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The Lauzen-Silverstein Test

One of Walt Hickey's tables

Yesterday, a man called Walt Hickey published his excellent analysis of The Dollar-And-Cents Case Against Hollywood’s Exclusion of Women. Sure, in stating that 'Movies that are female-driven do not travel...maybe with the exception of Sandra Bullock' and that 'recently, Hollywood has been able to boast about the success of female-dominated films in the marketplace', he and his informants seem to have forgotten, for example, that Meryl Streep films travel superbly well. And have been doing so for years. And, as Alice Lytton points out in her lovely response, the money's just part of the story.

But the article does show that using the Bechdel Test as a default measure for how women are represented in films doesn't work. I treasure films that – consciously or unconsciously – embrace the Bechdel Test and run with it and am always happy when even a short sequence in a film passes the test. But all the Bechdel Test can do is measure whether two women in the film talk to each other about something other than men. Cherishing women's conversations about something other than men is important. I hope that the Swedish A-Rating idea becomes embedded in cinema-going round the world to remind us of this. However, it's necessary to find other ways to measure how women are represented on screen.

Melissa Silverstein, with a hat-tip to Martha Lauzen, has just suggested a new form of measurement, with these criteria–
1) Does the film have a female lead or leads?

2) Does the woman/women have agency in her/their life, i.e., is she a real and meaningful character?

I think this is a great idea, but because no Hollywood film would be greenlit without a leading character who is 'real and meaningful' (though Hollywood's ideas about 'real and meaningful' women are not necessarily mine or yours, nor are its ideas about 'quality'), this could be combined into one–
Does the film have a woman protagonist or antagonist? (as you probably know, 'act','agency' and '-agonist' come from the same root word* – bring on those antagonists!)
But I don't think this new measurement should be called the Bechdel Test 2.0, as Melissa suggests, for several reasons–
1) It excludes all the elements of the original Bechdel Test.

2) With two tests, it's possible to compare and contrast. Do films that pass the Bechdel Test make more money than those that pass the Lauzen-Silverstein Test, for instance? What about films that pass BOTH tests, like Sophie Hyde's Sundance and Berlin award-winning 52 Tuesdays? If men write films that pass the Lauzen-Silverstein Test, are these films less likely than women-written films to pass the Bechdel Test? Or not? What happens to conversations between and among women in Lauzen-Silverstein films?

3) The original Bechdel Test arose organically within Dykes To Watch Out For, a comic strip that was itself a rich embodiment of the test. The strip ran for decades and continues to have an audience that is hungry for conversations between and among women, about something other than men. Any Bechdel Test 2.0 should come from Alison Bechdel herself. It seems to me that if a new test appropriates her name it's a little like someone starting a Women & Hollywood 2.0 site that has a completely different focus. There's an ethical problem there and possibly a legal problem too. Let's celebrate the agency of Alison Bechdel and the agency of Martha Lauzen and Melissa Silverstein, a diversity of perspectives, a diversity of tests.

I hope that Walt Hickey runs his numbers again, with the Lauzen-Silverstein Test. I'd love to see the results.


*Postscript
I looked for the Latin agō, agere, ēgī, āctum and found an exciting list of meanings. I love thinking of women protagonists and antagonists who do wonderful mixtures of all of these things!–
I do, act, make.
I accomplish, manage, achieve.
I perform, transact.
I drive, conduct.  
I push, move, impel.
I guide, govern, administer.
I discuss, plead, deliberate.
I think upon; I am occupied with.
I stir up, excite, cause, induce.
I chase, pursue.
I drive at, pursue (a course of action).
I rob, steal, plunder, carry off.
(of time) I pass, spend.
(of offerings) I slay, kill (as a sacrifice).
(of plants) I put forth, sprout, extend.


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