Bechdelicious geek entertainment of 2009

2010 January 3

Inspired by a post of lauredhel’s asking for recent movies that pass the Bechdel test, I wondered if anyone has some recommendations for good recent geeky entertainment that also passes, ideally comprehensively rather than barely. Share your recommendations in comments. Fanfic and vids and similar welcome!

Quick refresher: passing the Bechdel test requires that:

  1. the movie [media/story/game/narrative...] has at least two women characters;
  2. who talk to each other;
  3. about something other than a man.

If you’d like to recommend something not-women-hostile that passes a variant instead (two people of colour who talk about something other than a white person, for example) go ahead.

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This post was written by mary.

Mary is a Free Software contributor, computational linguistics research student and programmer at large. She can also be found at and Hoyden About Town.

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19 Responses
  1. John C Barstow permalink
    January 3, 2010

    You should look at “Jewel in the Palace”, a series (available subtitled) set in 16th-century Korea palace kitchens, it’s a perfect geek feminist show.

    All of the main characters, including the heroine and the villain, are female. I’ve only seen one two subplots that actually involve men at all (one of them is in the first couple of episodes, where the heroine’s Tragic Past is created).

    Geek foodies will especially love the show as it revolves around the intrigue in the kitchens; lots of subplots revolve around preparation of various traditional Korean dishes.

    The heroine is loosely based on a real feminist icon, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea.

    What I find particularly interesting is the fact that the show takes place in a sexist patriarchy, yet the men are mostly relegated to supporting roles with little influence over the women.

  2. Virginia permalink
    January 4, 2010

    Lie to Me, the TV series on Fox, has two strong female characters played by Kelli Williams and Monica Raymund who spend their time doing the same thing the lead character (a man, of course) played by Tim Roth does.

    The Good Wife, on CBS, has not two but three strong female characters, played by Christine Baranski, Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi. There is some drama around relationships with Julianna Margulies’ character, but more of the plot is legal case drama.

    • Skud permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      Yup, I’ve definitely been enjoying The Good Wife. There are some interesting minor female parts too… I noticed that there were a run of female clients, for instance, and there have been women lawyers from other firms and stuff. Basically, the show feels like it’s > 50% women, most of the time.

      Is anyone else watching Castle? I’m not sure if it passes Bechdel often (it’s mostly a buddy cop show where the partners are a M/F pair), but there are some fantastic female characters: Rick Castle’s mother and his teenage daughter are both great. I’m sure there are conversations between them that pass Bechdel, but I would have to admit that they’re mostly fleeting. Still, it’s awesome. Geek cred: Castle is played by Nathan Fillion from Firefly (and other Whedon stuff).

      A Bechdel-passing miniseries I recently watched is “Cranford” (2007, plus Christmas special 2009) which is based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels. It’s about a small town (somewhat over-supplied with spinsters) facing the approach of industrialisation in the early 19th century. Geeky if you like costume drama/British history/etc, not so much otherwise.

      • Jon Niehof permalink
        January 5, 2010

        My girlfriend and I watch Castle religiously. I think the Beckett/Parish conversations pass Bechdel-Wallace a good fraction of the time, depending on whether one includes an expired male victim under “man.” And although it’s not Test-related, Beckett’s easy authority over Ryan and Esposito is encouraging.

        I also love every moment of Martha/Rick/Alexis.

      • John C Barstow permalink
        January 6, 2010

        Living in NZ, where we import much of our television from both the US and the UK, I feel qualified to state that BBC-produced television almost always scores higher on the Bechdel test.

        Maybe because it is simply less commercially driven? I think of the “Vicar of Dibley”, “Absolutely Fabulous”, “Waiting for God”, “Coupling” off the top of my head. Even “The Avengers” is somewhat progressive putting in Mrs Peel as an equal to Steed who holds her own intellectually and physically (though there is plenty of sexism in the series as well, it’s relatively enlightened for mid-1960′s entertainment).

        • Skud permalink*
          January 6, 2010

          Err, I’m sure there is the occasional non-man-related conversation between women in Coupling, but I can’t actually think of one. Or rather, the ones I can think of are about body-hating, so I can’t really get behind them.

  3. jadelennox permalink
    January 4, 2010

    I hate to plug a canceled show, but Middleman had a full season where every episode had two women talking to each other about something other than a man. Woman of color as the star! Three major female characters! In fact, more recurring female characters than male female characters. The female lead who was a massive comic book nerd and always got to handle the incredibly cool weapons and gadgets and things.

    Community, the sitcom, passes the Bechdel in many episodes although not in all of them, and to be fair most of the geekyness is in the male characters not in the female. But in that show, even scenes which are technically women talking about men are really about female friendship: two female characters taking a third to break into the dean’s office because she needs to see an anatomically-correct STD-education model; a female character training another character in how to have bathroom conversations with girlfriends. Their conversations are really about three women from very different backgrounds learning how to be friends with each other, and when they talk about men that is really just a side effect of them learning how to be friends with each other.

    • Lis permalink
      January 9, 2010

      I was going to plug Middleman, too.
      Excellent series, I highly recommend it – recently released on DVD, and they’re hoping good DVD sales will enable them to film further stories, as happened with Firefly and Family Guy.

