Bechdel testing your favorite holiday films

Well this is kind of disappointing

There are many things that make Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. For some it’s the first snow or shopping for yourself when you should be buying a candle for your estranged aunt. For others it’s blaring Mariah Carey Christmas classics 14 times in a row and basking in the glow of the tree that you shaved precious years from your life trying to construct. But no matter all of the partridge in a pear tree nonsense, it pretty much goes without saying that the irrefutable hallmark of every holiday season is the movies we take in during the long hours leading up to the man in red’s arrival.

But not all Christmas movies are created equal. For example, I love Love Actually more than the average person probably should, but when I first learned of the Bechdel test during an introductory women’s studies course as a freshman, it promptly foiled any hopes I may have had of reaching peak holiday spirit that year. Or any year after that, for that matter.

If you are not familiar with the test, help yourself to a cutout cookie (or five) and settle in. In short, it gauges gender bias in media. For a movie to pass the test, it must meet three simple requirements:

  1. The movie must have at least two female characters in it
  2. These women have to talk to each other

See, simple. But here comes the clincher:

3. The conversation has to be about something besides a man

Though it’s quite a low bar, the list of those that actually pass is pithy to say the very least. But just like men who listen and actually buy you the thing you wanted, if you look really, really hard they do exist.

But first, let’s take a gander at the naughty list.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Considering how old this film is it should come as no surprise that it’s a Bechdel failure of epic proportions. While it revolves solely around a single man, there are an abundance of female characters featured. Disappointing, because none of them actually exchange words. None. Not even George’s mother, or daughters. Thankfully, it is no longer 1946.

Love Actually

Okay, in truth, it is difficult to have two women talk to each other about something other than a man when the movie quite literally hinges on heterosexual love. That, coupled with the fact that it’s my favorite might almost compel me to give this one a pass. But then, I recall all the conversations that men have with each other in this movie — Billy Mack’s radio interview, Mr. Bean creating so much more than a bag, Billy Bob as President Clinton, Bush, Trump — and it very quickly becomes a lot less cool that no women speak to one another. That is, aside from when Queen Emma Thompson asks her daughter about her role as the lobster in the school nativity play.

A Christmas Story

Another film with an abundance of female characters, all with strong personalities, that never actually speak to one another. Unless you count the teacher and Ralphie’s mother cackling in tandem during the nightmare sequence. I, however, do not.

Home Alone

An obvious cult-classic with a slew of female family members, it had potential, but because the only conversations that occur amongst the women are about getting home to the kid they left by himself, it doesn’t make the cut.


Beloved by many but as far as this test goes it’s a fail. We pretty much just have Deb, the chipper secretary, Emily, Buddy’s stepmother, and Jovie, the object of Buddy’s affection.The only interaction occurs when Emily starts singing with Jovie literally ten minutes before the movie ends. Aside from that, no two women even look at each other, let alone have a conversation.

Pretty depressing, huh? But fear not. This is what the nice list is for.

Little Women

Though some may argue it’s not a Christmas film, I consider it to be one. Plus it’s a clear pass. Typically, I think the film adaptation of any book is a total waste of time, but this one gets it right.

In one scene, Marmee, devoted mother of four daughters, flawlessly summarizes the most basic point of this test: “Do you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that some day you might find yourself believing it’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty. But what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind. Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you.”

Happy Christmas

The epitome of a hidden gem. The film follows Anna Kendrick’s character post-breakup as she shacks up with her brother, his wife, and their new baby during the holidays. It’s a tale of reestablishing female identity following some sort of life change, be it breakup or motherhood.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This one just barely passes the test all thanks to its one and only conversation between two women. The mother and daughter have a brief conversation in the kitchen about how their extended family members are driving the daughter insane. Sound familiar? However this conversation does mention four different men. You decide.

The Holiday

Though the film centers on two women, an English writer desperately in love with a colleague and a slightly neurotic move trailer-maker who isn’t particularly skilled at feeling feelings, they only speak once. It’s a brief conversation about swapping homes for the holiday that’s almost there until the line, “Are there any men in your town?” However, there are small exchanges between Cameron Diaz and a female cashier as well as Jude Law’s two daughters that make up for it. Kind of. I’ll let the lot of you debate this one.

Last Holiday

Another slightly hidden gem. Queen Latifah plays a woman that finds out she has a rare disease she can’t afford treatment for just in time for the holidays. Because she now has a clear expiration date, she quits her job, takes herself on the vacation of her dreams and does everything she’s never before allowed herself to do. It’s not perfect, she does find heterosexual love, but the cool chicks she meets along the way outshine LL Cool J without question.

There you have it. It’s up to you which list you fancy most. Personally, I’m a little bit naughty, a little bit nice, but a lot more hopeful there will come a day when we have more movies to place on the latter list. In the meantime, I think I’ll just hunker down with my eggnog, watch a few of these, and go to bed with dreams of sugarplums and meeting Colin Firth under the mistletoe dancing in my head.