Every now and then, you’ll see a fan attack feminism in the name of Bond, or attack Bond for not being feminist, or sometimes, attack Bond for being feminist. And then you’ll hear things like “Bond should be a woman” or whatever. And since I’m a woman, and a feminist, and a Bond fan, people do ask me about that.
James Bond as a person need not be feminist. It would be unusual for someone like a government operative with a military background to have feminist or progressive values. It wouldn’t be in character.
Nor does it make sense to change a character’s gender in the name of feminism. That’s not what feminism is.
M as a woman is a perfect example of the right way to introduce feminist values into Bond films; she is not an old character with a new gender, she is a new character, a strong woman, and herself. Characters in films should be individuals, not cardboard cut-outs representing values. James Bond doesn’t represent feminism or anti-feminism, he’s an individual. So is M, but casting her as Dench means that we see that feminism has changed the opportunities for women and allowed a strong woman to succeed.
Feminism is represented by having women as subjects rather than objects; as human beings with their own points of view. This doesn’t mean making heartfelt personal dramas; we can easily see that Bond himself is a subjective individual, even though he’s a fantasy character. Vesper Lynd is a subjective individual; she is not there just because she’s pretty and Bond needs a love interest, she has her own point of view, she has secrets and opinions and choices.
I love when people accuse Bond of being “feminist” or “New Age” or (worst of all!) “PC” for having feelings, for grieving or loving or caring. As if people didn’t feel before 1972. In my opinion, movies, even Bond movies, are most interesting when characters have a little flesh on their bones. I love the little nuances of feeling that Bond shows, never breaking character, of course. Connery quietly telling Dr. No he wants revenge for Quarrel’s death, Moore at Tracy’s grave in FYEO, Dalton flaring up at Saunder’s death in TLD, Brosnan finding Paris’s body. Bond is human; a fantasy human, but human, and of course he feels.
There is nothing wrong with having sexually attractive people in Bond movies. Bond himself is a sex object and always has been. People were all like, Craig in a swimsuit, what a role reversal! Excuse me, have you never seen Thunderball? Connery in a swimsuit has kept women drooling for 43 years. That’s Bond as object, not subject, and that’s okay, that’s part of the entertainment. Having women be sex objects isn’t anti-feminist, if that’s not the only opportunity women have.
Bond films have always given women significantly more agency; more choice over what to do with their lives. Sylvia Trench may well be the first woman in any movie ever to aggressively initiate casual sex without ending up dead or ruined at the end of the film. That’s definitely feminist.
So again, it’s not that Bond the person should be feminist—he probably shouldn’t—but that the Bond films should treat women as human beings. Because we are. We are, in this world, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, adventurous and terrified; in other words, people, just like the other half of the people.