  4. Erika permalink
    January 4, 2010

    I guess it doesn’t count as “recent,” but I passed a good chunk of this weekend watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, which Hulu posted on 1/1. (Gotta wait until April for season 3, apparently!)

    I also recently read “Julie & Julia,” but I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t speak to it.

    • Skud permalink*
      January 5, 2010

      The movie is definitely Bechdelicious. There’s a fantastic scene of Julia Child and her two middle-aged collaborators sitting around talking about work (i.e. Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and drinking martinis. AWESOME. Also excellent middle-aged sex scenes. Julia Child definitely belongs in the geek pantheon. Julie whatsername, I could live without… watch the movie for the Julia bits.

  5. Brendan permalink
    January 4, 2010

    Parks and Recreation has some known issues with its handling of race, but it’s scored some subversive points in that arena too, and as of this year it’s the sharpest sitcom on television. The interaction between Leslie, Anne, Donna and April provides a great deal of non-male-centric female interaction.

    I suppose this is closer to “wonky” than “geeky,” but I’m submitting it anyway. Also, I wanted to note that this is the first time I’ve ever subscribed to the RSS feed for the comments on a post.

    • textjunkie permalink
      January 8, 2010

      I second Parks and Recreation!! It’s basically the same shtick as The Office but with a lot more women (and a woman lead), and in a different work environment. Not particularly geeky but hey–the lead does love her job.

  6. Ames permalink
    January 5, 2010

    “Bones” often passes the Bechdel test and usually has something geeky going on in the lab. Plus, it’s based on the writing and work of a very geeky female forensic anthropologist. The protagonist is portrayed as an unapologetic geek and she’s celebrated for being smarter than everyone else she interacts with. Yes, other characters roll their eyes at her, but if you’re a female geek, the writers are talking directly to you in their portrayal of her. They have her discussing her ideas and explaining her logic regularly. And she’s not just smart, but is also shown as strong in other ways. I am happy just to see a smart woman on television, but I think Bones is more than just fulfilling that. There are two other female characters on the show that are also geeks. It wouldn’t be on tv if it didn’t throw in plenty of het flirting and such, but there has been a sensitive portrayal of a lesbian relationship as well.

    Can’t say it passes the Bechdel test, but in Sherlock Holmes, I was glad to see that the woman [spoiler alert] was the one who safely dismantled the apparatus with no help from the boyz (other than keeping the thugs at bay).

    And I was just thinking the other day how interesting it is that both NCIS and Criminal Minds have female computer geeks (“technicians”) who often save the day, while being different from everyone else! Their dialogue with other female characters often passes the Bechdel test (I think the Bechdel test criteria of two women talking about a man should be clarified to mean a former/current/future romantic partner, not a perp or victim ;-) )

    • Jon Niehof permalink
      January 6, 2010

      I think the Bechdel test criteria of two women talking about a man should be clarified to mean a former/current/future romantic partner, not a perp or victim
      I waffle. On the one hand, it seems a bit odd for, say, a discussion of a victim’s time of death “not to count.” OTOH, if all two women can find to discuss is Men Doing Things, that smells like men are driving the plot and there’s an agency problem in there somewhere.

      I find the vagueness in the Test beneficial, since it encourages thinking about such things.

      • Mary permalink
        January 6, 2010

        Yeah, the test isn’t perfect (and isn’t intended to be), but even in the case of perps, victims and other men who are essentially plot devices, if two women don’t talk about anything other than a man during an entire piece of entertainment it is suggestive of one or more of: those women only interacting very briefly, or a piece of entertainment that has a really weird gender balance (for the real world, I mean, it’s common for entertainment to have one or two women and present that as a truly balanced team).

        Or conversely, how often is there a police procedural show or similar during which two men talk to each other about nothing other than a female perp or victim and possibly female colleagues? How often is that true for every single man-to-man conversation in the entire episode? (I’m sure it’s happened more than once, but…)

  7. Terence Eden permalink
    January 6, 2010

    I’ve just finished watching “Seeds Of Death” a 1969 Doctor Who story. Not only do you have Zoe (by far the least “screamy” of all the companions) but also Gia Kelly – a T-Mat engineer who, frankly, kicks arse.

    The conversations between Zoe & Kelly are a little fleeting – but they’re all about engineering and problem solving.

  8. James Westby permalink
    January 6, 2010

    I’d recommend the Dave Eggers/Vendela Vida/Sam Mendes film Away We Go. There
    are plenty of very funny moments. It also has some geek appeal, for some of the jokes
    and attitudes.

    As for Bechdel, I’m pretty sure it passes, though much of the qualifying
    dialogue is a about motherhood and family, so while the characters are much more than
    just eye-candy it’s not exactly a storming success.



  9. Princess R permalink
    January 8, 2010

    Can’t believe this one got missed, but “Whip It” the Roller Derby movie with Ellen Page was both fantastically Bechdel-test compliant and…very non-woman hostile OUTSIDE of that one marker.

    While one of the main conflicts in the film does revolve around a relationship, there’s also a major plotline about finding independence and defining womanhood for oneself.

  10. Naphtali permalink
    January 9, 2010

    Also plugging a cancelled series – “Birds of Prey” was the awesome Batman-equivalent to Smallville. Main characters are Oracle, Catwoman and Batman’s daughter Huntress, and Black Canary’s daughter Diana. Passes the test many times, every single episode.

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