Does James Bond Bring Out The Sexist In People?

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a little girl growing up in the 1990s in possession of an older brother must see every film in the James Bond canon. She will have a favorite Bond (Timothy Dalton until she realizes her mistake; it’s obviously Sean Connery), and a least favorite Bond (Roger Moore). She has seen Octopussy and the non-canon Casino Royales from 1954 and 1967. She also realized, from the moment she first heard the name Pussy Galore (played by Honor Blackman in 1964’s Goldfinger), that the Bond universe is one where women’s names signal their intended utility and utmost purpose. One need not be a Mensa member to discern what Pussy Galore has to offer the world.

James Bond’s world is a sexist, misogynistic one, where his paramours are lucky to survive more than one act of a given film, let alone appear in multiple installments of the franchise. The spy who supposedly loves so many women in reality only loves himself, and his self-preservation-above-all-else, women-are-disposable mentality has somehow managed to seep beyond the fictional world of 007’s films. During the Spectre press tour, it has become evident that the topic of James Bond turns the series' institutional sexism into a contagious disease.

Interestingly enough, the man who’s been playing Bond for four films now (Daniel Craig, our fictional patient zero) is the one who wants to stop the outbreak. He’s been doing everything he can to remind interviewers that James Bond is a made-up character who possesses not only outdated views toward women, but also of British Imperialism — a time upon which the sun has set. His suits, cars, and gadgets may have moved into the 21st century, and now his mentality and worldview need to as well.

In September 2015, Craig told Esquire U.K., “[Bond is] very fucking lonely. There’s a great sadness. He’s fucking these beautiful women, but then they leave and it’s…sad. And as a man gets older it’s not a good look…Hopefully, my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as [earlier incarnations]. The world has changed. I am certainly not that person. But he is, and so what does that mean? It means you cast great actresses and make the parts as good as you can for the women in the movies.”

Craig repeated this point in a more recent interview with The Red Bulletin. “Many men admire Bond for his way with the ladies,” the interviewer began (gracelessly). “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig replied. "A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.”

The interviewer pointed out that Bond has become more "chivalrous" (itself a problematic notion) in recent films, to which Craig replied, “That’s because we’ve surrounded him with very strong women who have no problem putting him in his place.” Craig also corrected the interviewer when he referred to actress Monica Bellucci, who appears in Spectre, as “an older woman.” “I think you mean the charms of a woman his own age.”

The sexism inherent in the James Bond saga can creep in anywhere. Monica Bellucci is considered an “older woman” because she’s technically older than past Bond love interests. In September 2015, Bellucci told The Guardian, “I’m not a Bond girl; I’m a Bond woman.”

Categorizing all of James Bond’s past love interests as "Bond girls" reduces them to attractive, disposable trophies. Craig told Esquire U.K. that he and the Bond movie producers have made an active effort to change this stereotype during his time as 007, even having him meet "the love of his life" in Casino Royale (2006) — only to watch Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) drown before the movie ends. It's one of the first times viewers witness James Bond deal with an emotional loss and grief, and we see it again when M (Judi Dench) dies in Skyfall (2012).
Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Not everyone has caught wind of this changing mentality toward women in the Bond universe. Writer Giles Coren profiled actress Léa Seydoux, who also stars in Spectre, for the November issue of Vogue U.K. When his interview hit newsstands, Coren tweeted a picture of the magazine’s cover with the note, “In the new Vogue I suck up to Bond girl Léa Seydoux by saying Bond is sexist, while quietly hoping she might shag me.”

Coren’s remark sparked instant outrage, with many people and news outlets calling his comment sexist. Coren didn’t understand why. “How is that sexist? How is passive hope that a film star and fashion model will take the initiative demeaning or reductive,” he tweeted, trying to reframe his statement as something that puts Seydoux in the power position while also alluding to feminism — sure, that’ll cool all of our jets. (He inadvertently reminded us of this satirical McSweeney’s essay on the same subject.)

Coren eventually deleted his first tweet and reposted the cover with the message, “Oh alright then. In this month’s Vogue I discuss the sexism of Bond with a Bond girl over herbal tea in a hotel bar.” His tone was very, “Are you happy, internet harpies? This is why no one can have nice things, and by the way, everyone quietly hopes to shag everyone; that’s just human nature.” Coren also penned an op-ed about the situation (in which he insists he was joking about the shagging thing) titled “The Halfwit Hate Mob Has Taken Feminism Hostage” in The Times of Britain.

The sexism that seems to infect everyone when dealing with matters pertaining to 007 films isn’t limited to discussions with and about Bond girls (and women), either. On October 22, ITV reporter Sarah Powell sat down with Daniel Craig for an on-camera interview about Spectre. “The Daniel Craig pout, are you familiar with it?” Powell asked the actor. He replied that he isn’t, but Powell kept pushing for Craig to “do me a little pout.” Eventually, he said, “I think you need to move on.”

In another part of the interview, Powell asked Craig why Bond doesn’t show as much skin in this film as in previous ones. “There's no swimwear, there's no tearing of the shirt off. What happened, why haven't you got your kit off?” Powell inquired (according to the Daily Mail). “There is in the opening sequence,” he curtly responded. Powell, who just couldn't seem to let it go, argued that his skin isn’t exposed for very long, to which Craig answered, “It just didn’t happen.”

One fan on Twitter called the interview unprofessional. Another tweeted, “My 10-year-old could have done a better interview with Daniel Craig. #cringe”

Craig has called for an end to the James Bond-proliferated misogyny and sexism several times. Léa Seydoux and Monica Belluci have spoken out as well. Fans seem to be getting the message just fine. It’s time for the media to get it, too. Stop letting the 007 of days past infect the evolving Bond of the present. Live and let it die.

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