The Bechdel Test, if you are not already aware of it, is quite significant for many women in popular culture. In its simplest form? Bechdel ‘asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.’ Here, it transpires, is one the simplest forms of judging gender equality, and it works. When creating your work of written/spoken art, whatever it might be, giving your characters something to do other than fret about the opposite sex isn’t just sensible, it is often essential if you can’t write women well to begin with. Because good stories, despite what Black Lace might tell you, aren’t just about sex. Writing as I am right now with someone else’s characters as inspiration, it occurs to me that the current crop of Bond women are actually quite tough. However, there aren’t ever two Bond girls ever in a room at the same time, and if there were? Well, DUH, all they’re gonna talk about is how great Bond was in bed before (presumably) having a cat fight with pillows in slow motion and soft focus.
Actually, that’s probably not far off the truth in the Universe anyway.
It took half a century for Bond to kop off with a woman effectively his own age. Expecting the franchise to come up with empowering female storylines is not exactly high on the priority list, but it would be a lie to try and pretend there wasn’t at least some effort made in Spectre. Moneypenny’s got a guy in bed, for starters, when Bond phones in from Rome for intelligence, thought I’d have given Bond more marks for interrupting her on the job. There’s at least a concessionary nod here to a real world and actual lives outside of Whitehall. But when it’s all but brief and you feel like only lip service is being offered? That’s where I am, but I’m in something of a quandary right now, because my female protagonist’s having quite a hard time reconciling her professional and personal attachments to 007. Having relationships isn’t wrong or bad, without them the human race ceases to exist. However, when you find your character unable to separate the professional and the personal and increasingly not worrying about consequence?
Does it matter what truly motivates you to be what you are?
This song has become quite a significant part of my process as a result, mostly because of the following section of lyrics:
And I won’t be far from where you are if ever you should call
You meant more to me than anyone I ever loved at all
But you taught me how to trust myself and so I say to you
This is what I have to do
These four lines are at the crux of what I’m trying to explain: you can care deeply and emotionally about someone, yet not be with them. A person can understand that they’re in love with someone else and yet know that this is not what is required to either survive and progress. Popular culture pushes onto us the notion that relationships are only worthwhile if they come with a satisfactory and (presumably) long-term conclusion, but that’s not true at all. Sometimes, things have to fail so you can get better. More often than not, sacrifices need to be made in order to expedite the progression of your existence. Except, in the world of Bond, there is rarely (if ever) an exploration of this. Since Casino Royale there has, at the franchise’s core, been at least some attempt to address this shortfall, and when you see Bond locate Vesper Lynd’s interrogation tape from L’Americaine in Spectre? That story is at an end. This 007 finally closes that chapter of his life and moves on.
The fact this is never discussed further and simply implied makes me sad beyond words.
So here I am, making sure that my heroine doesn’t simply grasp her feelings, but she actually understands and learns from them. It’s a tough ask to stretch it out over an extended narrative, but I have the flashpoints all mapped out. I’ve also very deliberately included as little Bond as I can conceivably get away with, because to make this work he can’t be the motivation in the frame. The problem with an all-encompassing ‘hero’ is that sometimes, you don’t want to know their story. Spectre tries and largely fails to give depth to a world that has never been about everybody, because that’s not how Fleming wrote 007. When the franchise reboots (and I am confident you’ll hear something by the end of the year on that front) I can only hope that maybe, just maybe, the success of all these ‘extended Universe’ outings in cinemas will make the Eon people consider that perhaps it is time to not just make Bond all there is to see. However, why I watch a Bond movie is a long way from what I’d consider to be the ‘target’ audience.
In the meantime? Wish fulfilment will have to do.