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TelevIsm: The Bechdel Spectrum

If you're on a site about feminist response to pop culture (spoiler alert: you are), you have probably heard of the Bechdel Test for movies. Conceived in Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, the test is simple: to pass, the movie in question must feature a conversation between two named female characters that is not about a man. It's a good indication of whether or not a film is at all concerned with women, or if its focus is entirely on men. It's deceptively simple; upon hearing this for the first time, I thought "well, surely almost every film must pass!" But no.

While I am not the movie writer in residence here (check out Snarky's archive for that!) I've found that it's easily applicable to other forms of media, including television! It's not a standard I apply to every single episode of every single television show I watch, but more of something that occurs to me while I'm watching. "Oh," I'll think while watching Tami and Tyra talk about college on Friday Night Lights. "This episode clearly passes the Bechdel test! Awesome!" The Bechdel test is not a way to tell whether or not a show is feminist—that depends on the viewer's interpretation of the show and their definition of feminism—but it's a good way to gauge the development and value of female characters on the show.

But one conversation in one episode doesn't bear the same importance to the entire series as one conversation in a movie. A movie is usually 90 to 120 minutes, but a show? A single episode is 43 minutes long, but a season is usually a minimum of 300 minutes. While a three-minute conversation about something other than a man has weight in a movie, it doesn't quite cut it for a series.

So if one conversation in one episode doesn't cut it, what does? How does a television show pass the Bechdel test? To fully pass the Bechdel test, every single episode must feature a conversation between two named female characters that is not about a man.

This may sound stringent, and it is. Off the top of my head, I can barely think of a show that would easily pass this. But at the same time, it's not unreasonable. One 30-second conversation about mothers, or daughters, or female friends, or goals, or cleaning, or even Applebee's, in every 22 or 30 or 43 or 60 minute episode is not that hard of a requirement to satisfy. And the fact that this demand is completely out of line with what's actually on television is an indication of the shitty state of television as much as whether any of these shows are well concerned with women—much like the film industry. But since no television shows can really pass this test, how can we look at how well they do relative to other shows?

Unlike movies, which pass or do not pass, television shows exist on a Bechdel spectrum. No conversations between women not about men ever would be at the very dim end of the spectrum. And at the almost unrealistically bright end of the spectrum is the standard outlined above.

At the low end are series with none to few qualifying conversations. Most shows will have an episode or two that pass—I'm pretty sure I've seen a stray episode of Family Guy in which Lois says something horrible about Meg that doesn't have anything to do directly with men. Some of my favorite shows fall on this end: The Office has some decent lady characters, but it's mostly about dudes—I can't offhand think of any episodes that pass the Bechdel test despite having seen the entire run of the show multiple times. Shows with a couple of even cardboard regular female characters will inevitably have some kind of conversation after a long enough run.

Shows that are patriarchal in nature—centered around the stories of men—do not necessarily disregard women altogether and fall nearer the middle of the Bechdel spectrum. Friday Night Lights and King of the Hill (two of my favorite shows) are primarily about the work, friendships, and lives of men, but treat the women in those men's lives with respect and consideration, and develop their lives and interests independent of their husbands, sons, and boyfriends. Lost definitely had some Bechdel passing episodes early on, but as it became more and more heteronormative, it had less and less conversations between women that weren't about husbands, lovers, fathers, or sons.

Nearest to the bright end of the spectrum are shows that are primarily concerned with the lives and work of women—those that make a point of focusing centrally on female characters. Mad Men is a good example of this; though it's set in a world that explicitly belongs to men, Peggy, Joan, and Betty frequently have conversations about work, mothers, daughters, religion, and themselves. Weeds was a very effective example of this in its excellent first three seasons: when the point of Nancy's character was her resourcefulness and not her sex appeal, she often had interesting conversations with Celia and Heylia. These shows don't always pass the Bechdel test, but do pass at a much greater rate than typical television fare.

But centralizing a show around a woman does not a guarantee it'll be Parks and Rec: 30 Rock's Liz Lemon rarely has lady-centered conversations with the only other regular female character on the show, Jenna.

So what does the bright end of the spectrum look like? What show is concerned heavily enough with women that it passes the Bechdel test in every episode? I can only think of two as of this writing: The L Word and United States of Tara. Though it's got the occasional dude, The L Word would fail pretty hard at being a show about lady-loving ladies if it didn't pass. While I critiqued USOT pretty heavily for its ableism a few weeks ago, it's still a show I deeply enjoy for the thoughtful relationships it's developed between the protagonist and her sister and daughter.

Where do your favorite shows fall on the Bechdel spectrum? Which series fail and which succeed on this scale?

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Comments

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Parks and Rec, maybe?

