Whether or not your story includes the Bechdel scene says absolutely nothing about whether it’s sexist or not. The measure of sexism is whether your story denies women the opportunity to participate in it.
This is phenomenal, and often forgotten. The Bechdel test was never meant to be a Yardstick of Feminism. Frankly, I’m of the belief that media can be feminist, or at least not sexist, even if it fails the Bechdel.
It’s an interesting thought exercise, and something to pay attention to, but in no way is the Bechdel the be-all and end-all of feminism in media. Keep the Bechdel in mind when you’re watching/reading something; but it isn’t everything.
For example (because it’s a big fandot day, and this specific example is one I’ve been thinking about lately), Cabin Pressure has… what, maybe two, three episodes that pass the Bechdel? But Carolyn is one of the best female, most feminist characters I’ve ever heard of. She’s aging (aging women are not widely represented in media, and when they are, they certainly don’t date!), she runs her own business (but it’s not presented as weird, and it’s not a stereotypically “feminine” business, in fact she’s running a business in an arguably male-dominated industry), she’s maternal without that being presented as weak in any way, she can kick ass like nobody’s business because you just do not mess with her kid/her business/her pilots, the issue of being a washed-up useless “little old lady” without her business is actively talked about in the story… really, she is an amazing character.
However, only rarely does she get scenes with other female characters - because there isn’t another female character in each episode. It’s a tiny cast, with rotating one-shot guest stars. And not every episode has guest stars, because they aren’t there when they’re unnecessary. When there is another female character, she is there because it makes sense to the plot, and she usually has a conversation with Carolyn, and it usually advances the story because it makes sense to have Carolyn have a conversation with a passenger. To pass Bechdel, there would have to be a female character shoehorned into every episode for the express purpose of having a conversation with Carolyn, whether it makes sense or not. That… doesn’t really work, now does it?
You’re not doing your work any favours if you cram in a Bechdel scene where it doesn’t make sense. Instead, try keep the spirit of the Bechdel in mind when you’re writing your female characters. If your female character only exists to orbit around your male, plot-driving characters, then she’s not a very good character, is she? In other words - is your female character capable of having a conversation with another woman, about something other than a man? Have you developed her personality to such an extent where this is possible? For me, the Bechdel isn’t about measuring feminism - it’s about proper characterization.
Great post. I’ve seen the Bechdel test applied to shows where one female character simply interacts with a transitory female character in a conversation of no substance. I’ve seen the Bechdel used as an excuse as to how a show couldn’t be sexist, even if one scene passes the test but the rest of the show reinforces sexist stereotypes.