Recently I started looking into something I'd heard about only slightly called the Bechdel Test. In order to pass the test there are three criteria that must be met.
1. There must be at least two female characters
2. Who speak to each other
3. About something other than a man/men.
This test is applied to movies and TV shows to look at how women are presented. Mainly, the goal of the test is to try and shed some light on how infrequently women exist in movies independent of their relationships to men. Think about your favorite movies. How many of them pass this test?
This test is interesting for a lot of reasons. It's very revealing when looking at the percentage of movies that pass, but when the actual movies themselves are examined, passing the test doesn't always mean the movie is female friendly, or contains a strong female role model. Similarly, not passing the test doesn't mean the movie is antiwoman. After all, according to the Bechdel Test Movie List Paranormal Activity 3 passed the test while the final Harry Potter movie does not.
After all, a thing to note is that the test doesn't care if the women talk about stereotypically "girly" things like shoes or make-up, so long as they aren't talking about men. As a result plenty of movies that don't provide positive female role models or positive messages about women pass. Meanwhile an action movie where the strong female leads discuss defeating the evil male bad guy, would fail.
It's also interesting because of how strict the definition of men is. The test doesn't care if the women are discussing a romantic lead, an ailing father, or a mortal enemy, if the person about whom they are speaking is male, the movie fails. My problem with this is when the topic of conversation is about a public figure. If the women are discussing the recent actions of the male president and how they feel about it, I'd view that as a pass, because they are discussing politics, however according to the test, it is a fail because they are talking about a man. Luckily from what I've seen, while my president example would fail, a discussion about congress would pass, because it is an organization, even if it is an organization mostly made of men. A more concerning part of the test is that women who discuss their daughters pass, but women who discuss their sons don't. While this makes sense when characters are talking about adult children, if characters say "Nathan rolled over today. Did Bobby" "Why yes, Bobby did." instead of Lucy and Emily, I feel this should be a pass.
The test is further complicated with the added requirement that the female characters be named. The purpose of this restriction was to avoid movies in which two background characters that have nothing to do with the story are the only reason it passes (ie. Police Woman 1: Boy it's hot today. Police Women 2: Sure is. Say what's that? Police Woman 1: Why it's a meteor. And it's heading right towards us!). Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of named. Do the characters have to be addressed by name during the movie, or is it sufficient for them to be named in the credits? There is no clear indication, which leads to interesting fights in forums about the test.
I think the Bechdel test is a useful indication about how women are presented in film and other media, but it cannot be used alone. Context is not a part of this test, and context must be provided to fully understand what is going on in the world of media in regards to women.