Wow, I never thought of applying The Bechdel Test to television (even though now it seems totally obvious and useful)! I'm sure most of my favorite shows don't make the cut. However, off the top of my head, I'd say maybe Parks and Rec would pass, because there are a lot of conversations about work that take place between Leslie and Ann (maybe not in every episode though). Also, I'm surprised that Friday Night Lights doesn't make the cut because Tammy and Julie have a great relationship and talk about a lot of issues, but I suppose they do discuss men a lot. Shoot! Now I'll have to try to think of more!

I wish my beloved Arrested Development passed this test but I'm afraid if I viewed it with this spectrum in mind it wouldn't fare as well as I want it to...

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I'm trying to think of

I'm trying to think of conversations where Lindsay and Lucille I didn't simply trade barbs! I don't think anyone on the show talked to anyone else, except perhaps maybe Lucille II and Buster. Maybe Gob and Franklin.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I think there were times

I think there were times when Maeby had conversations with either Lucille or Lindsay that weren't about men, but the show would still be overall pretty low on the spectrum.

Go Gilmore!

Gilmore Girls passes the Bechdel test! At least the first four seasons do. Great post :)

Totally!

Ah, Gilmore Girls. A true feminist fave.

Speaking of feminist faves, what about Buffy? Does talking about male vampires count? :)

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Counting Buffy in means opening gates for Twilight too

And I for one do NOT want to go there. Honestly though, haven't found any show that's been as great as Gilmore Girls *swept off in a wave of complete nostalgia*

Admittedly I've not seen

Admittedly I've not seen Twilight, but I did read the first half of the first book before recycling it in disgust (too disgusted to even give it to a charity shop), but do any of the female characters ever talk about anything other than the sparkly boys?

How about Firefly?

There weren't always a great many female characters in the X-Files, but when there were I'm pretty sure they weren't talking about men.

Ah! yes

Somehow that just slipped my LadyBrain. And almost surprisingly even Glee has quite a few of those moments (Mercedes and Quinn). But other than that, I'm totally stumped. Just goes on to show how poorly the female characters are drawn. Even crime shows like Bones that have supposedly strong women, the conversation is always about -- jeebus! -- some Dude or the other. Dead or alive.

Surprisingly, Twilight does

Surprisingly, Twilight does pass the test, but barely. Bella (the protagonist) and her mom have a brief conversation over the phone in which her mom asks her about school.

Not sure I follow...

OK, clearly I care a little too much about TV today (or every day) but, vampires aside, I don't think that counting Buffy as a show that rates highly on the Bechdel Spectrum opens the doors for Twilight, since Buffy was a show that featured many autonomous, named female characters (Buffy, Willow, Dawn, etc.) whereas we can't say the same for Twilight (which really has only one female character).

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Yes, But...

The Bechdel test doesn't necessarily inform how feminist a movie or piece of work is. The Bechdel test isn't actually that meaningful on its own, as the Twilight example shows. And one could imagine a work that is far from sexist and has great content that is sexually liberatory that doesn't pass. But if there's a ton of shows, especially long-term shows, that don't pass this test even infrequently, then there's a huge issue, I think is more of the point of the concept.

Buffy doesn't pass

Buffy doesn't pass if you're looking for every single episode to have a conversation between two women, let alone a conversation that's not about a man. There are several episodes that don't. Just off the top of my head, The Zeppo, Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, I think the episode where Giles gets turned into a demon, and certainly a few others that I can't remember right now, but at one point I was re-watching and counted.

Based on my limited

Based on my limited knowledge of Buffy, yeah, it definitely does not always pass the test. But I'm sure it falls fairly high on the spectrum.

Buffy is definitely on the

Buffy is definitely on the high end. And by no means opening any doors for Twilight. Also, I think there`s a few episodes that wouldn`t pass a gender-reversed version of the test (Restless, for example).
But how has noone mentioned Woderfalls? It`s a great show, and I think there`s no episode that wouldn`t pass at (altough some do just so).

I'm not familiar with

I'm not familiar with Wonderfalls - what brings it to mind?

Watch it, it's a great show

Watch it, it's a great show which somewhat resembles "Dead like me" - (well, besides being created by Bryan Fuller and beeing axed way too soon) an intelligent, albeit angry young woman gets thrown off her usual routine by supernatural/occult/holy/unholy (and I love how they don`t ever define it, altough the storyline so far implies that it would be a "good" presence) messengers telling her to get involved in other peoples lifes.
It`s a nice fantasy story, but what makes it relevant here is that they have a natural mix of male and female characters - not only in the main cast, but also the supporting roles are not written as "male by default", which is why I think by and large it would pass the test.

A great excuse to rewatch

A great excuse to rewatch the Whedon canon! Give me a couple weeks and I'll report back!

I've been inspired by the

I've been inspired by the post (and by the heat) to escape into my basement for a (critical analysis) Whedon-athon, the results of which can be found: http://justpeachee.blogspot.com/

Feminist?

