It’s such a shame that the Bechdel test needed to be created.* What’s more, is that hardly any new-release blockbuster films pass it. That it’s something to be celebrated when they do.
The requirement of:
a) having more than two women in the film who,
b) talk to each other, and
c) about something other than men,
shouldn’t be hard to accomplish. But apparently, it is.
The night I watched Spectre I came home and wrote something that many would dismiss as another ‘raging feminist’ rant. I was disgusted that I had paid money to watch misogynistic norms be perpetuated through the portrayal of women as one-sided, submissive commodities to be used by men who wear nice suits. I was angry that – in 2015, in one of the most famous franchises in film history – women are still given no agency. Let’s have a look at what’s so problematic about the ‘Bond Girl’, because in this case, a ‘raging feminist’ is essentially what I am.
There are three female characters in this film.
Lucia Sciarra, the widow of an assassin whom Bond kills in the first scene – in a pretty awesome helicopter fight scene, I’ve got to admit. For a moment, we are fooled that finally Bond has found someone his own age. That maybe the average 14-year age difference between lead Bond actor and actress might be closed! The pairing of 51-year-old Monica Bellucci and 47-year-old Daniel Craig is a refreshing improvement from the age gap between Roger Moore and Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only, who were 54 and 24 respectively at the time of release. However, Sciarra has probably five minutes of screen time. This mature woman is no revolutionary Bond Girl, but a minute character, a tiny blip in the already convoluted plot: she mourns her husband, is rescued by Bond at her mansion, has sex with Bond, and then Bond leaves. Sciarra neither appears, nor is mentioned, again.
Next is Eve Moneypenny, introduced as a competent MI6 agent in Skyfall. Intelligent, interesting. Yet, every conversation Bond has with her explodes with sexual tension and double entendres. They might as well be winking at the camera. When Bond calls her late at night, he is so shocked that she has a ‘friend’ calling her back to bed: “A friend? At this time of night?” Bond’s incredulity – though tongue-in-cheek – is concerning. After more than 50 years of Bond films, Bond is still the only one allowed to sleep around. After this scene, Moneypenny appears only a few times throughout the rest of the movie. The most interesting female character becomes the most minor. Still zero points on the Bechdel test.
This brings us to Madeleine Swann, the biggest disappointment. She had so much potential at the start. Swann is an evidently well-off psychiatrist, not fooled by Bond’s typical: “Trust me. You have my word.” She does not want to be saved by him. She knows how to use a gun, she doesn’t take any of his mansplaining, and she doesn’t want to fall into his arms. She says: “You touch me, I kill you.” But as the movie hits the halfway mark, everything seems to go downhill. Swann’s individuality and assertiveness become secondary to Bond’s charm and wit, and within days they are having sex. After he saves her, of course. As Swann walks down the aisle of a train in a beautiful silk gown she says: “You shouldn’t stare.” He retorts: “You shouldn’t look like that.” An echo of victim blaming. This potentially strong character becomes just another ‘Bond girl’: a submissive, vulnerable, leggy-blonde damsel in distress.
So there are our three women.
“But it’s a Bond film, what did you expect?”
“But he is sexy! If I met him I’d have sex with him.”
“But if you ignore all that it’s a pretty awesome movie.”
But let’s not ignore it. Let’s ask why it is there and why it is so damaging.
Good action is great, cool cars are awesome, beautiful soundtracks are inspiring, quirky humour is refreshing. But you can have the classic ‘Bond’ without the sexism and without forcing out-dated and unnecessary norms of what it is to be a woman. It is 2016 now, come on.
Aside from Eve Moneypenny – portrayed by Naomie Harris – we have been talking exclusively about white, straight characters in this article so far. The representation of women of colour and non-heteronormative women is more shocking. Just look at the 2016 Oscar nominations. The women nominated for Best Actress are all white. The nominations for Best Supporting Actress, the same. All eight films nominated for Best Picture are directed by men and, would you guess, all nominations for Best Director are male.
The representation of women in film – and what it is to be a woman in 2016 – is not just an issue to be raised with Spectre and the Bond franchise, but an issue to be raised with the film industry as a whole. What films did you see in 2015 which were directed by women? What films have you seen that pass the Bechdel test? Can you name one blockbuster film whose female characters resemble women – yourself, your sister, mother, friend – as the multidimensional and interesting people that they are?
I’m finding it hard.
Let’s give actresses name-making roles in film franchises that don’t degrade women, that don’t place them as sexual objects, and that allow female actors of all shapes and sizes and shades to be able to ‘make it’ as professionals in a field that is so dominated by men. Spectre had this opportunity and destroyed it.
Oh but wait, I forgot. The director has a penis. He could never be expected to think about these things. My bad.
* The Bechdel test is a metric created by Alison Bechdel, the acclaimed American cartoonist and graphic novelist, and author of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home.