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Why the moral panic over Bond? 007 is hardly a suitable proxy for discussing feminism

Roger Moore: can you be punned in to bed? Credit,Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/ Getty

Roger Moore: can you be punned in to bed? Credit,Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/ Getty


September 28, 2021   4 mins

No Time to Die is here, with its accompanying moral panic over Feminism. No James Bond launch — and this is the 25th — is complete without this moral panic. It is, with the list of Aston Martins he will drive, the marketing campaign. It is surely all dreamed up by Bond’s maker Eon Productions, perhaps inside a volcano, because how else do you keep a man who is either 99 or 100 years old (depending on which Bond scholar you ask) relevant in the identity politics age? If you cry sexism, it is evidence of breathing.

Is James Bond sexist? Of course, he is sexist, and has been in every incarnation. He cannot be anything else. Every Bond will speak some platitude about his personal journey towards equality and every new Bond woman will say she is different from the last Bond woman while essentially remaining the same. Everyone in this franchise behaves like a hostage, particularly Daniel Craig, who treats the role like a corset he can’t shift. More than £5 billion in profits will do that to you. Moneypenny may have forsaken a filing cabinet for a gun, and she drools less, but she is still the basic Bond girl of these last 60 years: a beauty. In fact, Moneypenny has got more beautiful. Give me a Moneypenny who looks like a real civil servant, and I will call it progress.

It is true that Bond now has a desolate back story: “He’s very fucking lonely. There’s a great sadness. He’s fucking these beautiful women but then they leave and it’s
sad,” Craig told Esquire magazine before Spectre was released. It is true that M, for a bit, was a woman, in Judi Dench; she even called Bond “a dinosaur”. Yet she managed to overcome this feminine disability by dying in his arms in Skyfall, dinosaur to dinosaur. When W H Auden wrote, “All the dreaded cards foretell / Shall be paid” he could have been talking about M’s death scene. Like all Bond women, she was killed for the crime of being female and was duly replaced by Ralph Fiennes.

Bond can’t change his nature, and he shouldn’t, because then no one would want to buy him. The moral panic is mere denial and excuse, and then we have more of the same. Perhaps this nonsense is nothing more than righteous and repressed shame. Because the critics are right: it is an Imperialist fantasy without responsibility, down to the dregs. Bond is the drowsing dream of Ian Fleming, a sometime intelligence officer and, laughably, Sunday Times executive. Bond was spat out by a newspaper back bench, then, and he makes sense that way: it is another revenge of the nerd. Bond, in this reading, is a British cousin to the super-heroes who sprouted in America at the same time; a Batman without bats. Fleming, though, named his fantasy self after an ornithologist called James Bond, whose Birds of the West Indies was on his bookshelf at Goldeneye. This is a nod to the universalism of this fantasy: if an ornithologist can be a secret agent with a secret life, who can’t?

Almost no one is exempt from Bond’s power. Kingsley Amis, for example, a very serious novelist, wrote a Bond novel — Colonel Son — and a guide to the novels called The James Bond Dossier which includes a chapter called, simply, Beautiful Firm Breasts.  And that, squeaks about equality in the entertainment press aside, is it: Beautiful Firm Breasts. Possibly with the chapter: Cars. The only comforting thing is that women do not have a similarly sculpted dreamworld. Perhaps we do not need one.

I do not find Bond a suitable proxy for discussing Feminism, because he is both fictional and absurd. Perhaps it is because he gets a new head and body when he threatens to get old, like Dr Who, and is thus a victim of ageism like his women. Rather than free women from Bond, should we not consider freeing Bond from himself? I have always longed for a self-aware Bond film with an ancient, crabby spy — all sex and murder stripped out — played, perhaps, by Paul Scofield but he is dead, and it is too late. If you seek something trying to be this profound, try season 10 of Spooks.

The Bond of my childhood was no more than a pun: Roger Moore (later Sir Roger Moore, which is both better, and worse). This name, being real, is more stupid than that of any Bond woman. They are sometimes named for body parts or sexual positions or sexual acts: Holly Goodhead, Pussy Galore, Xenia Onatop and Octopussy, the fantasy woman with eight fantasy vaginas, and not a serious point about Feminism in any of them. Then there were the chat-up lines. Can you be punned into bed? Maybe by a husband, and Bond wasn’t one for long. Mrs Bond lived less than an hour by my watch.

Can you oppress women by naming them after puns, or film classification categories, or sex positions or sex acts? You can try, but only if you aren’t looking for oppression in other, duller places, by which I mean real life.  Bond’s obsession with his relationship to women is another signpost of the silliness of the age: it is easier to deal with fictional sexism and fictional crimes than real ones, and it is obviously more fun. But we cannot pretend it is a serious undertaking. It is only more of that terrible modern sickness: treating cinema as reality.

