I went to watch the new Star Trek film today with my husband Al we had both enjoyed the last film and we were looking forward to watching this new release. I recently watched a great TED talk where I was introduced to the Bechdel Test, if you’re not familiar with it, is a benchmark for movies developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985.
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2.Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.Anything, even if it’s something stereotypically feminine, like shopping or shoes. Sounds simple, right? Then it might be shocking to find out that out of 2,500 movies, only about half pass the test. And to be clear, passing doesn’t mean the movie’s good or bad.
Failing the test doesn’t mean the movie’s evil or anti-woman, or that passing makes it some sort of strongly feminist movie. It’s just to get people thinking about gender and how it’s presented in film. In fact, the example Bechdel gave as a film that passed the test was Alien, simply because Ripley and Lambert have a brief conversation about the alien.
Colin Stokes in his TED talk, ‘ How movies teach manhood’ expresses his very real concern for his young daughter and son and what they learn about life from the films they watch. He noticed that the ‘two women who talk to each other about stuff’, does happen, but very rarely in films he goes to see at the movies’.He tells the audience the shocking statistic that 1:5 women will be sexually assaulted in their lives in USA, this rises to 1:3 worldwide.He is not blaming popular entertainment or kids movies, but points out that something is going wrong and that is a lot of ‘sexual assailants’
Asking who are these guys? What are they learning? What are they failing to learn? Are they absorbing that they are to defeat the villain and collect their reward? The reward is seen to be the female who never speaks and does not have any friends.
He raises the view that we need a new definition of manhood where a real man will be someone who trusts his sisters and respects, who they are, ready to not just go out and conquer alone but go out and join a team, one that may even be lead by a woman.
I like what Colin has to say about the choice of heroine for his daughter as a mum of girls and a beautiful granddaughter I have a vested interest in how women are portrayed in the media and was sad to see that this latest film did not pass this very simple test.
It seems to me very clear that we have to educate our sons to respect and treat the women in their world not just as extras but also as main characters in their lives. Sadly Star Trek sinks even further with the most gratuitous ‘bra and knickers’ scene played out between Kirk and Carol, ‘don’t turn round’ she says to Kirk who promptly turns round just at the right moment to see her posed like a supermodel for him and the viewers to ogle.
I pointed out to Al that in 5 years or so we will be watching these films with our grandchildren Chloe and Malakai and like Colin I have to ask myself what image of women and men do these films bring to our children? What heroes and heroines will they choose to have as their role models?
Actress Thandie Newton speaks here about an act of abuse that she suffered whilst a very young actress on an audition, this really is too upsetting.
I then read Jennifer Kesler speaking about women having conversations in screen plays that she had written and this is what she has to say on the subject. “At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”
So viewers (male) want to look at, ogle, talk too, but not ‘listen to women’. Does anyone else not feel outraged at this state of affairs? I know I do, and this leads me again to what Colin said 1:5 women sexually abused ‘that’s a lot of assailants’. Are we not joining the dots here, keep a woman quiet, give her no personhood then the abuse, physical or sexual becomes so much easier against the 'voiceless reward' that is the reward after the man has conquered the universe. The gift of the bikini clad woman, waiting for him when he turns around.
I want more for Malakai, I demand more for Chloe in her future. I want to see this industry held accountable for their part in the problem. We must make a stand tell the producers, directors, screen writers give women personality, a voice, make them real people with depth and real personhood. Make men own their response to women
We all need to review future films and raise our disquiet if those in power do not insist on reaching this very simple standard. We need to speak out and insist that these changes are implemented, it really does not seem a lot to ask.
By Beverley Molineaux