Cabin Pressure takes the Bechdel test

Passing the Bechdel test requires two named female characters to talk to each other about anything other than a man. Below is a simple list of how each episode of Cabin Pressure fares; behind the cut is a more detailed breakdown, as well as some general notes on how the show handles gender.

S1E1 - Abu Dhabi - FAIL
S1E2 - Boston - FAIL
S1E3 - Cremona - PASS
S1E4 - Douz - FAIL
S1E5 - Edinburgh - FAIL
S1E6 - Fitton - FAIL

S2E1 - Helsinki - PASS
S2E2 - Gdansk - PASS
S2E3 - Ipswich - FAIL
S2E4 - Johannesburg - FAIL
S2E5 - Kuala Lumpur - FAIL
S2E6 - Limerick - FAIL

Special - Molokai - FAIL

S3E1 - Qikiqtarjuaq - PASS
S3E2 - Paris - FAIL
S3E3 - Newcastle - FAIL
S3E4 - Ottery St Mary - FAIL
S3E5 - Rotterdam - FAIL
S3E6 - St Petersburg - FAIL

*

0 POINTS: there are fewer than two named female characters
1 POINT: there are at least two named female characters, but they don’t talk to each other
2 POINTS: there are at least two named female characters who talk to each other about a man
3 POINTS (pass): there are at least two named female characters, and they talk to each other about something other than a man

S1E1 - Abu Dhabi - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S1E2 - Boston - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S1E3 - Cremona - 3 POINTS
(Carolyn talks to Hester McCauley about a variety of subjects.)
S1E4 - Douz - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S1E5 - Edinburgh - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S1E6 - Fitton - 1 POINT
(Helena Richardson and Carolyn are named, but don’t talk to each other.) 

S2E1 - Helsinki - 3 POINTS
(Carolyn talks to Ruth about a variety of subjects.)
S2E2 - Gdansk - 3 POINTS
(Carolyn talks to Madame Szyszko-Bohusz about a variety of subjects.)
S2E3 - Ipswich - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S2E4 - Johannesburg - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S2E5 - Kuala Lumpur - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S2E6 - Limerick - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.) 

Special - Molokai - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.) 

S3E1 - Qikiqtarjuaq - 3 POINTS
(Carolyn talks to Nancy Dean Liebhart and Mrs Cook about a variety of subjects.)
S3E2 - Paris - 1 POINT
(Elizabeth Birling and Carolyn are named, but don’t talk to each other.)
S3E3 - Newcastle - 1 POINT
(Linda Fairburn and Carolyn are named, but don’t talk to each other.)
S3E4 - Ottery St Mary - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S3E5 - Rotterdam - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)
S3E6 - St Petersburg - 0 POINTS
(Carolyn is the only named female character.)

Four episodes pass out of a possible nineteen. The episodes combined score fifteen points out of a possible fifty-seven.

Additional notes on representation and characters’ attitudes:

  • Every episode passes the reverse-Bechdel test (that is, features at least two named men talking to each other about something other than a woman) with ease.
  • Every episode features at least one named woman in the form of Carolyn Knapp-Shappey. She is the only woman with a recurring speaking part; the only other females who are mentioned in more than one episode are Helena, Douglas’ unnamed daughter and - at a push - Elizabeth.
  • Named women we hear about but not from include Martin’s sister Caitlin, Herc’s sister Sarah, Gordon’s wife Hayley, Linda’s navigator Sam, and Arthur’s ex-girlfriends: Minty, Fliss, Libbet and Pobs.
  • Women with substantial speaking parts but no names include the paramedic and the snarky Shanwick ATC in Boston, and the piano owner and the waitress in Ottery St Mary. Mrs Cook of Qik is only named in the credits.
  • In Gdansk, Martin points out that air traffic controllers are ‘nearly all male.’ Stats are hard to come by, but Table 1 in this rather ancient study has nearly twice as many men in active ATC positions in the US than women. Indeed, we hear from only one female ATC in the show (unnamed at Shanwick in Boston), compared to at least eight males: Carl at Fitton, unnamed at Bristol in Ottery St Mary, unnamed at St Petersburg in St Petersburg, unnamed at Warsaw and Amsterdam in Gdansk, unnamed at Douz in Douz, unnamed at Oceanic in Molokai, and unnamed at Birmingham in Newcastle.
  • Various episodes feature airport staff (the pub-goers in Kuala Lumpur, the customs guy in Helsinki, the airfield manager and his staff in Douz, the manager and Diego in Johannesburg, the security guard in Boston, Eddy in Newcastle). These are invariably men.
  • In Newcastle, Linda angrily accuses Martin of making assumptions about her sexuality because she is a pilot and a rally driver. Whether he actually made these assumptions is unclear (although he apparently didn’t write her off as uninterested in men), and Linda’s actual orientation is never stated.
  • Carolyn seems used to assumptions that either the manager of MJN is a man, or simply that she is not the manager. Hester to Carolyn in Cremona: ’where’s the manager? I want to speak to him.’ Herc to Carolyn in Newcastle: ‘you’re the cabin crew, then, I take it?’ Mr Alyakhin to Carolyn in Molokai: ‘you are very good to support your employers.’ The second two examples are justifiable, because she was acting as cabin crew, but Hester meets her in her capacity as owner/manager/CEO in Carolyn’s office which has literally just been pointed out as the manager’s office.
  • After attacking at great length the perceived casual sexism in Herc’s initial response to her (‘oh gosh, are you [the owner and CEO]? Well done!’) in Newcastle, Carolyn’s decision to date him may seem to excuse his supposed attitude, or to suggest that Carolyn is best off overlooking it. In Ottery St Mary she briefly challenges his comparison of women’s rights to animal rights as ‘frankly offensive,’ but although he is never heard to apologise, their relationship is still progressing - and in fact, noticeably more relaxed and not at all argumentative - during Herc’s final appearance in Rotterdam.

I would like to emphasise that I’m not passing judgement on these results yet - merely presenting them as a matter of interest. Some of the phenomena noted (such as the shortage of female engineers and ATCs) can be argued to reflect reality. No claim is being made that casting equal numbers of men and women in these roles would be a more appropriate policy.

  1. mresundance reblogged this from skeletree and added:
    Welp, looks like it’s my turn to say “oh for fuck’s sake”. Firstly, I have to disagree that writers never consider the...
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  14. jackwidowss reblogged this from smegandtheheads and added:
    I don’t think it would be accurate to write Cabin Pressure off as unmeasurable by the Bechdel test, just based on its...
  15. unintentionalgenius reblogged this from smegandtheheads
  16. teawithinkandhoney reblogged this from mountlandme
  17. smegandtheheads reblogged this from mountlandme and added:
    Sorry, but no. The fact that it’s a radio show means nothing at all. Cabin Pressure has the same length and a...
  18. mountlandme reblogged this from skeletree and added:
    I think it would be a decent criticism if there were more than 4 main characters and up until recently (Herc) there were...
  19. skeletree reblogged this from s0mmerspr0ssen and added:
    Welp, looks like it’s my turn to say “oh for fuck’s sake”. Firstly, I have to disagree that writers never consider the...
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