Ever hear of the Bechdel Rule? That's where a story, movie or TV show has at least two female characters — who talk to each other about something other than a man. Yesterday, NPR reporter Neda Ulaby spoke with cartoonist Alison Bechdel. Twenty-three years ago, Bechdel wrote the Rule in one of her comics — a woman in the strip won't see a movie unless it meets The Rule. ("I stole it from a friend of mine who I was studying karate with at the time," Bechdel tells Ms. Ulaby.) The joke is, if you follow the rule, there's nothing to see. Things have not changed much since 1985.A few shows do manage to feature women having conversations that are (gasp!) not about men: On 30 Rock, women talk about what's funny; on Brothers & Sisters, women discuss the family business. ABC Family's new show The Middleman has characters talking about art. As for movies, well, it was the summer of the dick flick. The summer movies targeted toward women — Sex And The City, Mamma Mia and Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants — did not obey the Bechel Rule. And fall means the return of TV shows like Grey's Anatomy and Lipstick Jungle. Rule breakers! But women love movies, and surely some women want to see women doing cool, kick ass stuff! Beware of the flicks you think have strong chicks in them: The movies probably made Cracked.com's list: Hollywood's 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism. The list includes Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings, Padme Amidala from the dreaded Star Wars prequels, River Tam from Firefly/Serenity, Catwoman from Batman Returns and Elizabeth Swan from Pirates Of The Caribbean. They each disappoint in their own special way: Eowyn trades the warrior life for married life; Padme cries and decides to die; River is crazy and always needs rescuing; Catwoman is too sexy to live; Elizabeth Swan is a "token" chick. Writes Jennifer Liang: "Why do all the boys want a piece of her sweet, boobless ass? Because she's literally the only woman available. It's either her or one of the members of the film's catering staff." So basically, when women are in a story with other women, they end up talking about men; when they're in an action/adventure film with men, they ultimately fail as characters. Can you think of a movie that upholds the Bechdel Rule and manages not to be a total disappointment to women? The 'Bechdel Rule,' Defining Pop-Culture Character [NPR] Hollywood's 5 Saddest Attempts at Feminism [Cracked]
Not so much feeling the River Tam or Eowyn thing. There are many female characters in Firefly, all interesting and compelling and distinct, there's even a non-crazy woman who was a soldier. Taking her out of the context of the show like that is mis-representative of it and, ultimately, the character. It would be like taking Tara out of the context of Buffy and saying she's an example of "weak" timid women.
Same thing with Eowyn. And I think it's kind of crappy to imply that she can't be a warrior AND a wife if she wants to. That's actually dismissing huge aspects of that character by the writer. In the book she jokes about this very thing with Faramir...so...yeah.
The Bechdel rule, for those confused, is tough because it requires TWO main female characters to talk about something that isn't a man. So you can't just have one girl running around being cool. Doesn't fit it. And it really is rare.
However, some movies/show that do it:
The Office (cats, clothes, jobs etc. are discussed by the women)
Buffy (the first seasons have a lot of Buffy and Willow talking about boys...but in some ways that is accurate of some girls as teenagers...as they grow older, this improves...as do the writers)
Battlstar Galactica (they don't have time to think about boys!)
Juno (mostly she talks about the pregnancy, and that counts)
Chocolat (she talks to her daughter about her own mother often, and the women have conversations about their lives which do sometimes involve men)
Thelma & Louise
There are some others. The trouble is that it's hard to find A. a movie with two main female characters who aren't set up as competition or B. a lot of movies use the framwork of the "hetero" relationship as their plot. Which necessitates talking about the opposite sex. But women in movies talk about men far more than they do in real life and it just serves to take the emphasis away from the various things we do talk about...that aren't also terrible cliches.