How are women faring on tv these days? Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother?, came out last week and we thought it would be a good time to revisit her litmus test for female presence in movies and television.
For those not familiar with Bechdel’s past work, her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For ran between 1983 and 2008, featuring a predominantly lesbian cast discussing everything women talk about when not talking about men.
Credited to Bechdel’s friend Liz Wallace, and originally called “the Rule,” this 1985 strip shows one character dismayed at the portrayal of women in film. In protest at the lack of strong female characters, she will only watch a film in which:
1. Has at least two women in it, who:
2. Talk to each other, about:
3. Something other than a man.
(MORE: TIME’s profile of Alison Bechdel)
With that criteria in mind, we found five television characters that made the grade:
Megan Draper on Mad Men, AMC
Mad Men’s women have always struggled against the times. And though their conversations are often limited to office pleasantries—and therefore push the limits of the Bechdel test—wouldn’t it be amazing to get them all in a room to talk about something other than Ponds cold cream? Let’s put aside for a moment the singular power of Joan (because we wanted her to kick Greg to the curb even though it proved not to be all that satisfying when she finally did) and the ever-striving Peggy (because she’s so focused on her work that she’s beginning to look like she has to hold the whole era on her shoulders). Don’s young wife, Megan, holds the most potential here even though her conversations with Peggy may be limited to coupon writing. She’s not unlike the other strong, independent women Don has been drawn to, but she’s a different type of wife. While only 10 years Betty’s junior, she seems of an entirely different generation—one that has no problem asserting her opinions, including her distaste for orange sherbet.
Emily Thorne and Victoria Grayson on Revenge, ABC
Yes, it’s a soap opera about the filthy rich, but Revenge is a far cry from Dallas or Dynasty. The bitch-slapping has been traded for systematic warfare as every week Emily Thorne crosses off one person from the list of people who wronged her father, a finance guru who was framed for funding terrorists. Watching Thorne (Emily VanCamp) as a blonde assassin who’s taking down Hamptons high society with one devious scheme at a time is sheer joy as she gets closer and closer to her big fish, Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe)—the woman her father was having an affair with but who helped put him away. How does Thorne get close to Grayson? By getting engaged to her son, Daniel, of course. The best part of this show are Emily and Victoria’s fake pleasantries while sizing each other up:
Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife, CBS
Finally a show about the reality of (totally legal) sexism in the workplace. Diane (Christine Baranski), a senior partner at the firm is left out of the loop on a client deal when male partners close the deal at their weekly basketball game. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is told she might not get a promotion she’s completely qualified for because the male candidate can bill more hours. (Read: He doesn’t have children to rush home to.) But Alicia, Diane, and private investigator Kalinda never flinch. Instead of losing their tempers, they hide their anger and calmly cut their opponent’s legs out from under them—polite smiles intact.
Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, NBC
Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is the best female on television. Period. Her can-do optimism is infectious. She invented Galentine’s Day, a pre-Valentine’s brunch she organizes for her girlfriends to celebrate each other’s awesomeness. She running such a good campaign for city council that has some Twitter followers are wishing she was a real politician. Most importantly, Leslie respects the women in her life. Her friendship with Ann (Rashida Jones) is not only the core of the show, but one of the best portrayals of real female friendship on television. Last season’s episode “The Fight” hit a homerun depicting a drunken argument between the BFFs—and their ability to make amends the morning after.
Selina Meyer on Veep, HBO
Julia Louis-Dreyfus may be playing a close cousin of Elaine Benes, her self-involved Seinfeld character, but it’s her struggle for power within the confines of the West Wing that garnered our attention. As TIME’s Belinda Luscombe wrote: As Vice President Selina Meyer, she plays a woman who almost has power, someone who must use desperate, unseemly attempts to claw through the last few barriers that keep her from it. That she does this while also desperately trying to exhibit the quiet confidence of real power adds to the comic effect. (Should she wear glasses to a meeting because they make her look intelligent? Or should she eschew them because they’re a sign of weakness, “a wheelchair for the eyes?”) It remains to be seen whether she reflects the modern-day woman still fighting to break through the glass ceiling, or simply the sorry soul in all of us who always seems stuck at number two.
Of course, these aren’t the only television shows that pass the Bechdel Test. What else did we miss besides Game of Thrones? Tell us in the comments below.