If you seek a serious analysis of Bond and women, I have this: he is effectively a necrophile because dead women don’t have needs, and his treatment of women is less a grope lingering from the Carry On era than a complete erasure, but most novelists want to be alone, and Fleming was no different.


Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.

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Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

I really couldn’t give a damn. Bond is Bond and if you don’t like it don’t watch it. Simples. This drive for enlightened utopianism is getting on my (very attractive) tits.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Lucky enlightened utopianism, I say.
Yet another one of the fun jobs going to the wrong people…

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

It is only more of that terrible modern sickness: treating cinema as reality.

and treating everything, trivial or serious, as grist to the ideological mill. As if we cannot leave our moralistic obsessions behind, even for a while, even at the cinema.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Not quite: the modern sickness does involve avoiding the real and serious issues because they’re too big and risky to deal with. That’s why Extinction Rebellion arseholes infest our city centres and motorways with their adolescent stupidity, but wouldn’t dream of doing the same in Beijing. Or why feminists won’t touch Islamic misogyny even though it is far more real and serious than the comparatively ludicrously slight or non-existent issues faced by themselves in western societies.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

We’re not disagreeing.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago

Why the moral panic over Bond?
Because some people have nothing better to do.

Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago

The only comforting thing is that women do not have a similarly sculpted dreamworld. Perhaps we do not need one.

Seriously? What then accounts for the vast array of fiction with cool cocktail parties and luxurious holidays peppered with a procession of unfeasibly sexy men?

Jane Watson
Jane Watson
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

And no woman ever wanted to be a Bond girl?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Watson

The issue is that a lot of men now seem to be one, apparently

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Mochan

Mills and Boon made a decent living out of women’s fantasy worlds for several decades.

David Slade
David Slade
2 years ago

Last time I went to the cinema, it was like being lectured to by a jilted female sociology lecturer looking for cathartic release. There was a trailer for a live action film of punch and Judy called Judy and punch (I kid you not), where Judy gets her revenge (I wish this was a comedy but alas seemed perfectly straight laced – whether the crocodile, police officer, baby and sausages were similarly avenged, I’ve no idea).

This was one in a series of gender bending, ‘shove it down your throat til you choke’ propaganda pieces masquerading as entertainment. Now they’ve come after James Bond – are men to be denied even escapism now? It’s interesting the reference to Carry on films in the article – I am always surprised no one has come after them yet, surely their dvds should be contraband by now for crimes against right-think?

I’d love to be able to enjoy cinema again, instead I don’t think I have any film in my dvd collection from the last ten years (except Joker – which infamously annoyed the Woke no end – and for no well articulated reason just – well – because…)

To sum up…. Bring back Roger Moore, he was great!

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

That film sounds a bad as Lady Macbeth, which was inflicted on me some years back. Renewed my cinema membership, but mainly to go to the vintage classic seasons. Every new film trailed leaves me certain I won’t be going to see it.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

“Carry on, 007”.

Bond films have three different types of viewers.
First the “M” type, like the character “M”, respectable but also inclined to raise an eyebrow at Bond’s antics, just not complete shirkers of the Bond franchise, but ready to look away when a villain meets a (suggestively) grisly end and conveniently leave for the kitchen to put tea on and read the paper.

Then you have the “Mmmm
” types, who love their Bond and all the drama and thrills and Moneypenny that goes with it.
And finally there are the “Umm
” types, who have their finger on the remote, just like with the Carry On films, ready to switch over instantly, because they are sensitive to all the saucy extravagance, the tongue-in-cheek silliness, or evil depictions of Central or Eastern European villains, should anyone disturb them.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Yes, it’s gotten so bad that I simply cannot watch a movie created after 2016. I gave up on TV over 10 years ago. And pro sports of all sorts 2 years ago.

Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
2 years ago
Reply to  David Slade

Yes, it’s like the plethora of films that are supposedly “subverting the expectations of the genre”. When they’re almost all at it, nothing is actually being ‘subverted’, they’re being predictable, clichĂ©d.

The audience sees the trick a mile off, which I think is somewhat responsible for the massive drop in ticket sales these days. It’s all so dull.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“Like all Bond women, she was killed for the crime of being female and was duly replaced by Ralph Fiennes.”

Except not all Bond women get killed. Hardly any, in fact, although the death count is admittedly higher than if they were boot-faced and worked in the HR department, as it were.

Even so it’s still less than the casualties experienced by the various good guys associated with Bond in these movies, and certainly much less than the extreme lethality experienced by the henchmen and arch-criminals (a nod and wink to Austin Powers on that one). And it’s worth mentioning in this context, that pretty much every crime against a Bond girl is harnessed to the purpose of making the bad guy more monstrous: this isn’t some callous and sexist demotion of the value of female lives but the exact opposite. Just because it’s done in such a way that it’s avenged by Bond instead of through some method that emphasises politically-fashionable female agency doesn’t mean that the whole thing can be categorised in this manner.

