My final essay for my Media in Britain course during my semester abroad in London.
Before “Goldfinger” was adapted into a major motion picture film in 1964, it was published in 1959 as one of the first books in the original James Bond series written by Ian Fleming. In relation to the representation of women in 20th century British cinema, the cinematic version of “Goldfinger” makes it very clear the women in these films are sexist pieces of eye candy that feed directly into the indulgent male gaze. The Bond girls serve as reminders for socially constructed gender norms, but the way in which “Goldfinger” addresses the status quo raises speculation of a reaction to resistance against heteronormativity and respectability. Between the lines, James Bond is a visual platform to discuss on-going issues regarding gender, sexuality and identity in British society.
Pussy Galore isn’t your average Bond girl— she is a pilot and directs an entire unit of lesbian women. (And with a derogatory name like “Pussy Galore,” it is quite obvious that there are sexual connotations openly at work from the get-go.) This lesbian society resists heteronormativity and respectability in reference to society’s lesbophobia. During the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, homosexuality was an international fear among all societies. To be queer was a social suicide, a cultural taboo, and even worse, a sin against God. Though much has changed since then, some of the same attitudes still persist today. According to Fleming’s original text, Pussy Galore became a lesbian after her uncle sexually abused her when she was 12-years-old. This is an important piece of information in the dissection of Pussy Galore’s character because it insists that she was not necessarily born to be a homosexual; her sexuality was diverted when her innocence was corrupted. Why Hamilton chose to leave this minor detail out of the film is unknown, but by presenting this gender insubordination, “Goldfinger” suggests that people should convert their sexual ways and obey heterosexual chivalry. As is always custom, Pussy Galore finds herself in the position of a victim, but after Bond uses his techniques to rescue her, she betrays the “bad guys” and joins his team to save the day. At long last, she comes to her senses and conforms to traditional heterosexuality.
Midway through the film, Bond literally conquers Pussy Galore in the hay after she tries to teach him a lesson for aggressively pursuing her in a barn. They engage in a playful fight that almost crosses the line for assault. It is a struggle for power, but Bond wins the battle as he straddles Pussy Galore on the floor and seals the deal with an intense kiss on the lips. Despite the initial resistance and tension, Bond is irresistible to women of any sexuality— they all find their “true femininity” after succumbing to his brutal, macho charm (Comentale). According to critics, Pussy Galore has always been one of the favorite Bond girls because her “physical, intellectual, mental and sexual” traits are a strategic equal to Bond (Comentale). However, she ultimately can’t beat him because Bond is a “real man” and this is why Pussy Galore follows suit and sleeps with him eventually. Of course, this is all hinted at “with cute puns and sexual innuendo, but never discussed explicitly” (Ebert). The film ends with Bond and Pussy Galore lustfully kissing each other under the plane debris on the beach.
Behind the action and the standard spy plot, James Bond has always revolved around gender. The films are “an exaggerated, nearly parodic fantasy of a powerful and irresistible western masculinity” (Comentale). The Bond girls are autonomously submissive women designed as “male fantasy figures” to “keep women in their place and to ensure they still ironed their shirts” (Hastings).The contrast between the Bond girls and Bond presents masculinity and femininity as personas. Essentially, the films “de-naturalize the naturalness of gender through imitation and exaggeration” (Comentale). Not only do the Bond films polarize gender, but the series also introduces the art of seduction with its sadistic misogyny. Bond is a man with “suave seductiveness, boyish indifference [and] sentimental feelings” (Comentale). The fact that these women are referred to as “girls” completely removes their autonomy, preserving their title as Bond’s personal objects. In the beginning of the film, Goldfinger kills one of his female employees after she causes him to lose a poker game that Bond interferes with. Moments after Bond leaves her in bed, he returns to find her body painted in gold. This dramatic gesture shows that the unidentified woman is nothing more than a priceless toy.
In the book Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007, Edward Comentale suggests that the Bond girls also present the “femme vs. butch” dichotomy wherein one woman is more delicate and weak while the other has strong, masculine qualities. In the scene where Bond first meets Pussy Galore, she delivers all of the directions while the servant girl Mai Lee follows orders and prepares Bond’s shaken martini. This contrast is crucial in showing the flaws that each Bond girl possesses, demonstrating that they are all damaged goods with emotional baggage that only a real man can handle. The Bond girls are essentially victims by virtue of their own nature and this is why they cannot have it all. Instead, they are forced to overcompensate, only to die trying to prove themselves and their worth.
