VIDEO ESSAY: Growing up a Bond Girl

Video
by Deborah Lipp and Kevin B. Lee
October 30, 2012 8:01 AM
14 Comments
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Introduction:

I am a woman, a feminist, and a hardcore James Bond fan; I've even written a book on the Bond movies. But when I meet fellow fans, they are often startled that a woman is among them. When I tell feminists that I am a Bond fan, their shock is as great, and often accompanied by disgust. In either case, I'm subtly, or not-so-subtly, being told that James Bond is not meant for me.

But Bond, and the sexy, wild Bond girls that populate his movies, are for me. My video essay speaks for the influence of Bond movies; their women and their world, on me as I was growing up and developing my identity, my values and my sexuality. They were, without qualification, a positive influence as I grew up female, feminist, and queer. I am forever proud to be a Bond girl.

[The following is a transcript of the video essay Growing Up a Bond Girl.]

I was 18 months old when the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, was released. I grew up in the 60s. The TV shows I watched showed women almost exclusively as housewives, secretaries, or nurses. No matter how exotic the situation was, the women always seemed to be servants to their husbands, trapped in secretarial roles, or even slaves. But I loved "I Dream of Jeannie!" At 8 or 9 years old, I didn't have magic feminist glasses. I didn't know what it meant to call a man "Master." I just liked the outfit and the bottle. I had no thought that being "exotic" could be more satisfying than that.

Then I saw a Bond movie. 

In late 1970 and '71, my father was impaired by bronchial asthma. He had difficulty walking more than a few steps. We went to a lot of movies, since he could be with his kids while sitting. One day we saw a triple-feature of Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Goldfinger at the Queen Anne Theater in Bogota, New Jersey. We came in partway through Thunderball, watched the next two, and then stayed to see the beginning of Thunderball again. Six hours in a dark theater, awash in the world of James Bond.

I saw women who were pilots, spies, and powerful villains. All three movies blurred together. I had no understanding of plot or character. just pictures and feelings. My initiation into the world of Bond was shaped by this onslaught of imagery. It was beyond my understanding, yet somehow I picked up on it.

Bond women were sexy in a whole new way. 

At that age, I may not have known what "sexy" really meant. I just knew that when a Bond girl did something, it felt grown-up and powerful. In Bond movies, women were strong, assertive, and exciting, while on TV, single women were always virgins, and usually coy. When I thought about "sexy," it was like that: passive, pretty, and weak. The movies of those years were full of Doris Day and Jane Fonda defending their virginity at all costs. 

As late as 1977, Looking for Mr. Goodbar told us exactly what a woman could expect if she dared to sleep around. 

Into that world walked the very first Bond girl, Sylvia Trench. She was assertive, attacking Bond as a competitor, and then flirting with him. She strolled through the world in an evening gown like she owned the place. Then she showed up at Bond's apartment and changed into his pajamas! You'd think a woman of that era might be punished for such blatant sexual aggression, but no. She was back for the next movie!

Was there sexism in the Bond movies? Absolutely. But I grew up in a sexist world. There were many sexist things I rejected, and many others I never even noticed, because they seemed so normal. Feminism isn't just a self-conscious rejection of sexism. It's also about showing girls options; letting them see a world they can look forward to, where the person they might want to be is up there, larger than life, on-screen. Even today, girls don't get a lot of that.

Women in Bond movies outsmarted Bond, fought him, and slept with him. What I saw in the Bond girls was adventure, power, and a sexuality that was bold - and maybe a little bit bent. In Goldfinger I saw something I'd never seen on TV. Somehow, at age nine, I realized something that still escapes most people today. Pussy Galore was gay.  And it thrilled me. That blond pilot she's talking to? I wanted to be her when I grew up.

In 1971 I saw Diamonds Are Forever, my first "new" Bond. It was just as exciting, just as sexy—and even gayer! Two women, Bambi and Thumper, lived in this amazing house, romping with James Bond and each other. They were bodyguards; beautiful, strong, and wild. My fate was sealed. 

