The problem with Bond and women – feminism shouldn't have to be 'snuck in' in 2019

Shouldn’t there be a better spy hero than one almost lauded for his misogyny? That said, at least there is a woman in the Bond writers' room now

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12: Phoebe Waller-Bridge attends the Virgin Media British Academy Television Awards 2019 at The Royal Festival Hall on May 12, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

I have a (slightly) complicated relationship with the Bond films, particularly the treatment of women within the storylines.

For me, all things 007 are associated with my Grandma, who was Bond-obsessed throughout her life. She was also my feminist role model growing up, so my brain defaults to a warm nostalgia when I think about film's most famous secret agent.

However, the movie franchise has a 57-year history of treating women as objects, with little purpose beyond pleasing Mr Bond in whichever way he should see fit.

Don't even get me started on the infantilising of "Bond Girls".

I would (like to) assume that Phoebe Waller-Bridge had a similar moral dilemma when it came to signing on to co-write the latest Bond film. Where I debate watching and loving the movies, she has had to weigh up being paid millions to drag Bond 25 into the 21st century. Humour me, please.

Daniel Craig starred as James Bond in Spectre, and is expected to make his fifth and final appearance as 007 in the next as-yet untitled film. Jonathan Olley/MGM /Columbia/EON Productions

Now that she has signed on to polish the script, it makes perfect sense she would be defending the franchise. "There's been a lot of talk about whether or not [the Bond franchise] is relevant now because of who he is and the way he treats women," the Fleabag writer told Deadline. "I think he's absolutely relevant now.

“It has just got to grow. It has just got to evolve, and the important thing is that the film treats the women properly. He doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to this character.”

The first time I read that, I will be honest, I rolled my eyes (forgive me Fleabag for I have sinned). My initial thought was, "Someone is now taking her Kool-Aid shaken, not stirred". 

But, in reality, she is right. It’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of course she is right.

As much as we would all like it to happen, there is no erasing every misogynist, either on and off screen. If we can trust that Bond 25 won't treat the female actors as objects, that it won't have a 2019 Sean Connery-equivalent smack a lead actress on the behind and tell her to leave them to their "man talk", or that none of the characters will be called Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead or variations thereof, then for me the movies are making progress in the right direction.

DR. NO, Ursula Andress, 1962

It probably goes without saying I would love to see a woke Bond on-screen. I'd adore an erasure of the "sexist, misogynist dinosaur", as Judi Dench's first female M described Bond in her first outing as the head of MI6 in 1995's GoldenEye. She also called him "a relic of the Cold War". But a misogynist character does not, necessarily, mean it's a misogynist film.

It is worth pointing out here that Waller-Bridge is the second woman to receive a Bond writing credit. The first was Johanna Harwood, who co-wrote Dr. No in 1962 and From Russia with Love in 1963. She also went uncredited for her writing role on Goldfinger in 1964. When it was announced that Waller-Bridge would be on the Bond 25 writing team, it was assumed that the move was to inject some humour, while she said she'd try to "sneak in feminism".

I don't want my feminism "sneaked in", thanks, I will take it plain as day, much like Killing Eve (which Waller-Bridge also wrote).

One thing about Bond is that, now I look back on it, I think, 'Gosh'. I mean that was a world which was ripe for an incredible amount of sexism.

The correlation between sexism and Bond is a much discussed and debated topic. Actors have publicly mused upon the treatment of women, after leaving the franchise behind. "One thing about Bond is that, now I look back on it, I think, 'Gosh'. I mean that was a world which was ripe for an incredible amount of sexism," Rosamund Pike, who starred in the 2002 Die Another Day, said in an interview last year. She did, however, say that she was never made to feel uncomfortable on set, after a rocky start that involved casting directors expecting her to undress in her audition. She refused.

Ultimately, I default to agreeing with British author and commentator, Bidisha, who once said of the series’ original author: "Ian Fleming hates women and I don't buy into anything to do with that. The Bond films are generally sexist. I don't like anything that descends from a sewer of misogyny".

What my argument boils down to is this: I wish we lived in a world in which we could expect the world’s most famous (and arguably most popular) spy not to be a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. But we don’t.

So the least we can hope for is that the people gathered in the writing room are more enlightened than that. Even if the feminism has to be snuck in.