rating system challenges sexism in films

LAURA MOONEY — Over The Edge (University of Northern British Columbia)

These new ratings hopes to spark more thought and vocal reaction to gender roles. in film.

These new ratings hopes to spark more thought and vocal reaction to gender roles. in film.

PRINCE GEORGE (CUP) — Art-house cinemas across Sweden are breaking moulds and challenging the typical film rating standards by implementing a system that determines whether a film is considered sexist or not and, unfortunately, not many of our beloved Hollywood blockbusters are passing the test.

The new standards use a system created in 1985 called the Bechdel test, which is a basis for testing whether a work film leans towards gender bias. It was taken from a character’s comment in a comic by Alison Bechdel.

The new system takes the original idea put forth by the Bechdel test and expands on it further to show just how much gender bias is present in not only the films we view today, but the films created over the whole span of the film industry’s existence.

The rating’s system asks three basic questions about a film. Does it have at least two named women? Do they talk to each other at some point in the film? And do they talk about something other than a man?

The cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Helsingborg and Malmo, with praise from the Swedish Film Institute, have already introduced this new ratings’ system to members of the public and have implemented it in the cities’ art-house cinemas with approval from Bechdel.

These cinemas have agreed to only show films that meet the standards of the Bechdel test and refuse those that go against them. So far some of the films included have been The Hunger Games, Savages and The Iron Lady, all of which feature strong female leads in powerful positions.

While this new system may not catch on around the world in larger theatres, it does open the movie-going public’s eyes to gender bias and exactly how much of it is really occurring in the hit films we watch.

Favourites such as the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series did not pass these new ratings, as well as classics like Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting. Even the Harry Potter series only had one film that would pass the Bechdel test. These findings point out that the majority of our favourite blockbusters are male-dominated, leading to the question: what about the women?

While the test does point out the male dominance of the film industry, one major flaw in the system still remains. The system measures a film’s gender bias strictly by these standards, and in no way takes into account if the females in the films are stereotypical or are presented in a negative way.

Although the Bechdel test is supposed to measure gender bias, it cannot tell if a film is feminist or if it highlights women in a positive light. Even the German film Run Lola Run, for example, does not pass the Bechdel test standards despite being known for its strong female lead and feminist undertones. At the same time, some animated Disney films may pass the test even while re-enforcing gender stereotypes.

While the Bechdel test is still only popular in theatres in Sweden, it still raises questions about what we watch when we go to the movies. While 50 per cent of the movie-going public is female, only 10 per cent of films feature a strong female lead. Is it because we prefer to see a male in the lead role? Or perhaps it is because of gender roles which have been around for ages? Either way, the experiment in Sweden is opening the public’s eyes to hidden biases in films.

Only the future will tell if these new findings will change the way people choose which movies they see. Even if the test-approved films only remain in art-house theatres, the fact that these new observations have now been brought to the general public is a step forward in stopping gender biases in popular films today.


Photo: Benedict-Francis-flickr

  • What is the point?

    “It was taken from a character’s comment in a comic by Alison Bechdel”

    This should end any claim of the “tests” and articles validity right there. Can’t express enough how tired I am of articles like these on the Sheaf.

    • Schizophrenic

      With respect, I don’t agree with your reasoning. If a comic book character states that “2 + 2 = 4,” is the statement less valid because of its source?

    • What is the point?

      The original intent of the line in the comic “”Dykes To Watch For” was a backhanded joke/comment on the current state of the film industry as a whole. It was never meant as an indicator to evaluate individual films, but for some reason modern feminists try and use this “test” (and I use “test” as loosely as possible here) to justify their own misguided agendas. I fully agree that there can and should be things done in the film industry to increase women’s roles, as well as, eliminating the gender bias that does exist in some ways. However, I don’t believe one bit that citing this “test” is the way to go about it.

  • Schizophrenic

    I think a more important factor in female representation of women in cinema is the lack of women directors. How often do you see a film directed by a woman, let alone a great and timeless film? Whatever the cause of this lack of women directors, it seems likely that having more of them would lead to more films passing the Bechdel Test. (For what it’s worth, I’m a man).

    • angry foodie

      Good point. Interestingly, I reckon a few of Kathryn Bigelow’s films also fail the Bechdel test.

      I don’t think having more female directors will have more movies pass the test.

  • angry foodie

    Forrest Gump fails the test too, but I hardly think there is a woman alive who would consider that film sexist.

    Since this is one of my favorite films of all time, a movie which touched on no less than 4 genres and did each of them as well or better than the best of the genre, I will open the floor for criticism.

    In my view, a rating system like this is idiotic. Great films are great films.