Gilmore Girls may pass the test, but I certainly wouldn't consider it feminist, or a TV role model. The two main characters are seen mocking other women for what they wear. They're almost constantly slut shaming other women on the show. Rory talks once about how she loves making fun of cheerleaders, and calls them "bimbos". Lorelei often discusses her dislike of "girls like that". Multiple episodes are set up using the Other Woman trope. On top of that, it had one significant WOC character and she was a walking stereotype. Feminism for ALL women.

Agreed

I quite liked Gilmore Girls for it's wit and amazing pop culture references but I completely agree: they were constantly derogatory of women who weren't... well, like them. Which is just sad and unacceptable.

You know, I haven't actually

You know, I haven't actually seen Gilmore Girls.... *scurries off to Netflix*

Friday Night Lights

This post was fantastic! Thanks for mentioning me, but more importantly Friday Night Lights, a show I love and wish I had been more active about championing. Here are some other shows I think might rate decently:

Six Feet Under - Ruth and Claire talk about things other than dudes and Claire talks a lot about art with her female friends.

Golden Girls - They talk about a lot of stuff, and men are merely one of those things, though even at their most "man talking" extreme, it's clearly positioned to demonstrate older women are sexual beings and do have SEX and don't dry up after society suggested "sell by date".

Homicide: Life on the Street - for the first two seasons nearly none of the characters discussed their relationship lives, and after the addition of Lt. Russert in the third season, Stivers and Ballard in the fifth season most of the conversations between women were identical to the conversations between the dudes - solving murders. Though the guys on the show tended to be a tad more touchy feely than the women, which in some ways addresses the way femininity has to be sublimated in order to succeed as a detective.

Leverage - Parker and Sophie mostly talk about heist details, though recently Parker and Sophie discussed Parker's feelings for Hardison, which still feels a lot more authentic and honest than other shows, whose female characters solely exist to stand around wearing pretty clothes and talk about menfolk.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Maybe this is too obvious

Maybe this is too obvious but a lot of daytime talk shows pass the test. Oprah, Ellen, The View, etc. But these are often a far far cry from being feminist.

I recently watched Leverage

I recently watched Leverage and enjoyed it, but it didn't occur to me as high on the Bechdel spectrum! I'll have to give it more consideration in watching s2...

Well on Leverage all the

Well on Leverage all the characters stay pretty focused on the heist-of-the-week, which often doesn't leave time to talk about much else. :)

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

A show I love, that

A show I love, that definitely fails this test, is Chuck.

The first show that came to mind that definitely passes it is ABC Family's Make It Or Break It. Huge also passes, and on the opposite end of teen-drama Pretty Little Liars does as well.

My favorite show of all time, Dead Like Me, definitely passes. Hooray!

Bones passes, the women usually discuss work with one another, and the rare personal conversation between Angela & Bones sometimes is about men but also about understanding emotions and personal feelings. Cam often has women-centric conversations, especially since she adopted a teenage daughter.

I'm pretty sure Bones does

I'm pretty sure Bones does not always pass, as the victims are frequently male.

But, I think it falls high on the spectrum, as romance is not super-central to the lady characters' lives. And there's also often discussion of Bones.

Well, in Bones, if the

Well, in Bones, if the conversation between Brennan and Cam is about the dead body (who is male), is that about work or about a man? I would categorize discussions about the dead body as a work conversation. But maybe that's not being stringent enough. And I'm pretty sure, even with that standard, Bones would not pass (especially Season 1 with only two female characters).

(On a total side note, I love how the frequent male victims in Bones avoid the whole 'white attractive female victim' rut that other crime shows fall into).

This is a thoughtful

This is a thoughtful question that I'm glad you asked. I've gone a bit beyond just Bones and dead men as subjects of work in my answer, so thanks for letting me expand on this a bit.

If it's about a man, it's about a man. A dead man involves conversations about his body, the circumstances of his death, his life. There's discussing work independent of men - a TPS report in office life, or with Bones, possibly discussing what techniques they're using - and there's discussing work that centers around a man.

The Office is often the same way - sure, Pam and Angela discuss work, but it's often Michael's unreasonable demands at work. Or, if there were a show in a literary setting where two female characters discussed Hemingway in some intellectual sense, that would not pass.

This extends to non-lover males in women's families too - fathers, brothers, sons are not just conversation about being daughters or being sisters or being mothers (though they are also that), they're conversations about males. The Bechdel test/spectrum is about seeing to what extent the conversations are about men, no matter the context/position of the man.

But I agree - I think s.e. smith has written about how one of Bones' virtues is staying away from that particular trope.

Reality TV?

Since "reality" television is such a big chunk of what's on tv these days, it would be interesting to apply the Bechdel spectrum to those programs as well.

