Bond Girls: The Dialectics of Gender Construction
The present proposal is part of a larger research project, provisionally titled Dangerous Women: Body, Dress and Romance. The project examines the representation of subversive women characters in non-realist twentieth-century film, fiction and graphic novels. Whilst looking at the evolution of the fashion industry and developments in costume history, my research attempts to demonstrate how sartorial changes to the representation of the female body linked with the rise of the feminist movement are reflected through the rise and characterisation of dangerous women in fiction, film and the graphic novel.
An important part of this project is a chapter dedicated to Bond girls. Style and commodities form an important subtext of Fleming’s novels: in the post-war decades, both novels and films became synonyms of luxury, product placement and modern “branding’. My study aims to provide a critical reading of Bond’s masculinity in relation to the female characters that support his role. My analysis will include a range of female characters including Bond girls in the strictest sense, such as Honey Ryder (Dr No) , Pussy Galore (Goldfinger) and Domino (Thunderball), as well as other “Bond’ women, such as Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love) and Miss Moneypenny. The close-reading of dress and body politics unveils the crucial role played by female characters in relation to the archetypal male/female opposition that the Bond stories appear to represent. My argument is that such opposition is essential to the construction of Bond’s “heroic masculinity’, whilst, simultaneously, undermining the masculine/feminine hierarchical opposition in favour of a more dynamically dialectical construction of gender.
This new reading of Bond novels and films highlights the important politics fashion; body and dress perform in relation to gender preoccupations. While Bond is literally a wounded man, his apparent heroism showcased through his impeccable elegance and sophisticated tastes; conceals the anxieties of a late 1950s masculinity, whose position is undermined by the rise of female emancipation. Bond is seduced, but also antagonised by girls, whose glamour conceals technology and weaponry to match his own. Bond girls are fast drivers, skilled killers and strong fighters: their accessories are designed to accentuate both their duplicity and charm. Challenging the hierarchical male/female binary opposition, Bond girls expose an ambiguous kind of femininity, frequently highlighted by their exaggerated exoticism or foreignness, which relates them to archetypes such as that of the “phallic mother’ and the “monstrous feminine’.
Clothing points to the instability of self. The immaculately dressed Bond; whose clothes and accessories suggest an ideal of “timeless’ masculinity; is able to take on other people’s clothes for camouflaging purposes: his identity is, thus, made less stable by the frequent change of costume. Conversely, the apparently ultra-feminine sex and sartorial appeal of Bond Girls serves the purpose of concealing their dangerous nature (just as their clutch-bags hide their lethal weapons). The Bond Girl, whose looks evolve through five decades of cinematic production, projects an image of the “feminine other’ that challenges the patriarchal foundations of gender: her body is a weapon; not a trophy; to measure Bond’s heroic achievements against.