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The Bechdel test is an activity that my classmates and I did during our Cultural Anthropology class at the University of Minnesota Morris. It involves watching a show or movie of your own choice for 15 minutes and recording how many times 1) there are women present, 2) two or more women speak to each other, and 3) how many times they speak to each other about something other than men. The significance of this test is to bring light to the gender inequality and underrepresentation of women.
It seems a very simple test to pass but having actually testing it on some of my favorite shows, I was surprised as to how much tv shows and movies have failed!
Our assignment included recording what you saw and why you saw it. It also had us include other observations like who was talking, how much talking time they had, and the context of their conversation. I chose my favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they include a lot of diversity and challenged a lot of stereotypes and assumptions, but they did fail the Bechdel test during the episode that I watched.
Before doing the Bechdel test I assumed the show would pass because of the positive and numerous female doctors present on the show. They passed 1) women are present, and 2) two or more women speak to each other, but failed 3) speaking to one another about something other than men. So while this show is very diverse and challenges a lot of things, the women, who are assumed smart and successful in the show, still seemed to only talk about men and their romantic relationships.
In denial and disappointed, I wanted to give this show the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping that maybe it was just this one episode, but after further research, I noticed that a lot of the times, (not always) the main female character’s romantic relationships are the main storyline in Grey’s Anatomy. I did not realize that the show put relationships as more important aspects of the show as much as they do.
Even though this episode failed, I think this show in general still has many good representations of women and gender equality that you may not see in other shows or movies. The females hold a high ranking and equal importance to the males.The women seemed to be portrayed as strong, resilient, and independent but also very real. The females a lot of the times have more screen time than the males. Also the conversations held between women seem to be positive, inspiring, and just pro woman independence in general.
The context of this episode (that I did the Bechdel test on), I feel, challenged the assumptions we have of the male gender role instead. In the past this show has had predominantly white straight males in the spotlight but over the years they were getting better at including other races. Currently this has been changing, we are now seeing not only other male races, but also different types of male personality traits. It is not just Dr. Mcdreamy and Dr. Mcsteamy anymore.
This episode specifically was challenging the male stereotype and assumptions of white successful males by showing Jackson (a black main character/doctor) as vulnerable. We also saw some drama between two male gay doctors. This is the first time in the history of Greys Anatomy that a gay male relationship has been shown. We are also seeing a variety of personalities of gay males- it is not just “show queen” gay males being represented like we see a lot of the times in media. These males seem real and relatable to real life (but also super smart in order to be doctors).
I do think it was disappointing and surprising that this Grey’s Anatomy episode failed the Bechdel test, but I definitely think this is one of the better shows from an anthropological perspective. This show includes a lot of social issues happening around us in real life. It is showing more representations of minority groups while also challenging a lot of different stereotypes and assumptions. Even though Grey’s Anatomy failed the Bechdel test, this show is very much winning at a lot of other things including gender equality and woman representation.
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