Obviously, shows like The Bachelor/Bachelorette and their ilk would never ever even come close to passing. Some others might do better, however.

So You Think You Can Dance comes to mind. Out of the top four contestants, there's only one woman (Lauren), and while judges' critiques of her are often problematic (highly gendered, focusing on her appearance/sexuality, etc), there's still something Bechdel-ian about Lauren, a promising young female dancer, discussing her abilities, passion, and ambitions with Mia Michaels, an accomplished older female choreographer. Even though these interactions are often one-sided (judge giving critique, contestant listenting quietly), it's way better than The Bachelor.

I'm not much of a reality TV

I'm not much of a reality TV person, which is why I didn't mention that, but I would hope that some of the particularly woman-focused ones do.

I wonder about something like Say Yes To the Dress - I've watched a couple of episodes and while they have many conversations that are related to fashion and their reactions to fashion, I don't know if something so heteronomative would really pass the spirit of the Bechdel test/spectrum.

I'm not completely certain

I'm not completely certain about every episode, but I'd be surprised if Xena has more than one or two episodes that don't pass. I still find it both interesting and depressing that, for everything that's wrong with it (and even as a big fan I can admit that there's a lot in that category), a number of episodes of Xena still feel downright progressive compared any to TV that's airing now.

And incidentally, I've been

And incidentally, I've been watching Battlestar Galactica recently (you can probably conclude that I enjoy cheesy sci-fi/fantasy) and am somewhat startled at how rarely it passes the Bechdel test. It's got a much more impressive cast of female characters than most shows of its type, but I'd be willing to bet it passes less than half the time.

Yeah, I was also surprised

Yeah, I was also surprised by that. I think it's the fact that while it's got a really good number of women in transgressive roles, they're often kind of buffered by a LOT of men - so Roslin and Starbuck would often talk about one of the Adamas and talk about religion more often with the Adamas. I guess it probably got a lot better when Tori came into the picture, and when the hybrid was born, I guess there were quite a few lady/lady conversations about her.

But Cylon society fared MUCH better, in my memory - Three, Six, and Eight have a lot of governance-oriented conversations usually restricted to just Roslin/Adama/Baltar.

I wasn't surprised by BG at

I wasn't surprised by BG at all. It's probably difficult for many dystopian shows to score highly, since they are overwhelmingly populated with men, and for the most part deal with the bleak existence/struggle/or war with some group and that tends to take center stage in nearly all the conversations between characters. At least while the show is being established.

I think the B test is great at creating awareness, but it tends to diminish the other ways content can be transgresssive or reflective of audiences in a complex way. For one thing, the test seems to privilege content featuring white women talking to each other - Gilmore Girls (a show I loathe for that very reason) while penalizing shows that might lack gender equality, but offer complex treatment of race, class or other isms. Or aren't riddled with problematic content - see Leverage.

I mean it's nice that Friends probably scores well, but that doesn't comfort those whose criticism of it centers around its treatment of race, class or Trans issues.

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Snarkysmachine, I'm very

Snarkysmachine, I'm very curious to hear the problematic content in Leverage that jumps out at you, if you'd like to share.

I've been enjoying that show a lot, which may have obscured some of the problematic factors for me.

I think The Office passes

I think The Office passes this test on many occasions. Off the top of my head all the episodes featuring "The Party Planning Committee" have women talking about things besides men. "Conflict Resolution" has the women feuding with each other. There are many small examples, but generally few larger ones since the heart of the show is Michael as the bad boss and the Jim-Pam romance, and thus could stand to be a bit more Bechdeled, but it generally doesn't bother me. And anyway, with Steve Carell leaving I expect the ensemble to gain more focus and female characters to have (even) more significant roles.

Maybe this example shows the holes of the Bechdel test. Surely a show can be feminist and focus heavily on romantic relations. The show has interesting portrayals of marriage that are worth probing. When the show sets aside time or space explicitly for women, it is usually for romance or relationship purposes, but often in a highly ironic mocking way that recognizes that seeing women this way is absurd (I think of "Women's Appreciation"). And there is plenty of interaction among males and females. This seems to me what real offices are like.

It's very important to have more women on TV talking about things other than dreamy men. But applying this rule too strictly seems to really narrows the possibilities of feminist analysis. There's surely much more to it than simply tallying numbers. And shows can also be progressive by consciously breaking this rule, eg. The Office as I pointed out, and Mad Men, which may have never passed the Bechdel test, yet is manifestly progressive.

I suppose the author concedes this writing "The Bechdel test is not a way to tell whether or not a show is feminist—that depends on the viewer’s interpretation of the show and their definition of feminism—but it’s a good way to gauge the development and value of female characters on the show."

aside: Also, I have to disagree with the remark on 30 Rock. It seems to me that Liz and Jenna are always having conversations about things that aren't centered on men. They regularly talk about work and their career, as well as the i-cant-find-a-man stuff.

compare: the anti-Bechdel test

Surely a show can be feminist and focus heavily on romantic relations.

