Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Laura Croft does not have chlamydia.

Watching Daniel Craig save England for the 23rd time in the new Bond film, Skyfall - I am struck by the fact that Bond would just not sell as a heroine.  This is not to say I don't enjoy Bond - because I do - and the new film is unquestionably one of the better ones...But the appeal of Bond's archetype, for me, is despite its brazen misogyny - and leads to the certain conclusion that Jane Bond would be portrayed very differently.

The first hiccup? All of the meaningless sex with people who are about to die.  First things first - this is really gross.  It is one thing to have a bunch of meaningless sex in the middle of your job - which is like sort of important Mr. Bond - but to know with near certainty that the woman is going to die in 5 minutes? There is something very necrophilist about that.  In Skyfall he exhibits greater annoyance when his car is damaged than when his mistress is shot.  When I pointed this out to my boyfriend, he responded with some degree of incredulity: "But he's James Bond! He doesn't care about that woman." He then went on to "explain" (we disagree about whether I was sitting next to him for the preceding Bond efforts) that this seeming callousness is due to his heart being broken following his betrayal by his one true love.  Add this to the long list of things I simply do not understand.

In the older films, Bond's various mistresses were less likely to get shot in the head - but his character can seemingly not survive without a never ending parade of exquisite young women ever ready to drop their robes and evening-wear in his presence.  I envision the writers being told that the character is sort of like Keanu Reeves in Speed, except instead of driving fast, he must be presented with a never ending buffet of bond-girls (bond-women?) in order to defeat death.  The point is this: could a woman pull this off? Sure, she could be written into the part, but would an audience buy it? Would they come out in droves?  And would she still be the 'hero'?

What about the people close to him?  Bond's cohorts are always being placed in danger.  This film is no exception.  The doddering old innkeeper from Bond's youth?  Given a weapon in the face of certain death.  His beloved M?  Used as bait, despite her advanced age, and many years behind a desk.  She's wearing a tartan shawl for Pete's sake!

Also, he's drunk (not Flight drunk but Mad Men drunk) all the time.  Women drink in movies, but do they get drunk while saving the world with any regularity?  Not really.  Taking shots at the bar, having a martini affixed to your hand while mulling over how to take down generic crime syndicate number 8, downing a beer while indifferent to the naked woman kissing your chest, women just aren't written that way.  

How are women written?  Angelina Jolie has been one of the most successful badass heroines of recent years - starring in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, Wanted and the Tomb Raider series.  She takes down evildoers with aplomb, and she typically manages to do it sober and without mounting Naked Man #5.  [Other formidable cinema heroines include Jody Foster in Silence of the Lambs, Natalie Portman in The Professional, Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita.]

She-Bonds are gorgeous, sexy and scantily clad.  However, when She-Bonds actually have sex, it is reserved for their husbands or male-leads.  Occasionally they also use sex to gain a tactical advantage, but this is more often the hallmark of the villain, succubus or traitor - and if a heroine pulls this move she flirts, but doesn't go all the way.  The female of the species is just much less likely to have anonymous sex for no plot-driven reason.  

Jolie is also much more likely to care.  Care about her responsibilities, her safety, her loved ones or her cause.  Salt, for example, goes so far as to ensure that her dog is cared for in her absence, and remains celibate - as her husband's murder becomes her raison d'ĂȘtre very early on.  Female heroines are very rarely callous to those to whom they have a personal connection - even as they ruthlessly take on their enemies.

It is easy to identify what Ms. Bond cannot be - but it is extremely difficult to pin down why.  Why do women have to care? Why can't we get drunk and screw around and still wear the white hat?  What is it about women on screen that makes them fascinating when they kill, and repulsive when they have casual sex?  I am loath to pin down a single reason why this may be the case, because the answer is likely complicated and subject to change.  But, I suspect, that it has much to do with the inexorable misogyny that bridles and binds us: glorifying the cinematic portrayal of promiscuity as male privilege  and demonizing female emulation of that privilege.


MC said...

Can we also talk about why Laura Croft raids tombs in a Bikini (practically)? I don't recall Indiana Jones ever baring his mid-section for the cameras.

