The Representation Test — Where ‘XX’ Is a Good Score: That Happened


ColumnThe Representation Test is a new measure of how well a movie depicts women. I really want the stars to be replaced by Gloria Steinem heads.

It seems like every year following the Oscars, we get to talking about depictions of women on TV and in movies.

And, despite Cate Blanchett’s genuinely heartfelt Oscar acceptance speech for a movie directed by one of the more—ummm—controversial “female appreciators” of our time, Woody Allen, it’s been iffy lately.

The Representation Test, a new rating system, could help you figure out how to spend your movie-going dollars on women-friendly films.

Some of you might be thinking, wait, the Bechdel test, right? Yes. But more so.

Back in 1985, Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Allison Bechdel asked one simple question to determine if a movie represented women well: Does the movie have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something besides a man?

Think about it. There are shockingly few movies that get a yes—especially back in 1985.

Building on Bechdel’s query (her question is number seven), The Representation Project has created a 20-question test that grades movies on how they’re representing women and dealing with stereotypes.

The Representation Test also looks at issues related to color, age and body type. The test is part of a curriculum which draws on issues showcased in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary, “Miss Representation.”

According to, The Representation Project posted an open letter to eight major film industry executives (six men and two women) stating: “Women and girls comprise 52 percent of moviegoers and 50 percent of all ticket buyers in the United States … They were represented as just 15 percent of protagonists in the top films of last year and only 30 percent of characters who spoke.”

What is this, Congress?

Slapping a rating on something—even an awesome rating like 87 Glorias—won’t change the world all at once, but it is an important step in pointing out inequalities and keeping the conversation going beyond awards season.

And Over on the Boob Tube…

I was one of the many, many people singing the praises of “True Detective”—and also one of the many people who noted the lack of developed female characters and the lack of reality surrounding the types of ladies who’d wanna get down with Woody Harrelson were he not Woody Harrelson and just some cop from Louisiana.

After “True Detective,” I watched season one of “Rectify”—a six-episode Sundance channel show recently released on Netflix. I started to wonder if, to gain critical acclaim, a show has to center around a sexually assaulted dead young woman and weird religious under(or over)tones.

I have hope for the spring, though.

I am thrilled to see Mindy Kaling back on TV (maybe because I am her in every BuzzFeed quiz I take).

Yes, there were some issues to work out with “The Mindy Project’s” depiction of African American women and race in general, and I hope the show veers away from the racist tone it struck last season. But, overall, Mindy is a character we’re not used to seeing on TV and I love her.

“Orphan Black” returns on April 19 and “Orange Is the New Black” is coming back June 6. There are no words. I cannot wait.

And, Amazon has teamed up with Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara”) for the series “Transparent,” featuring Jeffrey Tambor as a trans woman named Maura. I tend to like Soloway and Tambor so I’ll be checking this out.

Before the spring TV binge season kicks off, let’s create a rating system for TV shows. It will be a little different to account for the popularity of reality TV.

I’ll start. I suggest the following questions to get it going:

-Are the women on the show actual friends or competitive assholes that just scream at each other? -5 Glorias
-Is the phrase “throw under the bus” uttered? -Change channel immediately
-Is there more than one wife per husband? -4 Glorias
-Is the woman a prize? -54 Glorias
-Is a beautiful, smart woman married to a fat, lazy jerk that we’re supposed to find lovable? -9 Glorias
-Is Connie Britton’s hair in this show? +2 Glorias
-Is there a female boss on this show? +6 Glorias
-Are there women behind the camera? (writing, directing, etc.?) +2 Glorias for each woman

What else should we be asking? And watching?

That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.

Related on EcoSalon:

Girls, Women and HPV

5 Essential Documentary Films for Anyone Who Cares About Women

Orange Is the New Black and I’m Addicted

Image: “Miss Representation”