Because of this, I often like to compare the Bechdel test with the "anti-Bechdel test": the same criterion, but with women and men reversed. Plenty of shows fail the original, but fail the anti-test too, just because so much of their focus is on relationships (almost always het, of course, but that's a whole nother can of worms). See eg the (comparatively) equal-opportunity objectivisation of something like Jersey Shore...

So in placing shows on a spectrum, it's interesting looking not just at the original test, but the disparity between the two... the depressing thing being, of course, that this only emphasises how often the most "serious" shows come off worst. Because serious means having serious people talking about real issues; and when you want to write a serious character, well, by default, that'll be a man, of course?

I know the Office passes on

I know the Office passes on occasion, and you're right, the PPC does have some good Bechdel interactions. But those parties that they are planning are often for men, which means that many of their conversations don't pass.

I thought the Office was better at first, because women do talk about things that aren't men - but often those conversations happen with the camera and not another woman.

I love this post. Clearly

I love this post. Clearly the Bechdel test wasn't meant to be a hugely comprehensive theoretical tool: it was partly meant to get us to ask why it's so rare to hear women in movies talking about something other than men. But I do like looking at it as a continuum, especially applied to TV where it wouldn't make sense to see it as a hard and fast rule.

Even still, it's hard to think of examples. But here's a few I think don't do too badly:

Law and Order: SVU - there have been a fair number of scenes with Alex/Casey/other woman ADAs discussing cases and legal issues with either Olivia or female judges.

Star Trek: Voyager - Captain Janeway had some good non-man-related convos with Seven, Kes, Torres, and even the Borg-freakin-Queen

Maybe the Golden Girls? They can't have spent the whole show just talking about men...

And obviously it's a bit obscure but there's a great BBC period drama called Lark Rise to Candleford, which had surprisingly strong female characters for being set in the Victorian period, and which would definitely do well on the Bechdel spectrum.

Desperate Housewives

I mean, I do hate to admit that I have seen every episode of "Desperate Housewives," but I am willing to bet that every single episode passes the Bechdel test. Men usually figure in only about 45% of the various schemes...

Buffy!

It was said above, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer passes the test with flying colors, probably surpassed only by The L Word.

Plus, IMHO, Buffy is a pretty damn feminist show. Extra points!

Anyone have thoughts about The West Wing? I love that show, and it has great female characters, but it is rather dude-centric...

I love the West Wing! I

I love the West Wing! I agree that it's generally dude-centric. The First Lady and CJ probably have some conversations, but it generally fails the b-test.

but there are at least strong female characters, like the equally intelligent first lady with a successful career (until she loses her license of course ;)) and CJ a strong woman who *gasp* gets promoted to a position in authority over all the guys. and there is a sympathetic full-blooded feminist played by the wonderful Mary Louise Parker (although she turns into a love interest pfft).

Actually, I think the West Wing does pass

To pass the Bechdel Test, a storymaker needs to think of women as able to carry the narrative – not just as a single lead character, as a woman dropped into an otherwise all-male narrative, but throughout the story: the story needs to be set in a world where women have active, commonplace roles in society. What the Bechdel Test forces people to ask is: Given that women tend to be 50% of a normal population, why should it be such a rarity that the Bechdel Test is so frequently failed?

I think in fact that with CJ Craig as a central character in the West Wing, speaking routinely to reporters and West Wing staff who happen to be female, the WW passes the Bechdel Test for each season and for most episodes.

No, the Bechdel test is very

No, the Bechdel test is very clearly not just about central characters who "happen to be female". It has very specific outlines:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

I am sure that some episodes of TWW pass this, and CJ Cregg and Donna Moss and Abigail Bartlet kick ass. But since this is a series that's about the staff of a male president, most of the conversations and storylines revolve around him, thus making Bechdel-passing episodes rare.

i think scoundrels would

i think scoundrels would pass this. lipstick jungle? being erica?

i'd have to rewatch them to test it out though

This is fun!

Now I'm trying to think of which shows I like(d) that would pass. So far I've come up with:

*Charmed - Three strong female leads talkin' about witchcraft, family, and sometimes men, but plenty of other things as well.
*Picket Fences - Old school, but the female regulars and guest stars on this show talk about many odd topics.
*Daria - Daria and Jane have plenty of morbid things to discuss that don't involve guys. And even the fashion club spends most of their time talking about, well...fashion.
*Dead Like Me - I think this would pass, but maybe more on the low end. Does discussing a reap that happens to be male count as a conversation about men?
*Friends - I can't believe no one else mentioned this. Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe must surely talk about something other than guys - although most conversations probably do revolve around the rest of the cast. Mid-range, maybe?