In 2012, The Women's Media Center reported bleak statistics on the status of women in film. http://wmc.3cdn.net/a6b2dc282c824e903a_arm6b0hk8.pdf. In the 100 top-grossing films of 2007, 2008, and 2009, women represented only one-third of speaking characters over all three years, and were usually hyper-sexualized. In those years, women were more likely than males to wear sexy clothing and be depicted partially nude. These statistics drive me crazy.

KSergent said...

I agree that the lack of causal sex by heroines is linked to male privilege. A female lead would be less attractive if she slept around. It's strange how a man casually sleeping with a women before killing her is not deceitful- it's expected! Men are horny and have to satisfy their sexual needs! Women, or at least the women we are supposed to look up to, only make love with their partners.

I also think the concept of the femme fatale is interesting. A sexualized woman has an inherent negative connotation (literally translating to "deadly woman").

I googled "what is the male equivalent to a femme fatale?" and some of the answers were: Casanova, James Bond (you were spot on!) and George Clooney. As you suggested, it is definitely more than acceptable for these males to have casual sex.

Sam said...

“Female heroines are very rarely callous to those to whom they have a personal connection - even as they ruthlessly take on their enemies”

I think it’s arguable that Noomi Rapace in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” comes pretty close to this kind of callousness. But the callousness comes from a lifetime of abuse, and possibly an underlying mental disorder, which kind of proves your point: why don’t we see Bond as a borderline psychopath?

“Women drink in movies, but do they get drunk while saving the world with any regularity? Not really.”

I would argue here that Katee Sackhoff’s character in Battlestar Galactica (“Starbuck”) is a clear counterexample. She drinks heavily and smokes cigars with the rest of the guys. Also, it is arguable that her sexuality is closer to that of Bond. At the very least, her sexuality is treated in the same way as the men in the show. But this is probably because her character was originally written as an alpha-male, and the creators of the reboot switched the gender without changing the character. (http://www.themarysue.com/10-characters-whose-genders-were-swapped-in-production/?pid=54)

Attisaurus said...

After reading your though-provoking, I wracked my brain trying to think of examples of sexually-empowered heroines in modern pop culture. Where these examples abound in popular musical culture (Ke$ha, Britney, and Nikki - who represent sex-positive female liberation, if only through linguistically vacuous lyrics)(and through an admittedly loose application of the word "heroine), I am still at a lost for heroines who have lots of sex with lots of people and who don't die tragic deaths. Not even Regina George in "Mean Girls." I do wonder if reality TV is the appropriate solution here. Even despite the many problematic aspects of shows like "Jersey Shore," there is something to be said about Snooki, Deena, and JWOW's embrace of their sexuality and enraged libidos.

Pali said...

This thought crossed my mind today in class during the pornography discussion. Someone mentioned how sex is made to seem casual in porn, rather than an emotional experience, and how the girl is depicted to be "ok" with this (as if this was not necessarily possible in real life).

There are girls out there who have casual sexual encounters with the emotional apathy of a man. It is not until this is acknowledged, divorced from the associations of being a "slut" or "whore" and replaced with female-equivalent of "stud", can we really embrace a Ms. Bond. Until then Nancy Botwin from Weeds is a trailblazer.

Mo said...

This post reminds me so much of the images parodying male superheroes by redrawing them in stereotypically feminine (and highly sexualized) poses. The SFGate.com (the Chronicle website) recently published a blog post collecting a few artists’ renditions and commenting (rightly so) that “because [women] are presented as a sexualized minority in so many movies for adults, they are also presented as a sexualized minority in movies for kids. Those roles are then replicated in kids’ toys and most tragically, in kids imaginary play.” Indeed, I take as much beef as the rest of you with regard to the Bond/Croft dynamic, but I am more concerned about the portrayal of children’s superheroes and the hyper-sexualization of females in comic books and kids’ films. Can’t we teach our daughters they can hold their own without arching their backs and baring their skin?

Check out the post here -- it’s well worth a quick look: http://blog.sfgate.com/mmagowan/2012/05/10/what-if-male-avengers-posed-like-the-female-one/