Write strong women / an article


I recently read an interview with an actress and the Bechdel test was mentioned. I thought ‘hmm, sounds vaguely familiar but what is that?’ I looked it up.

I have come across this issue before – gender bias in movies.

The test or rule looks at female characters in films and it’s a basic view to see if there is a reasonably rounded female character. You’ll be shocked at how many film fail this test…

Are there at least 2 females who have a conversation that is not focused on a man?

You’d think it was an easy test to pass. Not so.

Recently interviewed Dame Helen Mirren said she used to scan through a script going “male, male, male, male, female, male, male, male, male, male, female…” to see how often women got to speak. She confessed she is now content to get a speaking part (another issue on age bias?)

I applied the Bechdel test recently and was socked to find most films fail. But what about literature?

Yep – it’s just as bad, even books written by women often centre around love/relationships so inevitably the females talk about the men.

There are a couple of extension to the basic test: the characters have names and they talk for at least 60 seconds. Rather than passing with a feeble:

Waitress 1 “take that order will you?”

Waitress 2 “ok”.

Mako Mori test

This takes another angle, with 3 rules:

  1. One female character (minimum)
  2. Who gets her own voice
  3. And isn’t there simply to support a man’s story

Try them! A recent fail example: Chappie the latest robot sci-fi offering features only 2 females in supporting roles who never speak to each other.

As a sci-fi fan I am shocked that in 2015 we still face this lazy writing, that’s how I define it.

I watched Pacific Rim recently – giant robots powered by 2 people with synched mind-control versus giant monsters – yeah! There are 3 featured women (I am being generous as the first is on screen for a minute and never speaks), they never speak to each other. The single female lead is simply there to roll her eyes at her male counterpart and play a ‘daughter’ role to the guy in charge; of course being the one ‘saved’ too – arghh!

Finally – here’s the Russo Test. This goes further with gender bias and looks at LGBT roles.

1. at least one LGBT character, 2. not solely identified by their sexual preferences, 3. significant to the plot.

Most films I can think of use LGBT as some kind of comedy, ‘tick a box’ character – there is the wonderful PRIDE of course, based on real people & events – passes all the tests!

What’s my point then?

Simply to raise the issue. Make you think about it.

Of course there are cracking films/stories featuring strong males only and that’s OK as long as women aren’t just stuck in for eye-candy, the ubiquitous mother or to tick a box…

As a writer I aim to create strong female characters but equally that doesn’t mean they cannot simply chat about love & men. Perhaps there should be a counter-test:

1. at least one man who talks about his feelings??


PS: I have applied all these ‘rules’ to my own novel Foreplay. I did not have this in mind whilst writing because I didn’t want to force interactions but I am pleased to say I passed (I think…)

Foreplay ~ a story about the chase is out now on Amazon / by Elizabeth Haley-Wood

A contemporary erotic tale with a dark twist!



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