Despite the fact that Hollywood notoriously chases after the male 18-35 demographic in movies, this study shows that treating women fairly can be profitable.
January 5, 2014

My daughters recently re-watched Disney's "Peter Pan" with their younger cousins. I was reminded all over again what a horribly sexist, misogynistic and racist film it is. It is ironic that Disney has refused to release "Song of the South" on DVD because of its racist overtones but considers Peter Pan a classic worthy of regular re-issues.

As a feminist raising two daughters, I'm very conscious of the messages that we send females in this society and that includes through movies. It is frustrating to me how we continually send the message to young impressionable girls that their value is entirely tied up in their looks and their ability to serve as functionaries for the men in their lives. Certainly, the movie industry is guilty of this historically. Movie executives openly admit that they greenlight films designed to attract what they term the "money demographic" of Males 18-35, which means fewer female leads, fewer female-oriented stories and more stories where women do little else but vie for a man's attention.

That led to the Bechdel test. Named after cartoonist Allison Bechdel, the Bechdel test has the simplest possible standard by which movies are judged to address their female characters:

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

That's it. They don't have to be positive role models, they don't have to be feminist icons; they merely need to have a conversation in the movie that doesn't involve a man. It's stunning how comparatively few movies actually pass the Bechdel test.

But guess what? Those that do, MAKE MORE MONEY than those that don't.

It's worth noting that both the successes and failures were split into two tiers depending on just how well/poorly they did in the test. Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, for instance, both just barely passed. A special exception was also granted to Gravity on account of it only featuring two characters with the primary focus being on a woman. Altogether, the films that passed the Bechdel Test managed to gross a $4.22 billion. Comparatively, the failures only accumulated $2.66 billion. It should be noted that the test isn't perfect, of course. For instance, while Pacific Rim technically failed, you could make a good case for it possessing one of the coolest female leads for an action film in ages. Likewise, The Desolation of Smaug actually added a completely new female character to a story that otherwise would have been a Dwarven Sausage fest. Nonetheless, the results are certainly interesting and we'll be eager to see how 2014 stacks up comparatively.

Sweden has opted to start using the Bechdel test to rate movies for sexism. In fact, recent studies have shown that women lead in a wide array of technological and media areas.

So what will it take before we stop focusing our sales on young males and move it to the women who are really bringing in the profits, despite (the incorrect) conventional wisdom?

Can you help us out?

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