Thursday, 26 November 2015

From Bond girl to Bond woman

In interviews following the press event to launch Spectre, and leading up to the release of the film, Monica Bellucci, cast in the role of Lucia Sciarra, rejected the term Bond girl in favour of Bond woman or lady. “I am so much more mature. I'd prefer to be called a Bond woman or perhaps a Bond lady,” she told the Mail of Sunday in February 2015. In an interview for the Sunday Times, she said, “I am a Bond lady.”

The rejection of Bond girl was on the basis of her age, the description of girl simply being inappropriate for an older woman. This was echoed by former Bond girl Fiona Fullerton, who appeared as Pola Ivanova in A View To A Kill (1985). She told the Daily Express in August this year: “I kind of cringe when I'm referred to as a Bond girl because I'm not a girl any more. I'm very much of the older fraternity so I'm a Bond woman.”

A similar view was expressed in the reaction, some 20 years earlier, of actor Michael Williams to the news that his wife, Judi Dench, had been cast as M in GoldenEye. “Oh brilliant”, he said, “Bond-woman!” Judi Dench has used the term herself, writing in her autobiography, “I really shouldn't be called a Bond woman at all, but I call myself one”.

Others have accepted the term Bond women because they have considered Bond girl inappropriate for any woman, young or old, or have associated the term with passive female characters who provide little more than decoration. Halle Berry told the Daily Express in November 2002 that “Jinx [her character in Die Another Day] is the next step in the evolution of the Bond woman. Year after year, they become a little bit stronger, a little smarter.... Now they're Bond's intellectual equals and physical rivals.”

When Léa Seydoux was asked in the October 2015 issue of Total Film whether her character, Madeleine Swann was a Bond woman rather than a Bond girl, she replied, “She's a strong woman”, a response that neatly side-stepped the requirement to accept either label. The Daily Star claimed in October 2008 that Izabella Scorupco demanded to be called a Bond woman in GoldenEye, because she thought the usual term Bond girl was demeaning (although judging by interviews published in 1995, Bond girl appears not to have been so problematic).

Notably, in her foreword and chapter introductions in Bond Girls are Forever (2003), co-author Maryam d'Abo (Kara in The Living Daylights) rarely uses the term Bond girl. She writes, for example, that “it is the casting of the Bond women that garner the most attention,” and that “there has never been a Bond film without a Bond woman.” Reading this, one gets the sense that Maryam d'Abo is not entirely comfortable with the term Bond girl, although Bond girl is not rejected explicitly, and is naturally retained in the title of the book.

The earliest use of the term Bond woman that I know of dates to 1989. An advert for Elle magazine that appeared in the Daily Express in 1989 trailed the contents of the June issue. Women in the Bond films were the subject of one of the articles, presumably coinciding with the release of Licence to Kill. “A Bond girl's life has never been easy,” the advert claimed. “Wham. Bam. Thank you, ma'am. Then bang bang, you're dead. But the role of the Bond woman is changing,” the implication being that term Bond girl was not appropriate for characters such as Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who was perceived as being Bond's equal. 

This trawl through various sources has traced the emergence of the term Bond woman and revealed two definitions. In one sense, it is a term that reflects age, being associated with older women. Despite the use of this newer term, Bond girl itself is not rejected. In another sense of the term, Bond woman is presented as an alternative to Bond girl, reflecting the perception that female roles in the Bond films have changed through the course of the series, and making the obvious point that the actors are women, not girls.

Whether women in the Bond films are Bond girls or Bond women, it could be argued that such labels, Bond girl especially, have largely been imposed on the actors, seemingly first emerging in the media (the earliest reference to Bond girl I know of is in the Daily Express and dates to February 1963), and becoming deeply embedded in the cultural environment. The result is that every interview at press conferences or in newspapers and magazines seems to oblige actors to engage with the term Bond girl. This may be the reason why many of the actors (beginning at least as far back as 1969 with Diana Rigg) claim that their characters are stronger, more independent, and more on equal terms with Bond than their predecessors.

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