thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Television’s Men of Summer & The Bechdel Test

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Phoebe Bronstein

A recent comment on Girls Like Giants mentioned the Bechdel Test and what a great test it is. It goes something like this: for me to see a movie it must have 1. at least two women in it; 2. Who talk to each other; 3. About something besides a man. If a film meets all three requirements then I will see it, and if not then I won’t (although I am perhaps not the strictest on this front). So Bridesmaids passes the Bechdel Test, while The Hangover does not. So I was thinking, why not apply this same test to this summer’s television programming?

So first to apply this to some shows not on this summer. I recently wrote about the women of crime shows from Brennen (aka Bones) on Bones to Dr. Meagan Hunt on Body of Proof. Bones mostly passes the Bechdel test given her relationship with Cam and Angela and they sometimes talk about work. However, I’m thinking Body of Proof does not—Dr. Hunt mostly has awkward but not endearingly so relationships with the other women, including her mother.

But what about the most recent onslaught of summer shows featuring duos (or one trio) of white men? For example, the handsome duo of White Collar; or a similarly handsome duo on Suits, and Franklin and Bash; or the older Men of a Certain Age; the CIA spin on male friendship in Burn Notice (which I can’t stand although I love Bruce Campbell); and the doctor oriented Royal Pains. Shows like Franklin and Bash and their brother ones are all too reminiscent of the buddy film genre which focuses on the relationship between two men oft to the exclusion (and exploitation) of the ladies.

It is worth noting that each of these shows has at least one female side (but recurring) character: Divia on Royal Pains or Diana on White Collar to name two of them. Many of these ladies are women of color, or if they are white then they are brunettes (ie, Fiona on Burn Notice). But one or even two sidekick ladies (not to mention the uncomfortable racial politics) does not a Bechdel Test make. These men of summer shows, like their filmic predecessors, most certainly do not pass the test. Not even close. And there are so many of them!

That said, I should admit I watch all these shows despite that they gloriously fail the Bechdel test. However, part of why I watch is to ogle the cute men (in reverse of the usual ladies on screen and objectified by the male gaze, per Laura Mulvey, situation). For example, con man Neil and FBI agent Peter on White Collar are delightfully attractive; Franklin and Bash are pretty cute too, plus I had a crush on Franklin when he was the stoner Travis in Clueless; and the new men of Suits and the brothers of Royal Pains aren’t bad either.

So at the end of the day, these shows give me an opportunity to do something I have not had much opportunity to do before in television: repetitively look at and objectify cute men. That said, I do wish pretty consistently for more shows that would pass The Bechdel Test, but until then I am all about teen soaps like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, not to mention the Lifetime smash Drop Dead Diva.

  1. […] is also one of the few places we see shows about women and shows that would certainly pass the Bechdel Test. Now, talk amongst yourselves. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", […]

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