Critical Tools

Behold! A collection of every feminist media test that I’ve ever heard of. This will be updated every now and again as I hear of more. Please feel free to comment below or contact me to let me know if I’m missing one.

A quick note before you dive in and start to scream about how sexist your favorite films really are: No test is perfect. There are wonderful films that can be considered feminist that fail the Bechdel test. There are television shows that center around male characters and allow those male characters wonderful chances to challenge masculinity… and yet most episodes fail the Sexy Lamp test. All of these tests, especially when combined, can indicate that a film is less-than-progressive by quality representation standards, but they should be understood as very, very, very specific metrics rather than as ultimate determinate for whether or not a piece of media contains unique and special uses of gender.

Also, it should be obvious: Many of these were created for movies specifically, but apply them to whatever you like. They work wonderfully for everything from music videos to feature length films.

The Anti-Freeze: No citation for this besides a post I saw floating around tumblr, but this test requires that no female character be killed off to further a man’s story line. The name refers to the “woman in refrigerator” trope that first arose out of comic books, wherein women would be killed, raped, chopped up and thrown in refrigerators, or otherwise brutalized so that the male lead could have a motivation for going after the villain.

  • Why it works: Needless to say, it stops women from dying just for the sake of a man’s character development. Women are often on screen to be victims, and this is just another example of that. The Anti-Freeze also prohibits us from seeing the gruesome death/rape/brutalization of a woman on screen, which is great, since there’s already so much of that in media anyways.
  • Why it doesn’t: Arguably, your girlfriend, mother, sister, or daughter’s death would have a big impact on you and probably motivate you to avenge them. This rule is really just here to remind us what an exhausting and pervasive trope the “woman in refrigerator” trope is, not necessarily to say that men being sad because their wife died is silly. It’s obviously not silly.
  • Variations: None that I have found.

The Bechdel Test: Created by Alison Bechdel (of Dykes To Watch Out For fame), the Bechdel test requires that movies (1) have two or more female characters who (2) have a conversation with one another (3) about something other than a man.

  • Why it works: Female characters are most often placed in story lines that orbit male characters. It can seem as if a woman’s whole world revolves around the men in her life–be it fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, or sons–and that’s just not the case. The Bechdel test serves a purpose insofar as it allows an opportunity for female characters to illuminate their personal lives, which go beyond the men they know and are multifaceted and complete on their own. The Bechdel test has an added bonus of encouraging female friendships in media, which are crucial to women’s lives and yet is rarely portrayed.
  • Why it doesn’t: Good movies fail for all kinds of reasons. For one, many good movies aren’t about women. For another, good movies might be about women, but only one woman. Pacific Rim has been criticized for not passing the Bechdel test, but has been hailed nonetheless as a feminist film; people feel the same way about Kill Bill and Gravity. Movies that pass the Bechdel test aren’t always good movies, and movies that are good don’t always pass the Bechdel test. Plus, media can pass the Bechdel test (yay!) but still portray women as a variety of sexist tropes (boo). It only measures representation to a very specific degree.
  • Variations: Sometimes appliers of the Bechdel test require the two female characters to be named (which I prefer also). Some require the conversation itself to last longer than 60 seconds. Others have re-applied the Bechdel test to race, suggesting that if two characters of color have a conversation without mentioning their race, the film has a better chance of not reducing their characters of color to racist tropes.

The Mako Mori Test: This test was created specifically in response to the shortcomings of the Bechdel test. The Mako Mori test, named after the lead in Pacific Rim and created by a tumblr user, demands that there be at least one female character who has her own narrative arc and that that narrative arc is not about supporting a man’s story.

  • Why it works: Duh–narrative arcs that aren’t about men are the backbone of female empowerment. Well, not necessarily the backbone, but it allows for a lot more exploration into women as people rather than women as objects or motivations in their male counterparts’ lives.
  • Why it doesn’t: The Mako Mori test is limited to one female character–meaning this one female character doesn’t necessarily have to interact with, be seen with, or acknowledge any other women ever. This can open the door for creators to write about female characters… but still have a handful of supporting male characters who can dominate the show. The most perfect example I can think for this scenario is Rogue One, in which Jyn is the only female character with any kind of story line at all. She has her own arc and it’s not about supporting another character, but she’s the only woman in the film, even though the “squad” that leads the mission is comprised of five humans and a male-coded robot. (Granted, the remaining four human characters are men of a variety of different races.)
  • Variations: I don’t know of any on this test, but it could equally be migrated to apply to characters of color or queer characters.

The Sexy Lamp Test: Created by writer for Marvel comics Kelly Sue DeConnick, If a female character can be removed from the story and replaced with a sexy lamp, this piece of media has failed the sexy lamp test.

  • Why it works: This gets at the most basic of objectifying that women have been subject to for decades in media. Women are often times trophies or prizes for the hero slaying the monster or scoring the winning touchdown. Or they’re in the background of scenes for added flavor–think of all the scenes that have been in clubs or brothels for no purpose besides the ability to place sexy women absolutely everywhere. I personally love using this for music videos, where “half naked women wriggling around” is code for “edgy and adult” lately; really, they all look like sexy lamps to me.
  • Why it doesn’t: Like the Bechdel test, this test is limited, and only analyzes a certain type of representation. Characters can pass the Sexy Lamp test and still ascribe to a variety of tropes that don’t have anything to do with sex appeal, such as the evil step mother.
  • Variations: None that I know of, but just use your imagination. We could benefit from a few different ones of these.

The Vito Russo Test: Named after LGBT rights activist Vito Russo, this test was created by the organization GLAAD and asks if media contains a character that is identifiably LGBT, who isn’t defined by their sexuality or gender, and who is connected to the plot in a way that would make it difficult to remove them or kill them off.

  • Why it works: After dozens of dead LGBT characters all over 2016’s TV landscape, I think we all deserve a break from being seen as disposable. LGBT characters still are hardly in leading roles, especially in stories that don’t actively revolve around their sexuality or gender as a driving force of conflict with parents, friends, or the self. This demands a lot more from media, and with a good cause.
  • Why it doesn’t: This doesn’t really allow media to be ABOUT sexuality or gender in a meaningful way, which can run contradictory to many queer peoples’ personal lives, as those lives often do include conflict with parents, friends, or the self. But this is a small criticism; coloring the main cast of an action movie or a murder mystery or a detective film with queer characters who aren’t defined by sexuality or gender normalizes these things in our society and, while stories specifically about gender and sexuality need to be told, that isn’t the only part of life for LGBT people.
  • Variations: None yet.

BONUS:

The Furiosa Test: This tests came out of the online, misogynist-driven response to Mad Mad: Fury Road. Basically, if your media makes a bunch of people mad on the internet because it’s “feminist,” (read: not totally shitty towards women), it passes the Furiosa test. I don’t consider this one a real test because it doesn’t actually ask you to analyze the media itself, but it’s always fun when something you create makes your enemies mad enough to boycott.