Just saying, that is.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Sue Sims
Sue Sims
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

John Riordan, you are, of course, correct. But it’s pointless expecting Tanya Gold to bother about accuracy: she starts with a thesis and cherry-picks her examples to support it. She’s also noteworthy for knowing almost nothing about everything she writes about. (Cf Polly Toynbee, Laurie Penny, Owen Jones, etc, etc.) For some reason, the Spectator gave her a gig to write about restaurants every other week – the only Speccie column I automatically skip.

Chris Mochan
Chris Mochan
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

It is very odd that the Speccie appear to have given the food column to someone who apparently finds eating in restaurants a tremendous bore.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

I skip that and the chess page, the wine bore, the page recapping the week’s news (Portrait of the week), Barometer (a page of trivia), the opera, ballet and bridge pages. I think I only get about 30% of my sub’s worth but then that’s my choice, I know.

Glenn Mercer
Glenn Mercer
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

But you’d be more Woke if you DID read the chess page: name another sport or game where the female, the Queen, is the most powerful actor!

Dan Gleeballs
Dan Gleeballs
2 years ago

There’s a scene in a Piers Brosnan Bond, where a bunch of cyclists are made to fall over by roaring cars. There’s another in a Guy Ritchie film where a Traffic Warden is beaten up in a van.

These things are fantasies, wish-fulfilment. They are simply, fun. People who don’t enjoy fun shouldn’t go and see Bond films.

On the subject of Bond film women, the books set the template of having Bond rescue the mistresses of villains. They are sometimes killed in revenge by that monstrous villain, but Bond was very much a force for good. And of course, he was meant to be strong, fit, handsome and a little cruel. Some women like that, apparently. Either way, Bond is a fantasy, but one that celebrates maleness. May they continue forever.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Gleeballs

The only way to improve that scene on the mountain road where the cyclists all collapsed onto each other would have been if Famke Janssen had actually run a few of them over as well.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

In the 1960s, people saw the world through black-and-white images, on television, if they had a television. A lot of folk could not afford a television. On just three channels. Wimbledon was considered an exotic event (when it was shown, and eventually broadcast specially in colour in the late 1960s, if one were in a privileged minority who had a colour TV then). So you can imagine why the Bond movies were considered to have glamour and to be cool. A bit of escapism when there was a much smaller world on TV, in drab black and white.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

Great point! Not to mention that television was so much more regimented and rigid in those days. Staid.
(not saying today’s is intrinsically better, but there was definitely a more scripted controlled feel to older tv)

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Marcus Scott
Marcus Scott
2 years ago

The problem with the Daniel Craig films is they have lost the sense of absurdity of the earlier Bond films and are, in my experience, joyless. Bond’s behaviour with women matched the other highly unrealistic elements of the earlier movies. The villains who delighted in placing Bond in deadly but escapable situations during which they would give a full description of their dastardly plans, locations that were ridiculously over glamourised, Bond looking completely unruffled after escaping a deadly situation and engaging in multiple fights, etc. These all contributed to two hours of amusement and entertainment that no one took seriously.

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcus Scott

Totally agree. Hands up those who go to a Bond film for joyful, absurd, entertaining and unrealistic amusement.
Me!

Last edited 2 years ago by Fennie Strange
Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcus Scott

In the old days, the average age of a Bond film audience I imagine would have been greater than it is today. The older the audience, the more levity it anticipates. No levity, no senior members.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcus Scott

Absolutely so. You could make an argument that the Bond films try to steer between outright melodrama and technocratic pantomime… all in the interests of being entertaining. If you go to see a film of social criticism, then pick a different film.

Glenn Mercer
Glenn Mercer
2 years ago
Reply to  Marcus Scott

Agree. There is also a sort of Russian-Doll-arms-race going on in them (though the next one may overturn my thesis): each successive villain has to be more evil and omnipotent than the last, each encompassing the former, each invoking an ever higher order of conspiracy theory. What about just saving the world from a nut with a bomb? (The Avengers series had the same problem: each time you saved the world you need another bigger baddie to save it from again.) Makes ya kind of miss “Just get the microfilm from the Russkies, James!”

John Murray
John Murray
2 years ago

“I have always longed for a self-aware Bond film with an ancient, crabby spy”
Never Say Never Again (1983) (Sean Connery returning as Bond)

Fennie Strange
Fennie Strange
2 years ago

I found three words I agree with in this joyless, tedious piece. In the fourth paragraph from the end I read “he is 
 fictional”.

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
2 years ago

“every new Bond woman will say she is different from the last Bond woman while essentially remaining the same” – So true

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 years ago

I just can’t wait to not see the new Bond!

