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Going Beyond the Bechdel Test: Her Story Arc’s Scale of Inclusivity

Like many of you, learning about the Bechdel Test was an eye-opening moment that allowed me to better understand just how much the media industry was failing me, and my fellow women, with its limited, non-diverse representation of us. The Bechdel test has been used to explain and highlight this problem of under-representation and it is a great tool for introducing others to this problem.

The test has a very specific purpose: to show that even with the lowest possible standards of what inclusivity of women in media should look like, a surprising amount of movies STILL don’t pass the test. The Bechdel test is a low bar for a reason; it is not supposed to be the be-all end-all for rating a movie’s representation of women. A terribly offensive movie can pass the test and be abhorrent to women, and a very good, earth-shattering movie with fabulous representation of women can fail the test.

My fellow Her Story Arc contributors and I have been brainstorming ways to build upon the foundation of the Bechdel test. We want to create something that can help frame our reviews of media and help guide us in how we discuss our reviews.

After several months of emails and meetings, we have come up with the “Her Story Arc Scale of Inclusivity.”

The Scale of Inclusivity is our way of quantifying how well a piece of media performs with regard to positive inclusion and representation of women and girls. We have selected five criteria and given them points based on the level of difficulty required to meet the qualification. The lower the point amount, the easier we feel it is to meet the requirement. The maximum score possible is 15/15 points. Here is how it gets broken down:

Not offensive to women = 1 pt
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts
Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts 
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts

Here are two examples:

Lord of the Rings = 7/15 points

It is not offensive to women (1 pt), has Galadriel, Arwen, and Eowyn as supporting characters (2 pts) and is entertaining (4 pts). However, LOTR does not pass the Bechdel test and does not go above and beyond general media in its treatment of its female characters. It could be argued that Eowyn’s role in the prophecy to slay the Witch-king of Angmar (“I am no man!”) defies traditional expectations, but I do not think that is enough to award 5 points.

Borderlands Video Game series = 15/15 points

It is not offensive to women (1 pt), features multiple female playable characters (2 pts), passes the Bechdel test (3 pts) , is entertaining (4 pts), and goes beyond general media is multiple ways, including having one of the female playable characters be a lesbian. The game does a fantastic job creating multifaceted and complex female side characters and villains in addition to the playable female characters (5 pts).

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Sample graphic images of points awarded as they will appear in our posts.

As you can see, each of these categories is subjective. When we use this scale to review a movie/book/comic/video game/etc. the authors will give their own rationale for the points they choose to give and not give. No woman can ever represent all women, so if you disagree with how we’ve ranked something please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below the post.

If you ever feel we aren’t covering the media that you like to enjoy, please let us know or become a volunteer contributor by sending us your ideas and a writing sample to editor@herstoryarc.com. We are always looking for new voices, opinions, and eyes through which to view the world.

Our hope is with this framework we can start discussing how to make media more inclusive and reward those that do make strides in the right direction.

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