By Mica Anderson
In the midst of a global pandemic and worldwide political turmoil, I’ve been distracting myself with everyone’s favourite gun-toting purveyor of espionage: Daniel Craig’s James Bond. I adore spy movies, ranging from the most overtly cheesy to the absolute slickest. But as every twenty-something female comes to learn, feminism will ruin everything you enjoy. And while I’m not the first person to say this, and I won’t be the last, the unfortunate truth is that spy movies as a genre are riddled with sexism and misogyny. With the recent news that Black British actress Lashana Lynch will take up the infamous moniker ‘007’ in the upcoming Bond film, there has been think pieces generated by outlets from all across the spectrum with their opinion on the ‘gender-blind’ and ‘colour-blind’ casting. However, despite taking on his famous callsign, there will be no female Bond in the next movie - or perhaps ever. Maybe it’s slightly too much to ask that a character, so famous for womanising and other masculinised (and destructive) behaviours, be suddenly flipped on its head. But amongst the canon of female spies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a female spy depicted in any of the same ways that male spies are - or even a female spy depicted in a practical, sophisticated way.
Female spies are either young and plucky (Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy), or senior and weathered (Judi Dench's portrayal of M in the Bond franchise), or else sexy, and, more often than not, dead by the end (see: Bridget von Hammersmark from Inglorious Bastards, literally any Bond girl ever). Sometimes the sexy ones get to live (Gabby Teller from The Man from U.N.C.LE., Angelina Jolie in any of her spy flicks, Moneypenny from Bond, Rosalind in Guy Richie's The Gentlemen - but only after she's nearly sexually assaulted and saved by her husband), but under the stipulation that they've been used to seduce a mark/kidnapped/roughed up a fair bit (with dirt and blood splayed ever, ever so sexily across their cheeks, and no eyeliner smudge in sight). Which is to say nothing of women of colour; who are either fetishised ‘exotic’ seductresses in whatever foreign country our lead male spy finds himself in, or as a novelty; their very existence in the movie is treated as a ‘triumph’ of representation.
I think my problem with the characterisation of female spies - and, by extension, the Bond girls - is that even if they are the main protagonist, they are so often sexualised by the story line. The ‘honeytrap’ is a popular trope in espionage flicks, but almost always for the female characters. Rarely do we see a male spy being used as a 'honeypot', but with women it's almost a given - explained away with 'this movie is set in such and such time'; this happens in almost every spy movie. To its credit, the Bond franchise occasionally subverts this. Sometimes, Bond is the honeypot. We see his chiselled abs on screen a fair bit. This is true! We do sexualise him. But his sexuality is not the only aspect of his character. Bond girls, by definition, are female characters in Bond films whose sole motive to being in the story is their relationship to Bond. Without him and his sexuality, they do not exist.
In some reasonings I’ve seen why a female Bond would not work, including by the very producer of the films, Barbara Broccoli; the need for the creation of new, inspiring female spies is mentioned. Why switch Bond in particular? Why switch him to a woman, or even a woman of colour at that, and potentially cause more harm by pretending as if his general behaviour and characterisation encompassing the rest of the franchise is absolved?
To the gentlemen reading this, think about the way you feel when you watch James Bond. A classy, strong, quick-witted, poised, well-trained man who can hold his liquor and get any girl he wants. Hardly an everyman, but if we take into account Daniel Craig's most recent iteration of Bond, according to Skyfall, Bond was an orphan plucked from relative obscurity in rural Scotland. He has unresolved childhood trauma. He was trained up - he was not born with skills of espionage, combat, seduction - he was instructed. This fact making up a key part of his character makes it clear to the men watching: hey, you may not have a natural knack for sleek womanising and a taste for shaken martinis - but you COULD. If MI5 decided to hire you.
Now think about how anyone other than a man may feel watching the Bond films. Where do they see themselves? Let's use Skyfall as an example. For those who present as women - sexy girl has sex with Bond after he nearly dies. We never see her again. New sexy girl is part of a prostitute ring. She has unresolved childhood trauma, too. Maybe this is a chance for Bond to emotionally connect with a woman and for her to - oh no, wait, she's dead. It's alright, though, sexy SECRETARY Eve Moneypenny is here to salaciously sit on your lap, shave your face with a straight-edge knife, and then save you in the middle of a fistfight - in heels and an evening dress, so less. Pretty badass! But she's sexy, still. Whatever strength or skill these women are portrayed with, they are still portrayed in relation to how Bond and men as a whole associate with them. Why not flash a bit of thigh while trampling on a bad guy's neck - it can have nothing to do with the - dare I say it - male gaze!
If we return to the original point of needing inspirational female spies rather than simply gender-bending existing male ones, I personally have one glaring argument against it; that unfortunately a female-led spy story will never be given the clout and appreciation that it deserves in the male-saturated genre without the name and legacy of Bond. The new casting is a wonderful start, and I understand the need to keep Bond male so as not to gloss over his sexist behaviours - that they are somehow forgiven by the casting of a woman and it's all swept under the rug. But, she is still cast alongside Bond. We need her central, and solitary. I'm willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt, and I hope it opens up a door for more intersectional female spy stories.