What percentage of movies have you seen that meet the following criteria?
- contains at least two named male characters
- who speak to each other
- about something other than a woman
Unless you’ve recently watched Little Women, or Barbie: The Pearl Princess, seems close to 100% right?
We’re approaching the 30th birthday of the Bechdel Test (pronounced bek-dle) which, for those of you who don’t know, is exactly like the test above with a slight variation. In order for a movie (or novel) to pass the Bechdel Test, it must:
- contain at least two named female characters
- who speak to each other
- about something other than a man
The Bechdel Test first appeared in a 1985 comic strip entitled Dykes to Watch Out For by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. According to Wikipedia, “on average, films that pass the test have been found to have a lower budget than others, but have comparable or better financial performance.”
Last night I sat down to watch a movie. As Edge of Tomorrow‘s opening scenes unfolded, and Tom Cruise put on his ready-to-flex-some-serious-male-badassery face, I found my mind wandering to the Bechdel Test… just before I found my body wandering away from the screen.
This morning found me entering every one of Tom Cruise’s 43 movies into the Bechdel Test search engine.
Why Tom Cruise, you ask? Well, for starters, I have it on good authority (the highly controversial “Trapped in the Closet” South Park episode) that he suffers from homophobia, which is especially problematic given that he is most likely homosexual; an assumption I surmised from the aforementioned reference, a stylist at Nordstrom who will remain anonymous, and Planet Unicorn.
What we know of him beyond the big screen: three head-scratching marriages, unsolicited medical advice to Brooke Shields, couch jumping, Scientology, etc. depicts a highly motivated, well-intentioned individual with some serious [insert badass face] self-awareness/actualization issues.
Basically, the man is a perpetual actor. On and off-screen Tom Cruise pretends to be an American heterosexual male, which could account for the fact that, of the 23 Tom Cruise movies listed in the Bechdel database, only six pass the test.
That’s right folks, only six of Tom Cruise’s movies contain two named females speaking to each other about something other than a man. Below are some, including Cruise’s top four highest grossing films, which fell short of this litmus test:
- Top Gun
- Rain Man
- A Few Good Men
- Interview with the Vampire
- Vanilla Sky
- Minority Report
- Tropic Thunder
- Jack Reacher
- Edge of Tomorrow
- All four (4) Mission: Impossible films
To be fair, there are several notes on the Bechdel Test website under Edge of Tomorrow defending it’s content. One viewer writes: “May not pass the Bechdel Test, but it really gets a strong female character RIGHT. Rita never loses her agency like so many others do.” Several additional commenters agree with this assessment.
To be fair again, here are the Bechdel Test comments from three of Tom’s six passing movies.
Although it’s never bothered me much that there aren’t more females in the military or running oil companies (will these institutions exist in the same capacity once female intellect is tapped as faithfully as the female body?) the one thing that really frosts my vagipper (pronounced vah-jipp-er) is their lack of representation in the arts. Quick! Name a female classical composer.
As far as I know, in any given geographical area you will find a somewhat equal number of males and females. That said, is there any reason on the planet why art galleries, radio stations, entertainment and book publishing industries shouldn’t offer an equal roster of male and female work?
Here are some stats about female artist representation from Seattle and beyond:
- What Music Matters most to KEXP? At Seattle’s favorite local, independent radio station… apparently male music. Of KEXP’s top 25 bands played in 2013, 86 musicians were male, and 6 were female. That amounts to .07% (rounding up) female representation. One band out of 25 was female-fronted (Neko Case at #21).
- According to this 2012 article in City Arts Magazine, “only 5% of the art on display in U.S. museums is made by women, although 51% of U.S. visual artists today are women. In the current edition of H.W. Janson’s textbook, History of Art, only 27 women are represented—that’s up from zero in the 1980s.”
- This week old article from Slate laments the 9:1 (male to female) ratio of authors nominated for the National Book Foundation‘s 2014 non-fiction award.
- In the Hollywood film industry, women make up 5% of directors, 14% of writers, 18% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 20% of editors, and 4% of cinematographers, based on a 2014 study published in Screen Daily.
As a music and art teacher, I make it a point to introduce my students to an equal ratio of male to female artists. It takes extra time to seek out female artists who illustrate a given concept, but I do it because I have an equal number of male and female kids in my classes, and I want them all to succeed.
In no way does the quality of the music or art suffer, but my students’ confidence might, should I deny them a proper frame of reference for their dreams.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to treat Tom Cruise as America’s gender equality weathervane. Much like a Hollywood robot; the world’s on-demand, archetypal hetero hero has much to show us about ourselves if we examine his career beyond the immediate entertainment value.
Perhaps the day will come when women in Tom Cruise films are given a psychological and emotional depth equal to and independent of men, then we will know the winds are changing.