When Connery walks down the beach at the beginning of Diamonds are Forever, telling a soon-to-be topless sunbather his name is “Bond, James Bond,” he is still, somehow, always talking to me. I am still responding to the seduction of Bond, of Bond girls, and of the exotic world of 007. Bond girls gave me sexual possibilities: Seductive men like Bond himself; seductive women like Pussy Galore. They can seduce or be seduced by a gorgeous man, or woman, and wear gorgeous clothes, but they don't have to live in a bottle. 

Bond girls speak to the part of me that is both feminist AND femme. The Bond girl became my archetype of an independent and exciting woman; a vision of who I could become that was purely fantasy, but still spoke to the real me. As I grew up, she remained my role model and my fantasy self. 

The woman I am today: writer, Mom, feminist, and professional, is still, deep down, a Bond girl.--Deborah Lipp

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book.

Kevin B. Lee is the Editor-in-Chief of Press Play.

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14 Comments

  • David Larkin | November 2, 2012 3:47 PMReply

    I read about this article from Roger Ebert as well. For all you Bond fans, we made a channel on GoWatchIt.com with Roger, that shows you how to watch all the Bond Films and linked to Roger's reviews. I hope you like it.

    http://gowatchit.com/channels/guide-to-watching-bond-james-bond

  • Patrick | October 31, 2012 11:30 AMReply

    You know, it's okay to just like something without attempting to awkwardly shoe-horn it into your personal philosophy.

  • Lina | November 5, 2012 9:41 AM

    You know it's OK, to say you don't get it without awkwardly attempting to put someone down.

  • Deborah Lipp | October 30, 2012 10:52 PMReply

    Hi Travis: I love The Living Daylights and I agree about "Bond's equal" missing the point. One of my all-time favorite Bond Girls is Kara Milovy. Yes, she's a damsel in distress and helpless in a fight -- she's also a world-class cellist. We all have our own talents.

  • Deborah Lipp | November 1, 2012 9:03 PM

    Paul, in Casino Royale, Bond was with two women, Vesper (Eva Green) and Solange (Caterina Murino). He was *probably* monogamous, as it appears that he left Solange alone in his room before they consummated their attraction. OTOH, it's not certain if the rolling around on the floor is before, during, or after.

    The only movie in which Bond *chooses* to sleep with one woman only is Quantum of Solace. In Diamonds Are Forever and (maybe) Casino Royale, he was near to sleeping with more than one woman but was interrupted.

  • Paul Sparrow-Clarke | November 1, 2012 3:09 PM

    Wasn't Bond monogamous in "Casino Royale" (2006) as well?

  • Paul Sparrow-Clarke | November 1, 2012 3:09 PM

    Wasn't Bond monogamous in "Casino Royale" (2006) as well?

  • Paul Sparrow-Clarke | November 1, 2012 3:09 PM

    Wasn't Bond monogamous in "Casino Royale" (2006) as well?

  • Deborah Lipp | November 1, 2012 1:13 PM

    I'm a fan of Timothy Dalton, and I love The Living Daylights. Moreover, there are only two monogamous Bond movies: Diamonds Are Forever and Quantum of Solace.

  • Travis McClain @TravisSMcClain | October 31, 2012 7:09 PM

    Victor might be interested to learn that Ian Fleming was the one who created Kara as a cellist, a nod to his sister Amaryllis. I can always tell who hasn't bothered to read the original Fleming novels; they're the ones who are down on Timothy Dalton. Anyway, what's wrong with a cellist Bond Girl? Or, for that matter, a monogamous 007?

