It’s come to be known as the Bechdel test, and it goes like so: For a given work of fiction to pass the test, the work must 1) have at least two women in it, who 2) talk to each other, about 3) something other than a man.
The test is a blunt, basic measure of gender equality in a given film/show/book/etc. It revels in its own absurd simplicity. And it is often—still, ridiculously—not passed by Hollywood movies. It’s often failed in other settings, too. As the A.V. Club summed up the current controversy at Duke, which involves incoming students’ refusal to read Bechdel’s celebrated graphic novel on the grounds of its sexual themes: “Duke students refuse to read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, will probably fail the test.”
Bechdel, however, wasn’t the originator of the test. She has long attributed the idea of the Bechdel test to her friend Liz Wallace, who mentioned the standard to her as Bechdel was looking for ideas for Dykes to Watch Out For. (Bechdel also attributes the idea, more broadly, to Virginia Woolf—who, in A Room of One’s Own, remarked, “All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple”—and that the women of literature, contrary to the living, breathing, complex women of real life, are almost always depicted only “in their relation to men.”)