BECHDEL/WALLACE MEASURE: A test or thought experiment proposed by Liz Wallace in 1985 but popularized by comedian Alison Bechdel. The test illustrates how many narratives tend to focus character development and agency in male characters but reduce female characters to passive or supporting roles--even when it is not logical to do so. To pass the Bechdel measure, the narrative has to fulfill three requirements: (1) it must have at least two female characters in the story, (2) the two female characters must at some point in the narrative actually speak to each other rather than only talking to male characters, and (3) their conversation must be about something other than a male character. In popular culture, it is often referred to as the "Bechdel Movie Measure" or the "Bechdel Movie Test" since it is most commonly applied to films, though it serves equally well for novels and short stories. One might initially suspect that since women compose over 54% of the population, they would have roughly equal amounts of "screen time" and interaction compared to the male characters in popular books and movies. Strikingly, a significant number--even a majority--of common books and popular films fail this test--even when the writers or directors (or even the main protagonists) are female. If in fact the narrative passes the Bechdel measure, it may be scorned as a "chick flick." The Bechdel measure serves to illustrate principles literary theorists have commented upon for decades concerning objectification as discussed by Martha Nussbaum, "the male gaze" as discussed by Jaques Lacan and Laura Mulvey, and the role of women as intermediaries between men as discussed by Eve Sedgwick.


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