In 1985 a woman named Alison Bechdel wrote a comic strip satirizing how few women appear as major characters, and appear to have lives, in movies. The immediate result was something nicknamed the Feminist Movie Test, or the Bechdel Test. Here it is: a film has to have at least two, named women in it, who talk to each other at some point, about something besides a man . That’s it: two women who exist and talk about stuff. The bar for feminism in film is barely off the ground and yet sadly few films pass the test. Every one of my favorites failed miserably. When I first learned about the test, the only film I showed in my history courses that passed the test was Iron Jawed Angels, a film about women’s suffrage. Thankfully today there are more options for history teachers.
This test helped raise awareness of gender discrimination in the industry and created a rich national dialog about the absence of women of substance in the media. If women barely exist in the films, don’t have friends or meaningful conversations outside of men, what conclusions will children draw about women? It wouldn’t be a far cry to suggest they might conclude that girls don’t think about important things and are only interested in men.
Watching your favorite show or film exposes you to some of the toxic stereotypes about women, most notably that they exist to serve men, don’t have female friends, and don’t have speaking roles. These stereotypes are fueled by an industry dominated by male producers, directors, screen writers, and agents. Hopefully our students can distinguish that films are not real life, but sadly history, or at least the way it’s taught, would not pass the Bechdel test.
Saddened by how many times I fail to bring a female perspective into my own lessons, I've created the Eckert Test to hold myself and hopefully others to the standard of including the other 50% of the population in the history classroom. The test is this:
Tokenism: One feminine perspective on the topic or inquiry is presented.
Feminist: Two or more differing feminine perspectives on the topic or inquiry are presented.
Intersectional Feminist: Two or more differing feminine perspectives on the topic or inquiry are
presented AND speakers come from different racial, ethnic, religious, economic, or
Someday when the voices of women are not at such a deficit in the classroom, half the sources students read should be half. Women are not an interest group: they are half of humanity! Women do not agree, are diverse, and have been present in one way or another throughout history. Women were the mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives of some of the greatest characters in our world history. In order to better understand those people and events, we need to hear from multiple female perspectives.
If you're a teacher and you're not sure how to do this, you are not alone. Most of my lessons are token lessons. The lessons page of this website pulls together resources from around academia to help you. Further there are so many things you could do in your classroom right now. For example, I have an awesome lesson from the Stanford History Education Group that I use to show that Black leaders around the turn of the 20th century disagreed on the best ways to uplift the race. The problem with this lesson is that it's sexist. There are no female voices in it. The lesson pits Booker T. Washington a man formerly enslaved, against W.E.B. Dubois a man from Massachusetts who was the first black man to graduate from Harvard. Both men were founders of the NAACP. To make this lesson less sexist, and to expose students to a more Black characters from history, I found a primary source from a female founder of the NAACP: Ida B. Wells (if you don't know her, here's a link to read about this incredible woman). She was a radical reformer who wanted change yesterday. Her perspective added more to the conversation. In this lesson, the three characters now present are relatively education and wealthy, perhaps an impoverished, non-NAACP member would provide a more full picture for future lessons.
If you're not a teacher, I challenge you to find the voices of women where ever you get your news and information. Women are leading experts in every field. Allow them to weigh in on the voices that matter to you. Also know that if your history curriculum did not include primary sources from feminine perspectives, it was missing half the story.
Alison Bechdel. "Bechdel Test Movie List." 2020. https://bechdeltest.com/.
 Jocelyn Nichole Murphy. "The role of women in film: Supporting the men -- An analysis of how culture influences the changing discourse on gender representations in film." 2015. Journalism Undergraduate Honors Theses. http://scholarworks.uark.edu/jouruht/.
Kelsie Eckert is the founder of The Remedial Herstory Project and host of the Remedial Herstory podcast. You can read more about her on the About page.
The history curriculum in schools is insufficient in their representation of women’s contribution to past events. This blog aims to address that. While teachers want to include women’s history, they have not had access to the training, modeling, and resources to do it effectively. Women make up fifty percent of the global population, and yet are in a small fraction of events discussed in school. Women’s choices have been harrowing, infamous, and monumental, and yet their stories are so rarely associated with mainstream history. Ask your average high school graduate, or even college graduate, to name 20 significant men in history and the list flows easily. Ask that same person to name 20 women and the names drag, if they come at all. This case in point leaves us with conclusions like, “women did not do as much” or “women’s stories were not recorded.” These assertions justify our own indifference to the history of half the human race, and could not be further from the truth.
Where we ask what happened to the women? And put them in.
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