The Vagenda

Dead Sexist: Why Bond Still Has a Long Way To Go

I’m starting to think that Barbara Broccoli hates all the women. It is possible that this is part of a revenge scheme for the time she declared Bond girls from the sixties to be feminist icons and we all laughed at her. Whatever her motive, she has convinced a large percentage of the viewing public that her franchise has burst into a glorious swan of pro-feminism. The Guardian has even become convinced by this, which is a feat for a paper that doesn’t believe ‘Women’s Interest’ to be Katie Price’s pubic hair. As a result of these claims, I wandered like a lamb to the slaughter into a screening of the new Bond movie, expecting a romp straight out of the 21st century. A progression along from the lovely Casino Royale thread of ideas. Instead, what I actually experienced was the relic of the Cold War resurrected for a new generation. Basically, NOTHING HAD CHANGED. 
For starters, there was no variation to the delightful trope that at least one Bond ‘conquest’ had to die. I wasn’t hoping for the earth. I did realise with there still being two Bond girls, one of them probably wasn’t going to make it to see blood drip down the gun barrel at the credits. However, aware that one of the women was a field operative, I hoped that maybe this apparent necessity could be fulfilled with her dying in a blaze of glory. Some nice deadly gender equality there. Sadly, it turns out I am deluded. Bond once again gets a shag and the woman in question is rewarded by dying hideously and hopelessly in the next 24 hours. 
But they didn’t seem content this time with just killing a random besotted broad, oh no. They made her the victim of child sex trafficking, which was brought up, waved around like a flag and then forgotten two seconds later. If we all accept Bond’s emotional range is so stunted that he literally cannot feel, the franchise has no scope to deal with such issues. This was demonstrated when he got into the shower with this abuse victim without so much as a by-your-leave, as though promising to top a man she was the prisoner of gave him the right to creep up on her naked. Unlike an actual woman who would have told him what he could do with his 9mm, she seemed overjoyed at the prospect of sex with this raddled old bloke she had just met. I found this particularly surprising considering she had apparently been the victim of rape since she was 12 years old. The one-dimensional macho-fantasy world isn’t equipped for the task of handling these topics, especially considering what happened next. Which was that she got put into a push-up dress (not by the sadistic maniac, by the costume department), tied to a rock and then shot at as target practice, which seemed a whole different kind of fantasy to me. 
The Bond of the good old days was back on cracking form with his glib one-liners, announcing that as her body crumpled it was ‘a waste of good whiskey’ and then proceeded to beat everyone up. Why he couldn’t have done this before a woman got shot in the face was a mystery, but I assumed it was connected to fear of child maintenance payments (which the man must be suffocating under by now).  Why else would he still be hobbling around after 50 years when he could have retired to a beach in Acapulco and be drinking Pina Colada from a coconut through a curly straw while wearing a loud shirt? As I have cheerfully outlined, the aforementioned death scene represented the tired trope that prevails in all Bond films, namely: THIS MAN DESTROYS EVERYTHING HE TOUCHES. 
After the Midas-plot in Casino Royale, the film was partially saved by the hard-hearted Vesper and her ability to have outside interests other than getting under Bond. This was not a luxury we were afforded in Skyfall. My dream of the blaze of glory field agent became a soggy muppet of a fantasy. It was an embarrassment really. Had no one noticed she was pretty and had tits? How did they expect her to drive and shoot things? Wouldn’t her squirrel brain short circuit? It turned out, yes it would. She retired from being an agent on the gentle reminder of James that ‘field work isn’t for everyone,’ to fulfil her girlhood ambition of becoming a secretary. Fantasy overload. Bond has already bedded her by this point after she turned up for no reason declaring she is there to ‘help in any way I can.’ I’m guessing our hero remembered the Durex for this one, as she didn’t have to die in cold blood. Though one could argue with some conviction that becoming desperate sad-act Miss Moneypenny is a fate worse than death. We can only assume her traditional traits will be resurrected considering she seemed really flattered at the end of the film when Bond asked her name, about 2 weeks after they’ve shagged for the first time. Not only is Dopey Desk Eyes back in attendance, everything else is back to ‘normal’ in Bond Towers, where the matriarchy has also been wiped clean. Dame Judy Dench’s ‘M,’ the aspect of the film that The Guardian lauded as so progressive has also been dispatched. There’s a man back behind the leather-clad traditional door as The Boss with his pretty secretary outside. Judy Dench didn’t even get a secretary! Is there no humanity?!
I will desist now, as I am becoming repetitive in my old age. There is nothing like the overwhelming sense of there being no point to anything to age you horribly. But there are some things to take from the experience. I am obviously too giddy and hopeful for my own good. Barbara Broccoli missed a few memos from the sisterhood. And when the sequel appears in my local cinema in a couple of years I’ll have a spare few quid to treat myself to a new pair of tights.

14 thoughts on “Dead Sexist: Why Bond Still Has a Long Way To Go

  1. I’m so glad to see that someone else has noticed this! After spending the week surrounded by people raving about the film, calling it the ‘best Bond ever’, I was starting to think I was the only one…

  2. Thank you! Money for the ticket now going to be put towards a bottle of good whiskey. Which won’t be wasted as I am disinclined to sleep with secret agents.

