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.