Sophomores Teresa Irigoyen-Lopez and Tess Jacobson, both of whom work at the Women*s Center, started Princeton’s own Bechdel Film Club this year to give students the opportunity to watch and discuss films that pass the Bechdel Test. The test itself was originally created in 1985 by Alison Bechdel and serves to highlight the underrepresentation of women in film. The 'Prince' sat down with the two co-founders to talk to them about their club and what it means to them.
The Daily Princetonian: Could you tell us a little bit about what this club is about and what made you guys decide to start it?
Tess Jacobson: We were both on the student staff at the Women*s Center and part of our job responsibilities is to help out with programming. We were both interested in starting a Bechdel Film Club.
Teresa Irigoyen-Lopez: Last year we knew each other, because we’re roommates. When I had my interview [to work at the Women*s Center], I proposed the idea. And when we both got the job we decided to do it together.
DP: What are the requirements of the Bechdel Test?
TIL: For the movie to pass the test it has to have two women in the movie that talk to each other about anything — but men. Another extra requirement is that they [the women] both have to have names. The idea behind it is that — at least how I see it — is that movies that are generally shown, especially through initiatives on our campus, are not very —
TJ: The groups that screen movies don’t often think about representation in the movie. There are a lot of groups that will screen a movie but not have a chance to talk about it in a non-academic setting… we thought it would be really fun to be able to have a conversation about a movie that’s not for class.
TIL: Also [we did this] to just watch movies that you enjoy. Because I feel like a lot of people who are conscious of the lack of representation in the media and different spaces — they find it hard to enjoy watching movies or reading books. You cannot ignore the sexism in them — why is it harder for people who consciously think about feminism to enjoy watching a film?
TJ: Our goal is more than just showing movies that pass the Bechdel test, because the Bechdel test is meant to highlight gender inequality in film more so than it is meant to rate a movie on how feminist it is.
TIL: Also, the idea is that this test comes from from a Bechdel comic strip from 1985... On the comic these two women have this conversation where one of them says, “I don’t like going to movies because they only show women that talk about men.” So it wasn’t even created as a test and it’s not a perfect test. We are not using it as a perfect test, but a springboard to have deeper discussions on gender inequality.
DP: Why did you choose “Girlhood” for the first showing?
TIL: None of us had watched the film before. We came up with a long list of movies that we saw or heard about that we thought might be a good idea. We chose this one because we had been Googling to see what would be a good movie for a Bechdel Film Club. This is a pretty recent movie which we thought might be a more accessible movie for people who are here for the first time.
TJ: It raises questions about the things that we want to talk about like race, gender, and class.
TIL: In general, a movie passing the test doesn’t mean that it touches these questions —
TJ: — or even that it represents feminism. Because there can be a really misogynistic movie in which two women talk about something that’s not a man.
TIL: We wanted the first movie to be a feminist movie that talked to issues that we thought people might be interested in. We might show movies later on that pass the test but aren’t necessary feminist.
DP: How did the first showing go overall?
TIL: About 9-10 people showed up and stayed for the whole time. So ten of us stayed for the discussion afterwards which we thought went really well — it was an hour long discussion.
TJ: We moved the tables out of the Women*s Center room and put the large bean bag chairs in. We turned down all the lights and it was a really nice, cozy atmosphere to watch a movie in. We had Chinese food, which was really good. And during the movie, I think everyone was really into the movie because it was quiet and people weren’t talking.
TIL: It’s also nice to be watching a movie surrounded by people because you feel people reacting in different ways or in the same way, which is important and powerful when you’re in discussion later because you know how people have felt… This movie specifically touched a lot on the questions of race, gender, class, family, social status — and we talked about so many things.
DP: Can you give an example of a movie that people see as feminist but doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test?
TJ: Only about half of movies pass the test, like the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy doesn’t pass the test. And you’re surprised to hear all these movies don’t pass the test, but as soon as you think about the individual movie — like you think about Lord of the Rings — you say to yourself 'I can’t picture two female characters about something that’s not men.'
DP: Looking forward, what are your plans for the club?
TIL: The next one [showing] is happening the Saturday after Thanksgiving... it’s not supposed to be a closed club where the same people come every week. Whoever wants to come any week can come because it’s a different movie and a different discussion.
TJ: It’s a nice study break — it really doesn’t take up that much time. It started at seven because people came for dinner, and people were leaving around ten.
Future movies the Bechdel Film Club is considering showing: a Spanish movie, “Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” and a Saudi Arabian movie, “Wadjda”