  • Victor | October 31, 2012 3:17 PM

    Oh, Lord Kara Milovy takes my prize as the worst Bond woman out there. Not the actresses fault - she's in the second worst Bond movie (only Dalton's other outing License To Kill is worse) and they were trying to be 'PC' at the time by having Bond sleep with only one woman. (That bit of marketing was a lie - it's clearly implied that he sleeps with the woman on the yacht in the intro at Gibraltar).
    But Kara is useless. I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to make a cellist a Bond woman. A real Bond would have just slept with her and then discarded her because 'He's from the school that loves and leaves 'em/A pity if it grieves 'em/Mr. Kiss-Kiss, Bang-Bang's not a fool'
    It's a pity in recent years they've abandoned having the naughty names for the Bond women - I miss that most. Ian Flemming even used one in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang - a book for children! Imagine if Truly Scrumptious were in one of his Bond books and not CC/BB and then see how you think about that name!

  • Travis McClain @TravisSMcClain | October 30, 2012 5:58 PMReply

    Ugh. I didn't realize my comment formatting was going to be disregarded and everything would be presented as one massive paragraph!

  • Travis McClain @TravisSMcClain | October 30, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    Roger Ebert tweeted a link to this essay, and I'm glad I followed it.

    I wore a Living Daylights tie on the first day of my senior year at the University of Louisville. My last class of the day was American Women's History, taught by the chairwoman of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies. When my turn came to introduce myself to the class, I simply said, "I'm a guy in a women's history class and I'm wearing a James Bond tie. Clearly, I must be the Devil." I got a few chuckles. The professor smiled.

    I've been a Bond fan since '95. I had heard of Bond and knew of his world through pop culture, but growing up raised by my mom I didn't have a lot of exposure to things like 007. I've always been a feminist; even as a young boy, I had no embarrassment about my love for She-Ra, Princess of Power. As a feminist, though, at times I have been embarrassed by my love for Bond.

    I'm a contributing writer for Flickchart and this year we put together a series of posts about Bond. During the brainstorming phase, one of the most discussed ideas was to write a post about Bond Girls. I was resistant to the idea, though, because I've grown very tired over the years from the ubiquitous "Hottest Bond Girls" ranked lists, the testimonials of how people experienced their earliest sexual arousal at Ursula Andress emerging from the Caribbean Sea in Dr. No or even the recurring theme of how Bond Girls have been "Bond's equal." I've tired of the perspective that the only way a female character could be considered positive is if she's as much a killer and fighter as Bond, as though there are no other possible attributes that we could find to admire and respect about a woman than her ability to kick ass.

    The discussion of feminism in GoldenEye is one of the things I love most about it. We have the debut of Judi Dench as "M", which I admit I resisted at the time. I worried that it was a superficial change from the character Fleming wrote, that it amounted to patronizing appeasement. Of course, I was dead wrong; Dench's "M" has been one of the best things in the entire 007 canon. GoldenEye also featured Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, which resonated powerfully with the girl I was dating at the time and my other female friends who saw the film with us. But there was also Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova. At first blanch, she may come off as a damsel in distress but that sells her short. Natalya is, after all, a highly qualified computer programmer. We see her actually do computer stuff (primitive, basic stuff now but in 1995, only the nerdiest nerds knew what the hell she was talking about). And there's that great scene in which she and Bond are interrogated by the Russian Defense Minister, and she erupts into frustration at their competitive egos, shouting down the pair of them as "boys with toys".

    So anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Bond Girls. It's genuinely comforting and encouraging to me as a male feminist to know I'm not a complete paradox!

  • HardlyHedda | October 30, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    Well said. The Bond series is as much about seduction & sex appeal as it is about hot cars, cool gadgets and international crisis. That is why there are such stand out Bond "Girls" and Bonds.. Some have it, some don't (on the top of the don't list: Timothy Dalton and Denise Richards) I grew up in the 70's, Roger Moore was it for me until I hit puberty and realized Connery was smoldering with appeal...then he was it and still is. Now I see Roger Moore and although he still appears in some of my favourite Bond films, he looks like he is going to suction up someones face like an ant eater with his perced lips...ah well... Still loving the Bond franchise.

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