One of the oldest, most consistent criticisms of the James Bond franchise (predominantly the films but they could just as easily be used against the novels) is its inadequate treatment of the female characters, be they of the leading or supporting variety. They are poorly written, lacking depth, and serve as set dressing most of the time. The very fact that 007 beds them and then leaves them just as quickly, fornicating with the leading lady at almost every movie’s conclusion as if she were sort of coveted prize, is reason alone to argue that the franchise rates very poorly regarding the characterization and respect shown towards women.
It is time Double-0 Aficionado broaches one of the stickier, more mine-filled 007 subject matters. If deemed appropriate, this could become a multi-part segment.
Few topics are as sensitive as that of the women the Bond films. Let it be clear, all of the counterpoints provided in the introductory paragraph at worst have a kernel of truth to them and at best are spot on. Fans such as myself will defend the characters and properties they hold near and dear to their hearts with every fiber in their body, but there comes a time when one behave with a modicum of honesty.
Duties at another film website have resulted in there not being any updates here in a few weeks, and I was a little worried yet another weekend would go by without an article until some inspiration struck me. Having recently seen Wonder Woman (a rather good film, by the way), the fact that the true leads of the last few Star Wars films were women, Furiosa justifiably stealing the show in Mad Max Fury Road a couple of summers ago, the general socio-political climate reigning in North America and abroad, much of it rather toxic or unbalanced when feminism in all its facets is discussed, the time felt right to tackle the women of 007.
I am a true blue James Bond fan. I have been for the longest time and, unless something really unexpected transpires in my life, shall remain one until the day the Grim Reaper comes knocking for me. Without expressly wanting to pat myself on the back, I like to think I’m relatively level-headed in my fandom. The franchise is not perfect. Not all the films are great, and their individual weaknesses are varied. Among the unfortunate missteps is the occasional misguided or antiquated characterizations of the female characters. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there simply were not many movies that gave leading women actors the time of day. The 007 pictures, on the other hand, did provide many actresses, whether unknown (Daniela Bianchi) or already immensely popular (Honor Blackman), big roles in some of the biggest movies of the era.
Sadly, ‘big’ does not always equate to ‘great’, an irksome nuance that applies to some of the older films. The classic complaint about the women serving a more decorative purpose and lacking any real engaging personality probably stems from a few of the leading roles of the 1960s and 1970s. Domino Derval, who gets my vote as the most beautiful Bond Girl of them all (that probably didn’t help the aim of this article, by the way), doesn’t really do anything in TB save for the final few minutes. For that matter, as iconic as Honey Ryder is, what exactly does she constructively add to the plot of DN? Tiffany Case starts brilliantly in DAF, presented as a real tough cookie, only to devolve into a ditsy bimbo in the final third. Ah, and then there’s Mary Goodnight from TMWTGG. Yes, she is blonde and very, very, dumb. Ouch.
Fair is fair, and it is more than fair to argue that the 007 films have a spotty record in this regard. As recently as SF the franchise played its cards somewhat clumsily for the female characters. Killing off Dame Judi Dench’s M wasn’t a problem since that greatly helped sell the picture’s overall dramatic tone, but Severine, who could have been a tremendous character, is provided limited screen time and done away with in callous fashion, not just within the film’s world, which itself isn’t a big issue, but for the dramatic effect on the viewers too. Lucia Sciarra in SP isn’t exactly a shining example of wonderful writing either.
All of that said being said, there are plenty of examples of wonderful Bond leading ladies. In fact, I’d reason that there are more interesting, engaging, charismatic ones than subpar examples. Pussy Galore (please, let’s not get hung up on the name just this one time) is a judo expert, chief of security, and a pilot. Both Aki and Kissy Suzuki are among the best secret agents in Tanaka’s organization. Solitaire can bloody read into the future. Anya Amasova is the Russian James Bond. Holly Goodhead is the American James Bond. Melina Havelock is a ferocious, brave woman who lives on her own terms. Octopussy is a world famous entrepreneur, Pam Bouvier is a tough as nails ex-army agent, Natalya Simonova is a genius computer scientist, Wai Lin is the Chinese James Bond, Christmas Jones is a nuclear physicist, Jinx is another American version of Bond, Vesper Lynd is just a brilliantly written, intelligent love interest, Camille Montes is a variation on Melina, Madeleine Swan is a successful psychologist. And of course there is Tracy, very much the lady but who can tussle with the boys when necessary.
The proof is in the pudding. The movies have made deliberate improvements as the years and decades have gone by. The Bond Girls are smarter, more cunning, more three-dimensional than in the earlier days and their involvement in the plots are generally more organic and logical, not to mention the ways in which they provide legitimate assistance to 007 himself, sometimes even saving his life when the odds are stacked too high against him. Even Moneypenny has been given an upgrade in the rebooted Bond world as a former service agent herself, thus part secretary, part personal bodyguard to M.
These steps are incredibly important in order for the Bond brand to make up for the more questionable decisions made in some of the original films, even though the filmmakers somehow still arrive at similar, if not identical decisions these days. Having a deep love for Bond is therefore a strangely precarious thing in the 21st century. One cannot help but express attachment for what the heart desires, yet 007 is a property that, to this day, remains a relatively easy target for the naysayers whose stances are more politically and culturally entrenched than artistically inclined.
A blog post such as this one is for the open minded, those that enjoy engaging in conversations, exchanging ideas and, hopefully, finding avenues for the betterment of what we love. There are those are shall never be convinced otherwise, and that goes for both ends of the spectrum. The staunch anti-Bond crowd has made up its mind: Bond sleeps with women like a man whore, thus the franchise in of itself is sexist and disgusting. On the other and slightly creepier side are those that don’t have a problem with that at all: It’s what a man does, so deal with it. I’m not writing this for either of them, and if you’ve gotten this far in the article, I haven’t a clue what you’re hoping to gain from it.
As with most things in life, the truth of the matter lies in that dastardly, ever inconclusive grey zone. The franchise is not, by any stretch of the imagination, as bad as its critics like to claim, nor is it as good as many of us would like to think it is. While there is room for continued improvement, there is also a certain comfort in knowing that said room is nowhere near as large as it once was. I for one remain comfortable in admitting my feelings towards the movies because I know, were I to encounter someone with reservations about this very topic, there is thankfully a bounty of positive examples when the filmmakers have done right.
It’s important to love Bond Girls for the right reasons, of which there are several, and yes, that includes their physical beauty. However much men should strive for better manners when talking about women, there is, thank heavens, no problem admitting when a woman simply looks drop dead gorgeous. But it also refers to their intelligence, their personalities, their perseverance, and their utility to the story at hand. In the best cases, the power and allure of the Bond Girl go beyond the surface level. Understanding this is both critical and simply the right thing to do. Pretending to be like Bond does not, should not, imply that a man can sleep with any woman he wants, consequences be damned.
It’s about respect. When handled correctly and with tact, respect can still be very, very sexy. And THAT’s Bondian.