Thoughts on top selling Swedish movies failing the Bechdel test
For years Sweden was the highest ranked country in the world in terms of equality between the genders. According to the latest reports, we’ve now been bumped into fourth place, behind our Scandinavian neighbours, but I still feel lucky to live in a part of the world where the shape of my genitals is less of a hindrance than elsewhere.
It’s safe to say that Sweden has earned a bit of a reputation in this aspect and you would expect that this would reflect in the Swedish movies. Sadly it doesn’t.
Failing the test
Dagens Nyheter, the biggest morning paper in Sweden recently checked out how the genders are represented in the Swedish movies that ranked highest at the box office over the last ten years. As their measuring tool they used the Bechdel test.
The simple rules of this test are that a movie needs to have at least two named women who talk to each other about something besides a man. It turned out that this was too much to ask for, even in the progressive Sweden.
Two out of three movies failed, and the only way you can describe this result is: poor.
It turned out that there wasn’t any notable difference between female and male directors in this regard. Movies directed by women appear to fail the Bechdel test just as often as movies directed by men.
Anna Serner, who is CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, commented on the results:
I have worked actively with the gender issue for 15 years and I haven’t reacted against this until recently. This shows how accustomed we are to women being in a supportive function towards men. It’s the norm and it helps to create a perception about men being cowboys and women being good looking, young and docile. You really have to take the test to see the structures.”
I couldn’t agree more. Just look at The Intouchables, a French success movie from last year. As you might remember it received quite a bit of criticism, especially in North America, with accusations of racial stereotyping. But very few of the critics mentioned the objectification of women or how the protagonist kept groping a female colleague who clearly didn’t want to be grope and how this was presented as a bit of fun rather than as the sexual harassment it actually was.
Anna Serner again:
It’s a problem, because we know that movies help forming the identity of the one who is watching. You use film to understand yourself and your identity. If you try to achieve equality in the society overall, the work for it will become much harder if movies aren’t working in that direction.”
Bechdel tests and film fast
So if we have a problem where half of mankind is presented as subordinated the other half in movies, is there anything we can do to change this? Is it the duty of a feminist oriented movie goer to pick movies that present a different picture?
There are options available. One of the VOD companies in Sweden has decided to give all their movies a consumer marking, where they inform weather a film has passed the Bechdel test. It’s up to the viewer to make the call. If you’re so inclined you can decide to boycott all movies that aren’t Bechdel proof.
Would you do that? I wouldn’t.
I find the stereotyping and the lack strong female characters in movies a problem, especially in regards of the influence it has on the next generation a problem (eloquently described by Colin Stokes in a TED talk, thanks to Hauke for sending me the link!). But I can’t imagine refraining from watching movies such as The Hobbit, Looper, Life of Pi or Frankenweenie for gender political reasons, just to make a statement.
Equally I’d never submit myself to a “feministic film fast”, another Swedish phenomenon, where the idea is to only watch movies made by female directors. My favourite film of 2012 – We Need to Talk about Kevin – happened to be directed by a woman. And so is Zero Dark Thirty, which will be a strong candidate on the 2013 list. But they have those positions in their own right, not because I’ve actively been looking for female directors, excluding male or excluding movies that don’t pass the Bechdel test.
However I think initiatives like this are valuable since they get a lot of attention in the media and help raising awareness. The movie going audience hopefully starts to reflect over how women are presented in movies, question it and talk about it. And this is the first step in a long process towards a change. I wonder if it will happen during my lifetime though.
If Swedish movies can’t pass the Bechdel test, we’ve got a long, long way to go.