James Bond and International Women’s Day

I am intrigued by this video of an advertisement for International Women’s Day which was going around yesterday.

In case you don’t know, the narrator is Dame Judi Dench and the actor in the film is Daniel Craig — these actors portray M and James Bond, respectively, in the latest James Bond movies. The implications for these actors, and the invocation of James Bond, in this advertisement is really interesting. I have engaged in a fairweather study of James Bond films for several years now, sparked by a class project undertaken in 2006. There are gender ideology implications tied up in the James Bond series — arguably, James Bond is supposed to be an icon of masculinity, of everything the “real man” is supposed to be. If you observe the character throughout the film series — which has been produced since 1962 — you see a change in James Bond’s character. (The books by Ian Fleming are quite a different thing — my focus here is on the films only.)

My course project explored this through the use of address terms between James Bond and the various women of the series, but that is just one aspect of the behavioral changes.  In the 1960s, Sean Connery’s Bond was a suave, cool player. He effortlessly handled any task, often with witty quips. Women fell at his feet, and he had sex with them as a victory prize and moved on. The women who weren’t Bond Girls were like Number Two in From Russia With Love — an androgynous enemy who displays little femininity, a role that many less widely-recognized feminine women in films are relegated to — or they were Moneypenny, a secretary with a hopeless crush on Bond which is never fulfilled.

As the years went on, women in the series started filling the role of a consultant or an attractive agent from another country — Halle Berry in Die Another Day, for example. The women started to have strong personas of their own, and roles in the film that were outside of the damsel in distress or the androgynous evil. In 1995 with the film Goldeneye, Dame Judi Dench stepped in to portray M, or James Bond’s superior in MI6. This was an astounding move, as M had only been portrayed by men before, and having a woman in charge brought a whole new dynamic to the interaction of James Bond and his associates. Bond, a notorious womanizer, was suddenly being ordered around by a woman. The choice of Dame Judi Dench for the role is no surprise — she is an attractive older woman and therefore outside of the usual mold for a Bond girl, lending her more credibility as an authority figure in the context of the series. So M — Dame Judi Dench, the narrator in the advertisement above — is one of the first women in the series to be seen as an “equal” to Bond, as someone who is not a conquest for him.

Then there’s the subject of Daniel Craig — the newest James Bond as of 2006’s Casino Royal. Paul Baines at CitizenShift has an interesting blog post about him here, and there are many others out there on the web. Craig’s Bond is a new breed — as is the treatment he receives in the films. Bond himself is the sexual icon, not the women of the film. Even in the opening credits of Casino Royal, Bond is the figure being depicted, a deviation from previous films which feature female silhouettes. The fanservice centers around Bond’s body — the camera lingers on him, and there are gratuitous long sequences of him emerging from the water shirtless (reminiscent of Halle Berry in her bikini in Die Another Day. His character is also different — Craig’s Bond is a klutz in his action scenes, getting beaten up, injured, tripping and falling, flailing on ladders, hitting his head on the ground and grimacing. He’s also considerably more emo than his predecessors, and the storylines and his motivations focus strongly on his own personal feelings, especially about his lady love. The feelings for the Bond girl, in fact, drive the plot of the films, rather than vice versa.

So what does this say about the advertisement for International Women’s Day? For one, the invocation of James Bond, our masculine icon, gives a certain tone to the ad; however, Craig’s Bond is a different Bond than the ones before him, and it can be argued that he displays a number of “less-masculine qualities”. I’ve argued, and several people agree, that this isn’t Bond being “less masculine”, but rather the character being updated to reflect the new views of masculinity that we have in modern society. The ideal man today isn’t anything like he was in the 1960s, and it’s only fitting that one of the iconic males of film reflects that. What other Bond would be dressed in drag, and would be even mildly believable? Roger Moore’s Bond would have never even been considered for such an advertisement. That James Bond himself is so accessible to this type of an advertisement, with such a serious message, is an incredible shift in views on masculinity. In previous incarnations, this would have received a howl of laughter, not the chuckle and then the consideration of the message that it’s received from the folks that I know who have seen it.

Additionally, the narration by Dame Judi Dench, the voice of the woman who has ascended higher in the ranks of the film than any other, asks us to question equality. She, as M, represents the ultimate authority in the film, but yet she still asks us to question the equality status of men and women. Her words invoke the idea that M, who has the top job in the film and is supposedly untouchable, is a rare exception and still an anomaly. People still question whether a woman should be playing this role in this film. When will that not be the question anymore?

This is a powerful message.