Can You Be a Feminist and Still Love James Bond Films?

A teaser for the new James Bond film has hit and I am more than a little excited.

It also makes me feel conflicted because so many aspects of the Bond franchise fly in the face of much of what I strongly believe as a feminist. Below, I’ve outlined a few issues I have with the Bond movies, and below that some reasons why I haven’t given up on the franchise altogether. At this point I’m required to warn you about spoilers, although I seriously doubt I will reveal anything you don’t already know about the films.

1) Women are constantly objectified in Bond films

It’s no secret that the James Bond franchise is all about eye-candy, from the cars and gadgets to virtually every women who steps foot on set. Not only are these women present to demonstrate Bond’s power of seduction, they are also present to be viewed by the movie-goer.

And if near naked ladies aren’t enough for you, they will throw in some naked lady silhouettes in the opening credits.

One of the only women to not be sexualized in her role was Judi Dench, who played M in the last seven Bond films. Unfortunately, although not surprisingly, she was killed off in the last film.

While I do agree with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli’s claim that characters like Honey Rider and Pussy Galore were “progressive” for their time, the Bond girls’ role seems to have evolved very little since those early films.

2. Bond’s answer to everything is violence

Don’t get me wrong, I love action movies. In fact, action movies have spawned a strong belief, somewhere deep in my unconscious, that I can beat up pretty much anyone. A couple times a week, I test out this theory on John and am always disappointed when I can’t pin him to the ground or run up the wall and do a flip in order to escape his bear hug.

This is me, in my head.

Even though I really enjoy the elaborate fight and chase scenes you will find in absolutely every Bond flick, I have been thinking more and more about the kind of heroes that are represented in our movies. Our blogger friend Em Liu, from Fiction Diversity, shared the following video on my post about femininity and toughness. After watching it I began to wonder, is it even possible to have a non-violent action hero(ine)?

Sarkeesian argues that,

“All people, regardless of gender, are capable of a range of human behaviours, but since we live in a male dominated, male centred society, traits stereotypically identified as masculine (emotionally inexpressive, aggressive, dominating) are more valued and, consequently, more celebrated by Hollywood, while traits stereotypically identified as feminine (emotionally expressive, cooperative, affectionate) are undervalued and often denigrated.”

One of the things I loved most about Casino Royale was Bond’s character development. He seemed to legitimately feel things and demonstrated all of the traditionally “feminine” traits Sarkeesian identifies above.

Then, in Skyfall, they went ahead and threw many of those traits out the window. While he does mourn the loss of M, Bond (and the audience) move on from the death of Sévérine without hardly blinking an eye.

As Tumblr user Korillina put it,

“If there’s one thing I hate about the new Bond run, it’s the habit of introducing Bond girls whose only purpose is to shag 007 and be brutally murdered for it ten minutes later.”

3. The sex and violence in Bond movies is a little too closely correlated

Speaking of sex and murder, Bond does have a very bad habit of mixing work with pleasure. Of the 75 women who have had a sexual connection with Bond, over a quarter were killed by or because of Bond. If you include all the female companions who were attacked by or because of Bond (but not necessarily killed), then nearly half of all Bond girls experienced violence because of their association with 007. That’s just based off of my memory and from studying the bios on this list of Bond girls, so I’m probably missing a few examples. I also haven’t included any examples of the “love taps” Bond gives to his female companions in the early films.

When female assassins attack Bond and he responds out of self-defence, I’m not upset. Woman, like men, can be dangerous and/or evil characters. However, the sex and violence in Bond films has become so closely associated that it is shocking when a Bond girl isn’t abused and/or killed for getting mixed up with 007. Many of these violent instances resemble the problematic rape trope that Evan pinpointed in comic books, where rape is used to justify the hero’s need for revenge. In Bond movies, this violence is more than just a trope, since sometimes the abuse experienced by Bond girls is inflicted by Bond himself. Even in the most recent film, Skyfall, Bond sleeps with Sévérine shortly after discovering she was a victim of sex trafficking and abuse. While this scene doesn’t include the kind of outright abuse Bond demonstrates in earlier films, it is still an uncomfortable example of emotional abuse; since Sévérine expects Bond to rescue her, she may be rendering sex in order to secure her escape.

Why I’m going to watch Spectre anyway

In his presentation at MacEwan, Eric Mosley argues that Bond movies have slowly become more feminist over the last few years, despite staying true to the character from the early films.

To demonstrate this evolution, he attempts to juxtapose clips of Daniel Craig as Bond and Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder as they emerge out of the water. He argues that Casino Royale inverted the male gaze by framing Bond himself as the sex object.

While I certainly don’t believe that sexualizing men is the way Hollywood should solve its problem of objectifying women, this scene very consciously acknowledged female audience members, and I consider that progress of some sort.

In addition to inverting the male gaze, recent Bond films have also introduced female characters with well developed backstories. Some of these characters even evade having a sexual encounter with Bond.

Okay, maybe not “some of them”, but at least one of them.

When I was a kid I loved Bond for the over the top spy plots and all the ridiculous gadgets provided by Q. As an adult, I’ve stayed interested in the films because they’ve continued to evolve. As a feminist, I sure hope they keep improving, because sometimes James Bond really sketches me out.

2 responses to “Can You Be a Feminist and Still Love James Bond Films?

  1. Thanks for the shoutout Kat! I feel the same way – love action/superhero movies, hate the misogyny (or female absence) so ubiquitous in the genre. In fact, as I mentioned to Evan, the commodification of women’s sexuality is so embedded in our society that it is sometimes used to show how “progressive” a film is in terms of diversity (I.e., a man of color is allowed to “get the girl”. Yay). The absence/objectification of women makes me feel like I’m supposed to be a secondary participant…but I’m still totally going to see Avengers 2 😉

  2. Good article. I think it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a movie that has some sexist elements in it while also critically discussing it.

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