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

Bond reflects the inferiority the UK felt towards the US at the end of WWII and the longing for the eminence that it had held only 10 years earlier. According to Fleming, the US might have had numbers and military hardware but the British kept the upper hand through cunning, bravery and class.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

British and American films were in competition with each other. Bond was a boon to the British film industry. It was like the pop music industry in a way.

Glenn Mercer
Glenn Mercer
2 years ago

And better tailoring.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

I’m getting flashbacks to The Two Ronnies’ The Worm that Turned…

Marcus Scott
Marcus Scott
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Brother, we are already there. The only thing the Ronnies got wrong was that the female thought police would not be wearing leather hotpants.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

All that mesmerised me was the fact that the white girls in the photo look identical.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

OMG yes – has whiteness gone that far

Andrew Raiment
Andrew Raiment
2 years ago

If it wasn’t for Bond or Carry On, all the English Literature and Media Study courses would disappear overnight. Academic 0nanism.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

At the end of every Bond movie, well at some point, at the end of the closing credits, the makers decided to name in advance the title of the future Bond movie that would follow the current one. If I’m not mistaken, a mistake was made with Live And Let Die. The ending remark would have read: “Bond will return next in The Spy Who Loved Me.” But it was actually, “The Man With The Golden Gun” that was made. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking a mistake was made. Anyway, here’s a little joke:

Bond will be Bach in The Spy Who Changed Sides.

Glenn Mercer
Glenn Mercer
2 years ago

And Bond was pretty much up for diversity, given he’d shoot anyone of any race gender or proclivity! (grin)

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago

Fleming based Bond and others characters in his books on people he had worked with in WW2 as a Naval Intelligence officer and raised 30 Assault Group. Men such as P Dalzel-Job, Dusko Popov,  Christopher Lee, The Sterling Brothers, Fitzroy Maclean, Bill Hudson , Paddy Leigh Fermour, Billy Moss and women such as Sansom GC, Szabo GC, KHAN GC, Wakeman GM, Skarsgard GM and Ursula Graham Bowyer ( Ethnographer).  Archaeologists from T E Lawrence have become intelligence officers. Those fluent in classical Greek worked for SOE in Greece and Crete. The TV Series “Wish me Luck “ portrays women in the SOE operating in France.
Women who were the Services in WW2 tended to join those with family associations. Miss Moneypenny is WRNS officer and in WW2 would have been the daughter and possibly sister and girl  friend of  Naval officers. Perhaps her   boy  friend was killed and never married. She probably attended boarding school where she played hockey, lacrosse, tennis and swum while at home  she hunted was  trained to shoot by her father. She was probably Finished in   France or Germany or Switzerland and be fluent in French, know some German and Latin. Miss Moneypenny would certainly not be a stupid slob.
If you look at the photographs of many of the men and women mentioned had  film star looks.  
Most of those seeing the greatest combat chose never to speak about it or it was covered by the Official Secrets Act. During WW2 many women slept with men because   were protecting them, because tomorrow they might die and having a fighter pilot as a   boy friend was the greatest catch of all. Ladies do not tend to talk to their family   about past lovers.
Much of the secret  war was only written about from the mid 1980s and also the 50th anniversary of the end of the War in 1995 seemed to encourage people to talk about their experiences. Consequently, world of Bond appears far   fetched but it is only a slight exaggeration and compilation of some exploits. Who in 1938 would believe that Britain would create the Commandos, SOE, Special Forces and GCHQ including training young ladies to parachute into occupied countries, kill the enemy with bare hands, fight off tens of SS troops,  blow  up structures and then withstand  torture which included branding and having  their toe nails ripped out?
Maryam D’ Abo made a programme about past Bond girls: none complained. J Lumley who was  a Bond girl never complained and made a film about Fleming. Feminists said the personal is the politcal, so what are the personalities of those doing the complaining ?

Glenn Mercer
Glenn Mercer
2 years ago

Yes Roger Moore was a great unintended pun, but the best for me remains the delightfully porn-star-redolent Peter O’Toole! And it was his actual name, not a stage name!

Niobe Hunter
Niobe Hunter
2 years ago

I met Ian Fleming once, in the flesh ( I knew his son).
i can assure Tanya that he did not want to be alone.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

Jeez calm down dear. You don’t need to analyse it if you don’t want to.

Adrian Burrows
Adrian Burrows
2 years ago

For an excellent “Bond film with an ancient, crabby spy” try the Lucifer Box series of books by Mark Gatiss. Sure, not a film, but books are better anyway.

Russell Dale
Russell Dale
2 years ago

Did I miss something? What moral panic? This article was dull- more over-analysis trying to create noise. Bond is daft and fun- we need him more than ever, as our world gets more sterile with tedious commentary like this article.