2014 Was an Especially Bad Year for Female Characters in Film

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Walk of Shame, with Elizabeth Banks. Photo: Jamie Trueblood/Walk of Shame Productions

The Bechdel Test — which emerged from a joke in Alison Bechdel’s '80s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” — has become a popular measure of gender inequality in film. The test's simple criteria for whether a movie takes women seriously: It has at least two named female characters, they talk to each other, and said conversation is about something besides a man. When applied to 1,500 movies from the past five years, 2014 emerged as a particularly bad year for female characters.

According to the Silk, only 55.4 percent of films in 2014 passed the test. Looking back further, over the last two decades, only three other years have had such low pass rates (1998, 2002, and 2009). For comparison, most years see pass rates between 60 percent and 65 percent.

While movies increasingly feature female characters, the subject of those characters’ conversations is often limited to guys. In a whopping 44 percent of movies released in 2014, female characters talked only about men. Such conversations usually serve one of two interrelated purposes: They codify women’s roles as supportive to the narrative arc of male characters, and they reinforce the primacy of heterosexual romantic relationships.

But a pass on the Bechdel Test does not a feminist film make. Walk of Shame, a horribly clichéd movie you probably never saw, was one of the 97 films to pass last year.