All right, that's it for now. Who's got others?

I don't know why Daria

I don't know why Daria didn't occur to me, that's like my favorite show! and it definitely passes the test in about every episode.

Veronica!

Great post, RMJ!

My beloved Veronica Mars would, I think, do moderately well. At the beginning, it mostly lacked good supporting female characters, especially noticeable since the lead was so strong, but still featured Ms. Dent, the journalism teacher, conversing about photography with Veronica. Before long, the show introduced Mac, Meg, and Alicia (all of whom I love,) as well as Jackie, Madison, Jane and Parker (whom I love less.) All had conversations about topics other than men, aside from possibly Jane, who didn't stick around once her romantic storyline was over. (This part would bother me more if men, eg. Troy, Leo and Conrad, didn't have similar love-interest arcs.)

I'm sure not every episode would pass, though. While Alicia had plenty of worthwhile conversations, they're mostly with men; few other women in her age group appeared, for some reason, and she wasn't given that many reasons to talk to Veronica. As for guest stars or short-arc characters, many conversations involve at least one man in a crime context. (There are great exceptions: Melissa Leo as Julia Smith talking about being transsexual and Joey Lauren Adams as a substitute teacher talking about journalistic integrity come to mind.)

I haven't watced VMars in a

I haven't watced VMars in a couple of years, but I voraciously consumed the first season over XMas break in 06. I'll have to revisit it with a more critical eye....

Roseanne passed in a huge

Roseanne passed in a huge way. Lots of episodes with Roseanne and Jackie talking about their parents and their kids, but also female-only conversations about work, money, running a business, paying the utility bill, abortion, race, homophobia, the annoying neighbor lady...

Maybe we should make one

Maybe we should make one called "The Roseanne Test"

"In real life as in Grand Opera, Arias only make hopeless situations worse." - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Roseanne is another show

Roseanne is another show I've never watched, though I know I need to.

Azumanga Daioh!

One of my favorite Bechdel-passing shows is the cult anime Azumanga Daioh. The show follows six quirky high school girls and their misadventures up until graduation including sports festivals, interactions with teachers, and their off-kilter thoughts and dreams. Every episode passes the Bechdel test given that there is only one male character, a pervy teacher named Mr. Kimura who is given his due disrespect with every appearance.

It's definitely more feminist-friendly than 99% of all other anime I've seen (admittedly about five shows). Add to that it's seriously, seriously funny and you get a surprisingly positive anime experience. It takes a little while to get used to the rhythms of its humor, but within a few episodes it's hard not to be hooked. Some of the later episodes are even strangely moving (I didn't believe it either) though it never gets overly emotional and maintains its humor well.

Also, the contained cuteness of Chiyo-chan can probably cause death.

just to add a few more to the list...

kindof shocked to not see nurse jackie hit this list yet!! wowza. nurse jackie for life<3

pushing daisies, fringe, six feet under, true blood - all pass to some degree

it saddens me like crazy to think about how my beloved the wire does REALLY FREAKING POORLY, though. :( i'm struggling like HELL to even remember an instance of two women speaking to each other, let alone about not-a-man. someone please reassure me that these moments exist on the show!

The Good Wife and Community

The Good Wife is on the upper end of the spectrum. There surely isn't an episode that goes by without a combination of Alicia, Kalinda and Diane talking to each other about anything other than a man. I've just realised that is one of the reasons why like it.

I think Community is probably middling on this issue but there have definitely been conversations on activism, religion, grades and what not between Britta, Annie and Shirley.

Skins! Episodes featuring

Skins! Episodes featuring the girls, especially. It might not rate especially high, but it's a pretty great show (the first two seasons, anyway), and they do a pretty good job featuring not only female characters but characters diverse in other ways as well.

I actually just caught the

I actually just caught the first two episodes of this the other day, and the second episode did very well on the test!

Most of season 3 and 4 also

Most of season 3 and 4 also past the test by a large margin, and they are great too!

Black Comedies

I can think of some black comdies that might do alright on the spectrum. Girlfriends, Half and Half, and The Game come to mind readily and Tyler Perry's shows may also pass.

Thanks for mentioning that!

Thanks for mentioning that! This is something that's woefully underepresented in my stint here, so I appreciate your sharing your knowledge.

I haven't watched it in ages

I haven't watched it in ages (because it only lasted two seasons and even though I have the first season on DVD, I really haven't gotten around to watching it much) but I'm pretty sure that Joan Of Arcadia passes, at least in several episodes, as it seems to be a fairly female-centered show. Then again, there are some exchanges that could be construed as thorny since God comes to Joan in different forms, and even in a female form God could still be construed as male...

