The Bechdel test: the Pinoy teen experience

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Jerrold Tarog's “Senior Year” revolves on the lives of 10 students at St. Frederick’s Academy on the cusp of their final months before graduation, where they tackle with the big question mark of defining their future. Photo from JERROLD TAROG/YOUTUBE

Created in 1985 by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel test was a humorous commentary on the lack of female figures in media. Today, the test is often used as a rudimentary yardstick — the test criteria require that (1) the movie has at least two named female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something other than a man — to determine if the material is at all inclusive of women.

CNN Philippines Life has previously surveyed selected rom-coms and the Pinoy romantic drama helmed by director Olivia Lamasan — in time for the release of her new film — and in this edition, members of the team look into some teen-centric coming-of-age titles created within the new millennium’s first decade. Coming-of-age stories peer into the numerous changes a person goes through, which may or may not include romantic revelations.


TRIP (2001)

Did it pass the Bechdel test: Technically, yes

A quintessential ensemble road trip movie, a genre prevalent in the '90s, Gilbert Perez’ "Trip" begins with Joboy (Marvin Agustin) getting shot by a mysterious gunman, before launching into his own narration of the events that lead up to it.

“Trip,” which follows a barkada on their way to Caliraya to spend a school break together, features an almost pointedly varied cast to fill every “blank of the group.” There's Joboy, the maamo protagonist, Celine (Kristine Hermosa), the sweet girl-next-door who's in the throes of a very lukewarm relationship with Ram (Paolo Contis), the angsty "bad guy" who has an arm tattoo of his own name, and so on.

One particular conversation between Celine, Faye (Heart Evangelista), Ola (Desiree Del Valle), and Nadine (Julia Clarete) is the only substantial interaction among the women that doesn't include a romantic subplot or involves the men. However, it's a generic one about family problems, which is a staple in local movies.

“Trip” is also rife with offensive gay jokes — often delivered by Athan (John Prats) — with the minor gay characters being consistently treated like punchlines with unfunny effects, usually within their earshot. Athan’s girlfriend, Faye, is the spoiled, rich girl of the group, who he suspects was sleeping with the trail guide — who turned out to be gay. Athan spread stories of her unconfirmed exploits, and Faye is subjected to numerous slutshaming comments from her friends.

The main ensemble also features a lesbian, Clarete's Nadine, in love with Ola, who is incidentally pregnant with her boyfriend (a congressman's son Louie, played by Onemig Bondoc). During one scene, Nadine reveals Ola's pregnancy to Louie, who demands for her to get an abortion. Ola refuses and outs Nadine, who, at that point in the film, has not shared her sexuality with their friends or confessed her attraction to Ola. Ola goes on to say that she doesn't need Louie's support, because Nadine can stand in for him as the father of their child, presumably because she's a somewhat boyish gay girl.

Although “Trip” technically passes the admittedly limited test, it is so loaded with harmful stereotypes, both of women and the LGBTQ community, that it hardly even matters that it did. — CARINA SANTOS


JOLOGS (2002)

Did it pass the Bechdel test: Yes, but barely

Starring some of the early 2000s' biggest teen stars, “Jologs” was championed by Star Cinema for its unique structure and adventurous storytelling. The script was the winner of the first Annual Star Cinema Scriptwriting Contest, besting 218 other entries, and the film boasts a cast that includes Diether Ocampo, Assunta De Rossi, Patrick Garcia, Vhong Navarro, Onemig Bondoc, Dominic Ochoa, John Prats, Jodi Sta. Maria, Julia Clarete, and Baron Geisler.

A non-linear film that played with sequence and time, “Jologs” also made use of multiple interwoven narratives — a style made famous by the Oscar-winning director Robert Altman. In a way, “Jologs” plays something like what 2004's “Crash” would look if it was done through the lens of “Can't Hardly Wait” and executed by Star Cinema.

With so much going on then, it's all the more disappointing when you view “Jologs” in the context of the Bechdel test and female representation in general. Most of the women — and the one gay man — in this movie spend most of the running time obsessing over, seducing, pining for, and talking about men. It's all the more disappointing when you realize that the male characters in the movie are allowed to fraternize and discuss other matters. The movie generally treats them more seriously, while the motivations of the women and gay man are used for gags.

It passes the test but barely. Faith (Jodi Sta. Maria), a deeply devout high school girl, consults with her guidance counselor about the merits of premarital sex. Humorously wrestling with teenage libido and religion, she's devoted to God but finds herself increasingly tempted by her boyfriend's (Patrick Garcia) burgeoning sexuality.  — RAYMOND ANG




Did it pass the Bechdel test: Yes and no

“My First Romance” is an episodic film starring Heart Evangelista, John Prats, Bea Alonzo, and John Lloyd Cruz. The film is comprised of two episodes. The first one is called “One Love” which is about how a young, rich, stuck-up debutante, Jackie (played by Heart Evangelista), falls for the school outcast, Che (played by John Prats). 

Despite its tried and tested premise, this episode comes with many pleasant surprises which are also the instances when the film passes the Bechdel Test. The first surprise is the casting of Ate Glow (Renee Hampshire) as Jackie’s nanny who acts as her surrogate mother. The other surprise is Jackie’s need to evolve past her debutante persona, manifested in her (failed) attempts to redirect the activities of her school social committee to worthier causes like volunteering in the homes for the aged.

The second episode called “Two Hearts” is a bit more problematic. The story revolves around what happens when Enzo (John Lloyd Cruz) gets a heart transplant from Bianca’s (Bea Alonzo) ex-boyfriend, Jojo (Dominic Ochoa).

The tension relies mostly on whether Bianca loves Enzo for who he is or for who used to own his heart. Aside from Bianca, the story revolves around a lot of women (two mothers, a sister and a grandmother) all trying to come to terms with how they feel about the death of Jojo while trying to figure out how Enzo will fit into their lives. Because of this, “Two Hearts” fails the Bechdel test. Even if there were moments to focus on Bianca’s struggles and growth, the conversations she had always related to the two men in her life. — SAMANTHA LEE




Did it pass the Bechdel test: Yes

“Senior Year” revolves around the lives of 10 students at St. Frederick’s Academy on the cusp of their final months before graduation, where they tackle the big question mark of defining their future. The film’s strength lies in its realistic portrayal of the dimensions of high school life — heartbreak, friendship, strict teachers, sports competitions, among the many infinite adolescent predicaments that make up that world.

The story involves stereotypes — the it girl, the nerd, the on-and-off couple, the gay best friend — but as the narrative unfolds, the film breaks through these generalizations to reveal the gray sides of every character. So it’s not surprising that “Senior Year” passes the Bechdel test on many instances, even from the get-go: the only dialogue in the opening montage is a conversation between the it girl Solenn (Nikita Conwi) and her best friend Bridget (Mary Amyrose Lojo) about shopping for new clothes for college.

A notable relationship between Solenn and the shy girl Sofia (Rossanne de Boda) is also revealed, wherein the former, who took modeling classes, teaches the latter on proper posing and walking. Sofia’s motive is to simply be happy, without any premeditated schemes to win the heart of any boy. Another instance worth noting is Jenny’s pursuit for Steph (Sheila Marie Bulanhagui), representing a puppy love that defies gender notions.

The film is remarkable in defying the usual romanticizing of high school in other teen films, as it gravitates toward existential woes of such a period in life, to show that, most of the time, there really is no hope, just the big question mark. — ALYANA CABRAL