The Bechdel Test: Legally Blonde passes the test

Each week, staff wrtier Em Leonick will analyze classic and current movies to see if they pass the Bechdel Test, which gauges female representaion in film.

Representation is an important focus point when deciding on what movie ticket to buy. There are people who are more interested in watching films that properly represent aspects like gender in films. In fact, gender equality in films is so important special tests have been created to gauge how well or poorly representation is handled in films.

The Bechdel Test is one of the most popular ways to gauge adequate representation of women within film. The test is named after comic book artist Alice Bechdel, who, in 1985, introduced this gauge in a comic strip titled “The Test.” The test consists of only three criteria for a film to meet:

1. The movie has at least two women in it

2. The women must talk to each other

3. They need to talk about something other than a man.

In later years, there have been more rules and criteria added to the test such as whether or not the writers give these female characters names. There have also been spinoff tests based on the Bechdel Test, such as Russo Test, which specifically focuses on LGBT+ characters within movies. Despite the fact that the Bechdel test sets such a low standard for representation, a surprising amount of movies fail the test.

The first film I am going to discuss is Legally Blonde. Legally Blonde is a comedy released in 2001, and stars Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, a sorority girl who follows the boyfriend who dumped her (Matthew Davis) to law school in an attempt to win him back, only to find out he has a new fiancée (Selma Blair). After realizing she is fighting a lost cause, she instead throws herself into law school and interning with a law firm who is defending a murder defendant.

Legally Blonde passes the Bechdel Test. As most of the cast are women and there are more than two, there is dozens of instances where they talk to each other. While the plot begins with Elle deciding to follow her ex-boyfriend to law school to win him back, few conversations in the movie center around a man. By the standards of the Bechdel Test, Legally Blonde is a good representation of women.

Outside the Bechdel Test, there are still things to consider when it comes to representation. Legally Blonde is great at representing traditionally feminine things, such as Elle’s aptitude for fashion and hair care, as strengths rather than weaknesses and the butt of jokes. Despite the fact that the film’s plot has plenty of opportunities to pit women against each other, they rarely fight. However, representation in this film is not without its faults. Legally Blonde has virtually no named women of color within the film, and the ones who are serve as stand-ins. They have no names and only a few minutes’ worth of screen time within the film.

While Legally Blonde passes the Bechdel Test and makes positive strides towards representing women as real people and not plot progression tools, it still falls short in representing types of women.