Skip to main content

19th April 2024

My life has been failing the Bechdel test – and that’s a good thing

A lot of conversations with my friends recently have been about a guy, and this hasn’t proved to be a bad thing
My life has been failing the Bechdel test – and that’s a good thing
Credit: aquafrel @

My night out of choice is usually the cinema, but on this occasion I visited Printworks’s underground bowling alley. Immediately I was out of my depth, demonstrating pitiful bowling technique. A fellow student quipped that we were “joint losing” when I lamented my position at the bottom of the leaderboard. His instinct to reassure me was endearing.

A text sent to my best friend Sofia afterwards, mentioning the “guy there who was cute,” set the wheels in motion for this season of my life to fail the Bechdel test. Jokingly proposed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel test requires a film to feature at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man. This standard captured the public imagination, becoming a measure of female representation – and hence feminism – in works of fiction.

Television shows featuring love triangles have recently surged in popularity, including Riverdale (where I first heard the Bechdel test mentioned), The Summer I Turned Pretty, and My Life with the Walter Boys. Understandably, women’s characterisation being limited to their relationships with men remains a concern. 

But it’s a slippery slope. In March of this year, non-profit organisation Good Energy launched the Climate Reality Check – an iteration of the Bechdel test which measures representation of climate change. It establishes two criteria for a story to pass: climate change must exist, and a character must know of its existence. The rigidity of the Climate Reality Check contradicts its intention to be “creatively inspiring.” When art is judged through oversimplified metrics, the depth and complexity of human interactions in art – and life – are overlooked.

Only Sofia had the patience and understanding to learn the full trajectory of my feelings for my crush, through my many post-bowling interactions with him. Nonetheless, as Taylor Swift reflected when announcing her album Red (Taylor’s Version), “sometimes you need to talk it over (over and over and over) for it to ever really be… over.” And so I did.

Back at university, a reshuffle of our laboratory groups made me cross paths with fellow Pharmacy student Rosie for the first time. Lab work at this point in our degree involved a lot of waiting for experiments to reach their endpoint. What better way to pass the time than by swapping stories of our romantic exploits?

Most people we meet at university are those with whom we share academic interests, or one particular hobby which, alone, is unlikely to sustain a friendship. Discussing the men in our romantic orbit allowed Rosie and me to relate to one another more profoundly, and uncover mutual interests – including our love for singer Reneé Rapp, both of us screaming her lyric “yes, I am a feminist” at the O2 Apollo.

Even so, I told Sofia I felt unable to talk to him as freely as I wanted to. More specifically, I couldn’t picture how I would bridge the gap between initiating conversations with a specific observation about a mutual area of interest – frequent among acquaintances – and updating him on what was happening in my life, confident I would receive a reciprocal response – as I did with those closest to me.

Sofia felt that the people I hold space for in my life should ideally be willing to meet me halfway. The love of a best friend is no substitute for romantic love. Still, I questioned why his emotional loyalty mattered so much to me, when I had someone as caring as her in my life already.

And she wasn’t the only one. Badriya offered me a date when we first met – an edible sweet fruit, not a romantic excursion. We kept in touch over Instagram, sporadically replying to each other’s stories and sending memes. Her reply to a love-related meme I shared prompted me to tell her about my feelings for him. 

If such feelings are unlikely to lead anywhere, they tend to diminish as you grow personally, and nurture the other relationships in your life. Badriya reminded me of this during the Easter holidays, when most of my friends were either abroad or occupied with exam revision. My social life, and hence any personal development, was stagnant. Her insight was comforting, reflecting what I thought would be the best-case scenario.

We segued into discussing how we were finding university – our first extended exchange since meeting. If I hadn’t brought him up, we may not have reached the conversational territory that led us to connect on a deeper level.

Cora and I, however, conversed extensively over Instagram. She described being in “limbo” with her crush, telling me, “I don’t see him unless I put effort into it… I just want to let this go.” Cora’s readiness to safeguard her emotional health inspired me to re-evaluate my circumstances. My emotional investment was bleeding me dry. I needed to disengage from this situation.

Patriarchal society often dismisses women’s feelings as silly, insignificant, or disproportionate to the circumstances. Words like overthinking, oversharing, and overreacting are almost exclusively used to describe women, particularly when we’re talking about men. And we’re not always compelled to disagree, even when we should. Instant messaging tends to overtake face-to-face communication, particularly with students doing different degrees or in different year groups to us; its lack of auditory and visual cues can distort our perception of others and cause us to question ourselves.

Among other women, we can talk about men without fear of judgement – validating each other’s thoughts and choices, or offering a different, supportive perspective. Having only attended all-girls schools until I was 18, male-centered communication is especially noticeable to me at university – where everyone’s lives are interconnected. Indeed, ITVX’s popular TV show The Sex Lives of College Girls highlights women at university who navigate their relationships with men – romantic and otherwise – through the solidarity and community their female friendships provide.

I’m not proud of how male-centered my conversations with the women in my life have been recently. Talking to them about my ambitions and interests remains incredibly important for my personal growth and fulfilment. Yet, failing the Bechdel test was equally beneficial. It highlighted how much my friends mean to me, and what I really want out of life and love.

Sumayyah Khalid

Sumayyah Khalid

Winner of Writer of the Year (The Mancunion) (SU Awards 2023) | Highly Commended for Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) (SU Awards 2023) | Shortlisted for Best Newcomer (Rising Star) in the UK (SPA National Awards 2023)

More Coverage

The post-diss bliss…or is it?

The promise of post-dissertation freedom was quickly squashed by essay deadline demands, and the desire to do anything but re-open my laptop is taking over

200 years of the University of Manchester… celebrating white male alumni

As the University of Manchester prepares its bicentenary celebrations, it’s time to address the less-celebrated alumni, and question why these individuals have received less attention

Why are we still talking about ‘women who have it all’?

The ‘women who have it all’ narrative is alive and kicking in 2024, but instead of being empowering, it’s a patriarchal trope designed to pit one against another

Stick or twist: Why do students choose to stay in the south of Greater Manchester?

The universities along Oxford Road churn their students into Manchester city centre, and south of the city. As students turn into graduates, why do we disregard North Manchester and stay in the same southern areas?