Then again, to me the Bechdel Test seems incomplete because of its essentialism. What if there's an exchange between two women who have very different genders, or people that are technically of opposite sexes but similar genders?

Gossip Girl

I know, I know. It's the televisual equivalent of a diet of nothing but pizza and burgers and I don't defend it on those grounds. But interestingly as well as passing Bechdel in every ep that comes to mind (female discussions center on things such as school, college, popularity, careers, class, money, ethics, looks, fashion, non-male family, friendship, schoolwork etc etc), it also has a predominantly female power structure (head writer/exec producer is female, originator ditto). So it's not just jobs for the boys.

Sex and the City passes in every single ep I can think of.

Seinfeld passes more often than you would think.

South Park, which I love, totally fails most of the time. This is a shame.

I haven't watched much of

I haven't watched much of Gossip Girl, but I have read many of the books, and I believe your description.

Yeah, SATC actually passes a lot more frequently than a lot of feminists would give it credit for.

I love South Park, I really do, but it's a show I don't look to for social justice insights ever. It's actually more offensive than Family Guy by my standards, I'm sad to say (for more on this measurement, check out The Offensive Olympics in my archive.)

Nurse Jackie and The Golden

Nurse Jackie and The Golden Girls! Maude would pass as well, I reckon.

I really need to see Nurse

I really need to see Nurse Jackie - I LOVE Edie Falco.

All My Favorite Shows Pass!

Buffy: Really now? Must I establish Buffy's feminist credentials for you?

Xena: Yes, I am sure Xen and Gabby were totes discussing teh boyz on all those cold night snuggled together in their bed rolls...(Incidentally, Xena also had a pretty great portrayal of a transwoman who won the Miss Amphipolis pageant. They won an award for it from...I *wanna* say GLAD, but it may have been from a different Gay/Trans media watchdog).

Firefly: That Joze Whebon guy...I'm beginning to suspect he may be a feminist.

True Blood: It passes most of the time, but even when it doesn't, how can you NOT love a show where even the pretty little blonde heroine kicks ass and has unabashed hot vampire sex, and her best friend is angry, and black, and a woman, and yet NOT defined as just an ABW? Plus-gay sex! Het sex! Bloody sex! Headturn-y sex! And Lafayette.

Skins (the first two seasons, I refuse to watch the others without the characters I love): It's probably the best straight teen show out I've ever seen, in how much it covers, and how well, and how they manage to present so many different voices.

GG: Okay, not the MOST feminist, but they pass sometimes. And the men generally talk about relationships too, so it's pretty even.

The only ones that fail more often are TDS/TCR but those are news shows, and when TDS has its female correspondents on they kill it.
Now if they could just have more Kristen Schall. WHY was Munn added over her? Why couldn't they have at least added KS as a regular first? She's proven herself funny, and she is usually the one to tackle issues with outright feminism. (Incidentally, I've been reading S. Bee's memoir...she and me have very similar ideas about what "playing" with Barbies entailed...)

Joss Whedon

Actually, you're right, Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse ect.) has said he is a feminist, and was honored at Equality Now benefit for his work with strong female characters.

Shows That Pass

I haven't watched the more recent seasons, but I remember the women on Grey's Anatomy frequently studying together, talking about their work and careers, and occasionally discussing female relatives. Also, I bet Degrassi: The Next Generation comes out pretty high on the spectrum. Bonus points for doing okay on the Johnson test too! Other shows I suspect would do well but haven't seen enough of to say for sure: ER, Caprica, Ugly Betty.

I'm way late to the party,

I'm way late to the party, but Grey's is a good one. Damages, Good Wife (not every episode), West Wing (not every episode), and Nurse Jackie are all good options.

Late to the party, but I'm

Late to the party, but I'm fairly sure there is no episode of "Avatar: the Last Airbender" that doesn't pass the Bechdel test, though there could be one in the first season when the cast is notably smaller. All of the girls are incredibly well-rounded and they make a habit of kicking just as much - if not more - butt than the boys.

Charmed

I know I'm late to the party on this thread, but I had to throw in another vote for "Charmed." Despite its frequent silliness, it passes the Bechdel test in every episode (I think) and is consistently, extremely feminist. There was an "any excuse to get Alyssa Milano half-naked" phase in there, but that was the only non-feminist factor in a show about complex, realistic relationships between women--women who prioritized their careers, chose to have or not have kids (there was even an episode with serious abortion implications), followed through on their choices to marry or not marry, mother or not mother with strength, didn't see marriage as the be-all, end-all of life (in fact, three of the four main characters rejected marriage proposals or broke off engagements at some point), and more.

rookie blue!

rookie blue!

Supernatural fails epically.