  3. I thought it was an improvement. As a feminist and a massive James Bond fan, my tactic has always been to suspend feminist beliefs for two hours, and repeat in my head that it’s “of it’s time” but I felt that this one moved Bond into the 21st century. It wasn’t free of gendered roles and assumptions (wtf was the shower scene about??) but then neither is wider society. At least this film had a female main character who wasn’t just there to look attractive and a Bond who was not the invincible action hero, but a vulnerable man with an unhappy childhood. And a James Bond with very human weaknesses is progression.

  4. While I completely agree with the shower scene horror, as Rory Kinnear played a non-field agent and M’s underling, I have no problem with Moneypenny. And Judi has done 8 of these now, so I imagine felt bored and moved on. So I didn’t see any gender issues in that either, although I would like to have seen her shoot better.

  5. You forgot to mention how Bond had to lean across and grab the steering wheel from the female agent who was driving within the first few minutes of the film. An utter pile of pony and 3 hours of my life lost. The less said about the frankly disturbing shower scene, the better.

  6. I’d like to point out one of those rare filmic moments in which two women talk to each other on screen about something other than a man – M’s hearing. The female MP on the panel seems to take great pleasure in bringing M down (because you can’t have two successful women hold a discussion without an undercurrent of extreme bitchiness). But don’t worry because Ralph Fiennes decided he’d heard enough and stepped in with a request to hear from the defendant. Thank goodness for the clearheaded man keeping these pesky women in order.

  7. *ahem* ‘Judi’.
    I was similarly in two minds about the ‘back-story’ of the infamous Miss Moneypenny, but at least they did TRY. And given that Bond is a walking, talking 50s dinosaur with a gun in the rest of the films, it was a giant leap forward. I have no idea why everyone is so in love with Vesper Lind, who I found entirely unmemorable, but at least the boys seem to like her too.

  8. i was most disappointed with m. a supposedly strong women in a position of power who crumples in a crisis & suddenly need the men to look after her. they turned m into just a nother pathetic women who needed rescuing. she coulsn’t even shoot !

  9. Gah. I’ve never liked bond.

    James Bond::SPOILERS:: Bond has to save the day, sleeps with women, almost saves the day, almost doesn’t, then does. Which james bond film? All of them.

    At least in Doctor Who we have such tough, dominant women that I almost don’t mind that he regenerates as a chap each time.

  10. There was a fourth: the one he (presumably) had shagged in his “post-death” interlude, whose bed he then got up from wordlessly to walk off to his destiny without so much as a glance at her. Nice.

  11. I read the Giles Coren rant before I saw the film, then I watched the film and now I’ve read this.

    While I was a bit cross at M not being able to shoot, I seem to remember that Stella Rimmington herself wasn’t a very experienced field agent (and when I was in the military a billion years ago, women like me only got to play with the boys toys – shooting, tanks etc – if we asked nicely and showed a bit of ankle. And then it was just for fun – it’s not totally inconceivable that a desk jockey, more than ripe for retirement wouldn’t be able to shoot. She was a dab hand at nailbombs. Which was nice)

    I was a Bit Cross that Moneypenny (liked that reveal, though) decided not to remain a field agent. She’s not actually a secretary as such, she is a highly vetted assistant. But yeah, I’ll give you that it was irritating that the man tried to take over her driving – points to her for not letting him, keeping up, and finally taking the shot.

    The other woman though (sorry, bad at remembering names). I’m not sure. Sure, her backstory is absolutely bloody appalling and i wish it hadn’t been dismissed so rapidly. But. She was waiting for Bond to show up. She had the wine and 2 glasses. She was in her nightie. And she was all huffy and disappointed at being alone when they had to leave and she went into the shower. I didn’t get the impression that she didn’t welcome a bit of bumping uglies with Bond.

    I thought the interruption by Ralph Feinnes’ character at the hearing was the moment when he suddenly realised that he’d been wrong about M and it took the girly-fighting with the committee to open his eyes to that. He also seemed pretty reluctant to get into the firefight until Moneypenny showed him what to do.

    And one thing I was glad about was that the old family retainer didn’t suddenly turn into the Dark Knight or something and leap up with a mighty… er… leap and rip the rotors of the chopper while it was hovering over Skyfall. (bloody awful name for a house)

    I thought it was a pretty film, and I watch Bond (and have done for the last 30 years) with the kind of suspension of disbelief that I take with me to Batman and the Lord of the Rings type films.

  12. I used to think I enjoyed Bond. Then I saw this film and suddenly remembered the embarrassment, discomfort and frustration I felt as a child, watching women be weak/evil/objectified/overly sexual/killed easily and cruelly… and then I saw this “modern” bond film and I was bored out of my SKULL by how the male perspective of the story telling has created exactly what it could have moved on from. Miss Moneypenny is back behind her desk? M is a man? Nameless Bond-Girl still gagging for it after being raped most her life? Yeah, brilliant. Where are those two hours of my life back? Sorry, I love a good action film as much as the next girl, but you can’t avoid the fact that this was a crudely told story and a chauvinist fantasy for classic car lovers. That’s the last time I tell people I like Bond. “a waste of good whisky” – yeah, James, more like a waste of my time.

  13. I agree.I’ve seen it as a change for the better as well.Not perfect but points for trying.I didn’t see Moneypenny as incompetent, she stated she doesn’t have a clear shot.The girl’s fate was a little disturbing…treating abuse with shower sex, really?And then she gets killed.She seems to have been used as a disposable sex object until the end..Overall I have mixed feelings about this movie.