Merriam-Webster Just Added “Bechdel Test” to the Dictionary

Above: Writer, cartoonist, and memoirist Alison Bechdel.

Merriam-Webster’s newest addition to the dictionary? Alison Bechdel’s “Bechdel Test” for films.

The dictionary publisher added the term, coined by the lesbian writer and artist herself, to its roster earlier this week. Bechdel famously introduced the public to the test in a 1985 Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip.

In the strip, two women struggle to find a movie that fits three simple criteria: First, it “has to have at least two women in it.” Second, they “talk to each other.” And third, their interaction is about “something besides a man.”

Julia Wäschenbach/picture alliance via Getty Images

Bechdel has said in the past that the idea for that comic strip and the subsequent test came from a conversation she had with her friend Liz Wallace. She also credited Virginia Woolf’s feminist classic A Room of One’s Own for expressing a similar sentiment 60 years earlier.

Merriam-Webster’s official definition of the Bechdel Test is as follows:

A set of criteria used as a test to evaluate a work of fiction (such as a film) on the basis of its inclusion and representation of female characters.

NOTE: The usual criteria of the Bechdel Test are (1) that at least two women are featured; (2) that these women talk to each other; and (3) that they discuss something other than a man.

The Fun Home author and MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient was alerted to Merriam-Webster’s latest addition when Seven Days Vermont, a small regional publication, reached out to her for comment.

“I’m very, very excited to have anything to do with a dictionary,” she told the outlet. “This is the thing I’m most known for! If I go speak at a college or something, kids don’t know my comic strip—they weren’t even born yet. But they’ve heard of this thing.”

Bechdel Test entered the dictionary late last week alongside 530 other new terms, including the gender-neutral pronoun they, which many nonbinary or gender nonconforming people use. (It was already an Oxford English Dictionary–approved phrase as of June 2018, as Forbes reported.) Merriam-Webster also added the terms gender nonconforming, top surgery, and bottom surgery earlier this year.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.


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