While James Bond is always accompanied by at least one Bond girl in all 23 films, he remains the same while his “feminine foils have evolved to fit the times, each one shedding light on what her era believes a woman can do” (Rotham). On the surface, it appears that Bond has changed very little throughout the years. However, with the shift from macho strength to gadgets and guns, there has definitely been an upgrade or downgrade to Bond depending on how viewers choose to interpret his behavior. Since the beginning, Bond has always been considered a “woman’s man” with his controlling, aggressive and manipulative behavior (Comentale). He is butch, but a classic gentleman at the same time, an unnatural combination for a person in the real world. In addition to making up his own rules instead of following the expected procedure, Bond always takes charge in any situation, with or without anyone’s consent. Bond is the perfect mold for the male identity and men have always wanted to be like him without hesitation. But by acting less hostile and more friendly towards women recently, Bond has almost transformed from a “murderously efficient prick” to a “stylishly accessorized dildo” (Comentale). In “Casino Royale,” Bond comforts a vulnerable Vesper as she silently sobs and shakes naked in the shower. Despite Vesper’s physical state, it is a very intimate moment for the pair on an emotional level. Even though he is capable of killing two men with his bare hands, Bond has a sensitive side too. It’s an identity crisis that no one could have anticipated— the masculine man has gone soft. In 1997, the “drag king version” of Bond made his way on to the silver screen in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (Comentale). As amusing and over-the-top as this comparison seems, it’s not far-fetched. Powers and Bond are one in the same, except the retro qualities and characteristics that Powers possesses don’t work for the current time. The Powers series is a self-parody of the Bond series and his status as a sex symbol.
As the years have passed, the Bond films have inherently struggled to maintain sexiness over time without exaggerating gender polarities. Since the women’s movement, gender roles have been shifted, promoting the Bond girls to more respectable positions of power suited for a smart and sensible woman. “Bond women are often found in the service of men who employ them for jobs that do not include sexual favors” (Comentale). With that being said, it should also be noted that the employment that these women find themselves in often involves illegal, criminal activity, giving the viewer a valid reason to condemn them and feel little to no remorse when they are killed off because they deserve it. There is nothing that attaches us to them, with the exception of Vesper who invests her heart and goes further than any previous Bond girl. This reaction could also explain why Bond is applauded for intruding and swooping in every time; because he sets the women right and veers them back to the path of morality. While the Bond girls don’t initially act like damsels in distress, they always wind up getting trapped in situations where Bond has to save them anyway.
In an article from The Telegraph, Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Cubby Broccoli, founder of the James Bond franchise, argued “the [Bond] women were unique for their time. Pussy Galore, for instance, was a female pilot. A lot of them were sexual predators who gave as good as they got. They had professional careers and did extraordinary things. I think the early women were very progressive” (Hastings). The Bond franchise has recognized the impact of the women’s liberation movement and feminism. Evidently, the Bond girl continues to evolve with the cultural demands of society, and she does so with style and class. One can notice a clear change from the 60’s pin-up to the more powerful women in the 90’s as the Bond girls becomes more than just objects of sexual desires. Instead, they are much more greatly valued and enhance the elements of Bond’s adventures, becoming crucial pieces to the plot. In other words, “the powerful and untrustworthy femmes of the early sixties have become boyish sex buddies” (Comentale).
Despite the changes that have been made, Graham Rye, editor of 007 magazine and author of Bond Girls, insists that little will continue to change in regards to over-sexualizing the Bond girls. “I think lip service is being paid to political correctness, but in the end they still end up in bed with Bond,” said Rye (Hastings). For lack of better words, the women are getting better jobs, but they never get better roles. They can be Bond’s lover, supervisor, advisor or opponent, but nothing more or less than that. On the contrary, Emma Rowley argues that while the Bond girl dilemma continues, the focus of the films’ gaze is in the process of making adjustments. “Half a century years after Ursula Andress, the ultimate Bond girl, emerged dripping from the Caribbean in the first ever 007 film, a rather different audience can now enjoy Daniel Craig – Bond himself – repeat the scene in a pair of skimpy trunks in Casino Royale. Now that’s progress I can get behind” (Rowley). Directors are acknowledging the importance of the female gaze, perhaps for the sole purpose of gaining a profit from the overspending teenage population, but it’s a slight form of progress no less.
Who knows what the next Bond girl has in store for our current society, but from what the films have shown, they will never be equal in our culture. At the end of every film, the Bond girl will always be punished to the highest degree for challenging heteronormativity and defying conventional gender roles. The men stay on top while the women sink to the bottom.
Word Count: 2000
Comentale, Edward P., Vatt, Stephen, Willman, Skip. “Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007”.
Ebert, Roger. “Goldfinger Movie Review & Film Summary (1964)”. 1964
Hastings, Chris. “James Bond girls are feminist icons says Cubby Broccoli’s daughter”. The Telegraph, Sept 20, 2008.
Rotham, Lily (2012, November 9). Fighting, Flirting, Feminism: The Bond Girl Evolution.Entertainment Fighting Flirting Feminism The
Rowley, Emma. “James Bond’s women: the problem with Pussy Galore”. The Telegraph, Oct 5, 2012.