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The Two Women Talking Test

UPDATE: 16 September 2014
The MacArthur Foundation just named Alison Bechdel in its 2014 class of MacArthur Fellows. She is one of 21 “exceptionally creative individuals being recognized for a track record of achievement and the potential for significant contributions in the future.” Bechdel is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist. Her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008) realistically captured the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by important cultural and political events. @AlisonBechdel

Here is an EWIP post from November 2013 by Claudia Smukler which cites the Bechdel Test, as the media standard that has persisted as a measure of (any) agency of the female characters in a film.

In the succession of media stories noting when women are “the first” to do something there is the potential to inspire: Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space; Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady. No doubt each example encourages others, yet, I am wary of getting too hung up on the rush to celebrate the milestone of the first woman.
EWIP 2013-women talkingOne is not a great indicator of faring very well against gender or racial bias, whether in the White House, in scientific achievements, or in the characters we see in movies. Pointing to the first at something is problematic when the designation has the tendency to single out her gender or non-white status as a preface that often overshadows the persistent bias. Not that we can’t feel inspired by the firsts, but I’m anxious to move on to a measure that demonstrates more forward motion. So, instead of firsts, how about measuring the interaction of “two,” as in, two women talking.

Alison BechdelThe Bechdel test does just that. Recently the Swedish Film Institute and a Scandinavian cable TV channel announced that it would employ the Bechdel test for rating gender bias in the movies it screens as a service to their viewing audiences. If you have not heard of it, the Bechdel test got its name from American cartoonist, Alison Bechdel who introduced the concept in 1985 in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The rating system, which has been around awhile and greatly discussed in feminist and film critic circles doesn’t portend the quality or feminist nature of the film rather it is simply a measure of the presence of named female characters who talk to each other. The dismal results for passing the test exposes how dramatically the movie industry, in particular, ignores women’s stories. The goal of using the test, according to the Swedes, is “to see more female stories and perspectives on cinema screens.” To receive an A rating a film must have:

  • Two or more named women present
  • The women talk to each other
  • They discuss something other than men

Sounds simple, but even with this low bar, many notable films don’t pass. The failure to pass even this simple test points out the systemic problem with the industry that continues to make movies by white men, for white men and depressingly few for a more general audience. Modify this test slightly and it can be applied to people of color appearing in movies. Counting the scenes where two or more people of color talk to each other about something other than white people in a film, again measures the momentum, or lack of it in Hollywood.

We have to go beyond just counting the firsts which it turns out, are not an indicator of progress. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. A significant milestone and a film worthy of the award. Yet, it is interesting to note the movie she made—a war film about a bomb disposal team in Iraq—doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. As of 2014, we have yet to see the second female director win the Oscar.

The paucity of substantive female and non-white characters on the big screen, and more importantly, as active participants in the media, on the board of directors of tech companies, and as representatives in the Congress of the United States is a distressing cultural truth. If we are to make exponentially greater gains toward gender parity in these institutions we need to have a clear standard for who is doing the talking.

Photo of WLC 2013 by Carmen Holt
Photo of Alison Bechdel is Courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

An Exceptional Day

ewip14award-karaswisherIn the elegant Julia Morgan ballroom in downtown San Francisco attendees of the EWIP Women’s Leadership Conference and Award Luncheon watched as Kara Swisher accepted the 2014 Exceptional Woman in Publishing Award. The audience of 250 mostly professional women were charmed by her wit and stories.  She began by mentioned looking up the definition of the e-word, and was pleased to find, that in addition to it meaning “outstanding, remarkable, and excellent,” it is also “unusual, abnormal, and weird.” Being abnormal, Swisher admitted, has been a really good thing for her career.

Swisher has found success by quickly grasping what the Internet meant early on and understanding the consequences of the next new thing out of Silicon Valley. She has chronicled the emergence of digital technologies as the grand disruptor of old media and continues to look ahead with insights that she says often come from watching her young sons interact with media from a whole new set of expectations.

The 2014 EWIP conference featured dozens of speakers in ten sessions covering a range of topics. To learn more about EWIP, watch the videos at our YouTube channel. Video by Stacey McKenzie. Check us out and view photos on Facebook. Connect with others on LinkedIn and if want to be notified about our future events and happenings be sure to sign up on our mailing list.

Do Talk Back

The 6th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference is now behind us. We are putting together photos and video for the event and will have some to share with you soon. In the meantime, we want you to talk back to us. From the opening keynote on leadership to the final session with some exceptional videos and stories from our special guests, the conference was filled with wise words and hard-won insights from the everyday exceptional people who helped make the event something worth talking about. The EWIP organizers extend the warmest THANK YOU to every person involved in the EWIP Conference.

With your feedback we can make it even better.

PLEASE, take a moment to share your thoughts with the conference committee. Do it now while it is still fresh in your mind.
We will have videos of Kara Swisher’s talk and other highlights of the event soon. See pictures on our Facebook page and post your own pics and comments too. You can connect to our worldwide membership on LinkedIn.

EWIP 2014 selfie courtesy of Máire P. Walsh

The Voices of EWIP 2014

Read tweets from the excellent women speaking at EWIP 2014!
Then follow the list.

EWIP 2014 Is Almost Here

EWIP_WLC2014_180x150The 2014 EWIP Conference program is available online. Join your colleagues on March 6th, for the all-female lineup with over 40 speakers participating in 10 stimulating sessions designed to inform you, inspire you, and help you be exceptional. The day starts early, with registration opening at 8:00 AM. We will have coffee waiting for you as the Leadership Keynote begins at at 8:45. I toured the Mechanics Exchange Building recently with some of my EWIP colleagues and we are  excited that in a few days the gorgeous Julia Morgan Ballroom and Merchants Exchange Conference Club (directions) will be teaming with energy, enthusiasm, and true connectedness, the hallmark of our event—IRL. Check out the schedule and program descriptions, there are something for everyone; and you will have to make some choices during the morning and afternoon breakout sessions. The highlight for the day is the 2014 EWIP Awards luncheon. We honor the insightful award-winning journalist, Kara Swisher. And, as is our tradition, the previous year’s honoree, the gracious Deanna Brown, will be there to present the crystal award to the 16th exceptional woman in publishing. A wine reception, in the Julia Morgan Lounge, offers the opportunity to network with speakers and attendees following the event.

Leadership Keynote: How to Move Forward
Innovation in Media
Women in Tech
Turning Broccoli Journalism into Traffic Gold
How to Build Meaningful Community Using Social Media
A Fresh Look at Young Creators
Outspoken Women on the Internet
How to Manage Transitions and Grow Your Own Career
Inspirational Interviews: Exceptional Trailblazers
Eventbrite - EWIP 2014 Women's Leadership Conference
Suggested hashtag: #ewip2014

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