Gender Roles

Bond Girls: Women’s Roles in James Bond Films

They are best described as sexy, elegant, and quick-witted.  Over the decades, Bond girls have become iconic characters. The quintessential Bond film opening sequence includes a smash hit song, stellar graphics, and of course beautiful women, sometimes simply their silhouettes, with credits wrapped over their dancing bodies forcing a viewer to admire their voluptuous curves.

With clever, double meaning names like Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole, Pussy Galore, Xenia Onatopp, Agent XXX and Octopussy, one might question how were these women viewed by their contemporary audiences and to what extent were these females characters sexualized on camera.

At the debut of Bond film series in 1962 with Dr. No, women were on the brink of the women’s liberation movement, the famous feminist political movement that carried on throughout the 1970’s and was a major element in second-wave feminism. During this time women fought for equality with men, in the workplace and at home. They challenged the normalized domestic roles women were expected to perform and their reproductive rights.  Additionally, they fought against the objectification of women’s bodies.  Therefore, one can see how a feminist of this time might not look too fondly upon the sexualized bond girls. However, on the other hand, America was simultaneously on the brink of the sexual revolution which embraced the sexualities of men and women alike, along with hetero- and homosexual orientations.  This sexual revolution was empowering to women because the encouraging use of contraceptives and the pill promoted the normalization of premarital sex which, until then, may have been considered reserved for males.  Female sexual freedom lent itself to female sexual empowerment.

Throughout the Bond series, the women have generally maintained a standard, “fit-to-the-mold” role with few exceptions. Mostly, the women serve as Bond’s love interest, although several times the girl turns out to be a villainess.  Either way, all Bond girls are stylish, sophisticated, and flirtatious. They wear fancy silk dresses and lavish jewelry. If they are not in their evening gowns, then they may be caught in scantily-clad bikinis on the beach.   Known as one of the “top bikni moments in film history”, the iconic scene from Dr. No shows Honey Ryer (Ursula Andress) emerging from the sea in a white bikini with the sun glistening on her skin.  The sight of her forces Bond to raise an eyebrow as he studies her. Honey Ryder’s white bikini has been describe as a ”defining moment in the sixties liberalization of screen eroticism”.

While some feminists of the time might take offense to the sight of a half naked woman parading around on screen, during a time of sexual revolution this could have been empowering to women and a display of feminine sexuality on the silver screen.  In the 1960’s this would have been a new thing, and Ursula Andress helped propel female screen eroticism forward.   The scene’s popularity caused it to be replicated by Bond girl Halle Berry in Die Another Day (2002) and the two girls are often compared with one another, people asking, “Who did it better?” It is the case with all Bond girls- their beauty is mesmerizing and forces the viewer to fixate on their eye-catching looks.

Bond had numerous different flings with all the girls. It is notable that there is no cross-reference of past lovers from film to film.  Bond appears to be permanently single. However, he does profess his love to two bond girls – Countess Tracy di Vicenzo inOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale (2006).  Both women end up dying and Bond loses his love.

Miss Moneypenny and “M” are the only consistently reoccurring female characters who are not romantically attached with Bond.  Miss Moneypenny, who is the secretary to M, is depicted as diligent and dedicated to her work, yet still is shown to be very flirtatious with Bond. She jokes about her and Bond getting married, and there seems to be some sexual tension between the two of them, however nothing serious ever comes of their relationship.

The character M, Head of the Secret Intelligence Service, was traditionally played by a male actor, until Golden Eye (in 1995) when actress Judi Dench was cast for the part.  Dench made her mark as soon as she hit the scene and made it clear she was “certainly not one that some gun-toting playboy would push around.” She boldly sips on bourbon and informs Bond she “has the balls to send him to his death, if need be.”  “A man saying that to Bond is one thing, but a woman saying that to him was quite another,” says Dench.  Dench’s “M” even calls Bond “a sexist and misogynist dinosaur”.  In Golden Eye she tells him he is, “a relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to the young lady I sent out to evaluate you.”

Judi Dench’s character M is a very intriguing addition to the Bond series because she is an authoritative female figure who puts Bond in his place, and as stubborn as Bond may be at times, he respects her.  This contrasts to the previous male “M’s” of the Bond series’ past.  As gender equality in the workplace (including authoritative roles and wages) was a particularly prevalent issue in 1960’s and 70’s, an audience prior to the 1990’s wouldn’t have made sense of Bond reporting to a female boss, especially a hard-ass one.

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