It's been a while since I watched the series, but in over 100 episodes I can think of two, maybe three passes? All of which can be applied to Jo and Ellen, who ended up being killed off after their characters were first neglected, then abandoned, then brought back to die. Unsurprisingly, the show's inherent misogyny and inability to either recognise or admit to it was one of the main reasons I gave up watching. I don't think there are many shows on tv today that could fall much lower on the scale.

A couple other oldies worth mentioning...

If you've got Netflix, then "Cagney & Lacey" almost definitely passes the Bechdel Test every week, since every episode I've seen (admittedly not all) focuses on their different careers and different approaches to their jobs and their lives. The entire series, as well as several TV movies, are all streaming and you can watch them any time. You'll be glad you did. It makes me wonder if "Rizzoli & Isles" has a similar vibe, though I'm not optimistic enough to check.

Never cared for it, but I imagine "ER" passed fairly often, and this makes me want to tweak Bechdel's rule a bit: her suggestion that women talk about something "other than a man" is mostly designed, I imagine, to eliminate romantic comedies and other sorts of shows where the man is the main character and there just happen to be two women talking about him. Personally, I've mentally adjusted Bechdel's rule to say "a conversation between two female characters that is not about a man ONE OF THEM IS INTERESTED IN ROMANTICALLY OR SUBSERVIENT TO OR WHO IS NOT OTHERWISE ESSENTIALLY IRRELEVANT OR INTERCHANGEABLE." Anything else just gives mere male presence too much power to fuck up a movie/show, IMO. If the female star is examining a male corpse (or a helpless male patient) or arresting a male perp as part of her job, there's no question who's in charge, and I say it passes the test. The problem with "Bones" is not the male corpses; it's that Bones is supposed to be flawed (not traditionally feminine) and Booth's job is to teach her what normality is.

Also: "Powerpuff Girls"!

P.S. Lots of love for Gilmore Girls and Roseanne in this thread, so I just thought I'd remind everybody that Amy Sherman-Palladino was behind both. God bless her!

Buffy passes, surely? Maybe

Buffy passes, surely? Maybe Firefly and Trek Voyager?

If there is an entire medium

If there is an entire medium that does pass at least half the time, it's anime. I watch it all the time, and particularly stuff that's about girls. Granted, some of them are sexual in nature, but others... aren't so much.

Need examples?

-Azumanga Daioh
-Lucky Star
-A Little Snow Fairy Sugar
-Armored Troopers J-Pheonix PF Lips Team (only watchable online)
-Popotan
-Cosplay Complex
-Makeruna! Makendou (watch that one online)
-Card Captor Sakura
-Nichijou
-Nurse Witch Komugi
-Ultimate Girls
-Idol Project
-Galaxy Angel
-Excel Saga
-and more!

Addendum

And Pani Poni Dash! Can't believe I forgot that one, given how much I like it.

Anime That Pass the Bechdel Test

I can think of few that don't, actually! Don't forget K-On!, and Baccano! (which, I believe, passes on sheer merit of having a CRAPTON of characters), and I think even Code Geass passes fairly frequently (due to, again, the sheer mass of characters) despite being fairly male-centric. I think it just goes to show how easy it is to pass, if a show wants to represent females. (I also think Angel Beats might pass? Not sure there. It does at least ONCE in thirteen episodes, I know, when Yuripee tells Angel she can join the Constantly Changing Name Squad/Brigade/Whateverthehelltheywerecallingitbytheend.)

A few that don't pass as frequently (or at all): Death Note (which admittedly had a small cast and was very focused on the whole murder thing) and Fullmetal Alchemist (which I don't consider a misogynous show at all, it just simply happens to focus on two brothers).

So I think it goes to show two things: one, having a large cast can help you pass even if you aren't actually more feminist (e.g. Fullmetal Alchemist v. Code Geass) and two, not passing frequently doesn't make a show necessarily misogynous.

Surprised this wasn't mentioned already.

Well I guess we can add My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to this list, seeing as every episode passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours.

Theory: A TV show will not

Theory: A TV show will not score well on this test without a woman as the main protagonist. Example: Buffy will talk to Willow about something to do with the plot most episodes, so BtVS will do well. Firefly would actually score pretty poorly because, since all the female characters had different roles within the show they were not often seen discussing anything practical, but rather character stuff, and since all the other characters were male...

Likewise, BSG had a lot of woman as these shows go, but they were spread out across all the different "departments" (political, CiC, fighter pilots, ground crew) and didn't usually get a chance to discuss anything about their day to day work. And cylons don't count because they're robots.

It's only the main character who ties the whole thing together, and gets to interact with each separate group of characters on plot matters, so a show can only have a shot at this if it has a female lead.

Switched At Birth. Every

Switched At Birth. Every single episode passes this test, I'm sure. Lots of female characters, and they have conversations in every episode. Several conversations are about men/boys, but several more aren't.