|Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)|
1. Does a woman or women drive the plot in a meaningful way?
2. If so, do they do it actively or passively? (This follow-up question is hugely important.) e.g. If a woman is captured, thus forcing a man to rescue her, this is passive action which feeds into old patriarchal plot structures. But if, on the other hand, a woman rebels from the status quo (Furiosa deciding to take the war rig off course in Mad Max: Fury Road) or takes action against a threat (Ripley fighting off the xenomorph in Aliens), this is active influence, and in my opinion indicates a measure of equality and respect towards women and their ability to be as forceful and decisive as men, both in changing their own lives and the lives of others, and also in influencing the landscape and direction of the film plot.
3. To what end do the actions of women in the film lead? If they drive the plot but ultimately only in the service of a male protagonist, this is problematic and may indicate a regressive attitude towards women and their roles as being useful only in regards to how it might benefit a man.
4. Is the sexiness of women a key part of the film, both in terms of aesthetics and narrative? And if so, how is it depicted? Women as sexy is of course not offensive in itself. Women (and men, for that matter) can be sexy while still being powerful and intelligent. But if women are there only to satisfy the male gaze as objects of sex appeal, this is damaging and regressive.
This is not an exhaustive system obviously, but I think if audiences ask themselves these questions in combination with something like the Bechdel test, we can say fairly confidently whether a film is feminist or not, or at least get the discussion started in the right way.