The Bechdel Test and the Curriculum.

The Bechdel Test has long been used as a means to assess the extent to which a film either consolidates or combats the patriarchy.

After watching this excellent Ted Talk from Colin Stokes, I believe that as educators it is our duty to assess the literature texts we study with our students, to see to what extent they too either pass or fail the Bechdel Test. 

I’ve written before about my belief that the disproportionate amount of Male-focused texts (either featuring mainly male characters, or written by male authors) mustn’t automatically be assumed to be all rainbows and roses for the boys we teach. After all, most of the males we study in literature are pricks. I believe this is as damaging for males as the lack of female characters and authors is for women. 

And yet.

Recent statistics that show 59% of females aged 13-21 have faced some sort of sexual harassment at school in the past year, have led me to worry. Seriously worry. 

Afterall, a book that fails the Bechdel Tests implicitly tells our boys that women:

  • Do not have friends to go to
  • Will not speak out

All of the texts I teach- of Mice and Men, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, A Christmas Carol, A Midsummer Night’s Dream- fail the Bechdel test.

Of course, changing the canon takes time. Many, many years in fact and menu of the texts that fail the Bechdel test must remain in our curriculum because they deserve to be there on literary merit alone.

But we need to do something. 

We can alter our KS3 curriculums to include more Bechdel-friendly texts, in the hope that exposing kids to these sort of books will ensure their place in the literary canon of the future.

Also, we can talk. We can tell kids about the Bechdel test and the possible implications of a studying a world in which women do not speak out. 

Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

2 thoughts on “The Bechdel Test and the Curriculum.”

  1. 100% agree (And the curriculum should be more non white too) – issues arise when texts/lessons are ditacted by a ks4 end goal instead of teaching pupils knowledge and skills. I fear as long as schools are judged so emphatically on ks4 results we will be fighting this battle.

    Long may it continue.



  2. Of course, in previous times, when women had fewer rights, and were more dependent on men, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if their conversations often centred around those men on whom their lives were so dependent – or that such conversations might be particularly pertinent to a plot line.

    Additionally, in Shakespeare’s case, he may have been limited in the number of female characters he could include, because female characters could only be played by prepubescent boys of a suitable height.

    I do not think, by any means, that a book or play failing the Bechdel test automatically renders it unsympathetic towards women. Juliet, for instance, strikes me as a highly sympathetic character, who desperately attempts to assert control over her own life.

    Liked by 1 person

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