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Femme Fatigue #3

Eithne Shortall is chief arts writer for Sunday Times Ireland. If you missed them, take a look at the Femme Fatigue Archives for more on her methodology and archive of monthly round-ups of female representations on screen for

Karen Gillian stars in  OCULUS

– Karen Gillian stars in OCULUS –

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To pass the Bechdel Test: A film must feature two named female characters having a conversation (even a brief exchange) about something other than a man and without a man being present.

Films seen at the cinema in the past month: 4

Those that passed the Bechdel Test: 0

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I’m filing this month’s copy ten days early because I’m off on a delicious odyssey of holiday travel, far from the fret of films. As such, I’ve only managed a paltry four movies for June. If nothing else, at least it’s a reflection on the fall off in cinema attendance during the summer – a trend currently being aggravated by the World Cup and glorious weather.

Of the four films I did see – X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Dirties, Cheap Thrills and Oculus – none passed the Bechdel test. I have two diverging thoughts on this. One is about the real-life issues that the test throws up; the other is about how it’s not always a useful tool.

But to start: June had me fearing for the future of the actress-ing profession. Surely as many women as men, if not more, long to act for a living. Yet the availability of roles is very clearly skewered in one direction.

The Dirties has two obvious central characters, both male. Cheap Thrills is based around four characters, only one of whom is female. Violet, played by Sara Paxton, says next to nothing. She spends her time looking bored, makes an out-of-the-blue (and into black lace) costume change, and propels the plot forward with sex.


X-Men is a superhero collective, and my favourite comic book franchise, but for this latest outing, it’s all about five players – each one gifted, handsome, much-liked and male. Interestingly, there was a subplot intended for Rogue (my favourite female superhero character) but it was cut in the editing process. An interview with the show’s writer suggested it might make it into the director’s DVD cut.

So where are all the women? No wonder they can’t pass the test when they’re not even there to sit it. It’s not just film either. Theatre continues to create more roles for men than women too. It is changing but really television is the only medium lunging ahead. That said, shows being made on this island – Game of Thrones, Vikings – aren’t exactly offering female thespians the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This problem comes up a bit in my day job at the Sunday Times; there are always potential male interviewees with leading roles knocking around, but women with some form of profile can be harder to find.

On the other hand, June served as a regular reminder that Bechdel is not Gospel. Oculus failed the test but didn’t do a disservice to women. The central character of Kaylie was as strong a woman as you’re likely to see in the contemporary horror genre, even if Karen Gillan’s dubious acting didn’t do her any favours. Kaylie drives the action forward, more inconvenienced than anything else by her two-dimensional boyfriend and zoned out brother.

Alas for every woman who makes it to the big screen morally unscathed, there are several others renderd whimpering and preening on the editing room floor.

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Femme Fatigue Archives