Who will be the next James Bond? A lot of names are being dropped for the coveted role: Henry Cavill, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Edris Elba, to name a few. All good contenders, but these gentlemen might not make the cut in this modern era of gender appropriation. A campaign is already underway to have the next 007 be a woman.
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) July 24, 2017
Chris Hemsworth recently tweeted that it’s time for a woman to be the next James Bond. His choice? Charlize Theron. “She embodies every sort of ounce of strength and nobility and dignity and integrity that that character should have,” Hemsworth told W’s Lynn Hirschberg. “She’s smart as h-ll. She’s physically able. I worked with her on Snow White and the Huntsman. Watching her in those fight scenes, doing it in high heels, by the way, and an eight foot long gown was even more impressive.”
Hirschberg agrees and argues that the star of films such as “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Monster,” “Aeon Flux,” “Prometheus,” and “Atomic Blonde” is the James Bond we need NOW: She’s strong, can take a beating in a fight, is good at playing fearless women, doesn’t mind getting ugly for the camera, can play characters who rack up high death tolls, and, drumroll please, can embody Bond’s sexual prowess because she had hot sex with a French agent in “Atomic Blonde” who happened to be a woman.
“Part of what makes the scene so thrilling, and so transgressive,” Hirschberg writes about the lesbian hook-up, “is to see Lorraine [Theron’s character] so fully inhabiting the part traditionally played by a man, the part that was so integral to the Bond myth: the womanizer.”
Some Characters Can Switch Sexes and It Works
I hate to throw a big bucket of cold water on Hirschberg’s dream, but James Bond as a woman will never be successful long-term. This has nothing to do with being anti-woman or believing that fiction is written in stone as if it were a depiction of history. I recognize that in the realm of make-believe the script can change, as can characters. Starbuck switched from being a cigar-smoking man to an even more degenerate cigar-smoking woman in “Battlestar Galatica.” That took some getting used to, but since the entire world was re-imagined, it worked well.
It’s also been announced that the next Dr. Who will be a woman. Given that the character is a time-traveling alien, that’s actually an interesting switch. Even in James Bond, there have been sex changes. Judi Dench took the role as M, which had been played by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown. That wasn’t any big deal because the character’s sex wasn’t intrinsic to the character as it is with James Bond, and this is the point.
Unlike any other character in a long-running franchise, James Bond is a male fantasy figure. As Sean Connery once said, “Bond is important: this invincible superman that every man would like to copy, that every woman would like to conquer, this dream we all have of survival.”
If you want a female British spy, then be creative and make your own franchise instead of co-opting one that has a character who personifies masculinity. Follow the lead of Star Trek. They didn’t cast a woman as James Kirk in the reinvention of the series. Instead, they showed their real talent as writers and producers and created a whole new storyline in which Kathryn Janeway excelled as the captain of Voyager.
James Bond Is the Quintessential Alpha Male
While there have been many changes to Ian Fleming’s James Bond throughout the years, most have been superficial. He no longer smokes, he’s not a racist or homophobe as he was in Fleming’s books, his choice of guns and cars has been switched up, his character has moved from humorous to taciturn, from debonair to rugged. But one thing has remained the same: he has always been the quintessential alpha male.
Men want to be him, as Connery said, because he represents masculine ideals. Not only is he strong, he is highly competent. And this is a key component in Bond. Competency is a profoundly masculine trait that isn’t often put in this frame. Don’t misunderstand me, both men and women can be equally competent at most skills. But men value competency unlike women do, and they make judgments accordingly. This is especially true when men are judging other men and measuring their worth. The race to competency underlies much of their competitiveness.
Granted, there are women who value competency, but even these will inevitably judge others by passive traits, such as looks, relationships, and behavior, more than men do. Anyone who has observed men and women interacting in the workplace or watching sports (men notice the skill; women notice the uniforms) can testify to this general difference between the sexes. Men are more about getting the work done while women are more about the people doing the work, which can lead to all kinds of personal interactions and reactions. This isn’t a negative against women. Our feminine values are just as worthy. We balance men because we focus on who people are, not just what they do.
All this is to say that men like watching James Bond because he is an extraordinarily competent male, something they all want to be. This is why men love cars, guns, gadgets, and sports. Their preoccupation is not merely with entertainment as so many women assume; it’s with something that enlivens the male psyche. It’s about perfecting a skill so they’re an invaluable asset in the game of survival. It’s about being a man. Masculinity is all about guarding the perimeter and protecting the group. Competency is fundamental to that. Femininity is about building relationships and nurturing the group.
Male Versus Female Spy Is No Physical Contest
But if men are so captivated by competency, wouldn’t they find a competent female James Bond just as compelling? Wouldn’t they still want to be like her, despite her sex? No, for two reasons. First, the value of competency for a man is between men and about men. Men appreciate competency in a woman, but it doesn’t excite them the way it does when they see it in a man, and they don’t usually want to compete with it.
Second, while a woman can be competent in many things just as a man, she can’t be in others, especially strength. An elite woman will never consistently physically overpower an elite man. This is a fiction perpetuated as reality by fiction. James Bond would defeat any woman in hand-to-hand combat—even one as fierce as Xenia Onatopp.
No matter a woman’s skill level, in the world of a spy where you’re dealing with other highly skilled men on an equal playing field, a woman wouldn’t hold her own in a physical fight the way a man would. Injecting this level of improbability even into fiction dampens the enthusiasm for competency. Put bluntly, Daniel Craig would pummel Charlize Theron every day of the week, no matter how skilled she is, and men know it.
Maybe it doesn’t matter if men don’t want to be like her. Women might. Strong female characters are certainly in vogue—just look at the popularity of Brienne and Ayra on “Game of Thrones.” But while we might be entertained by these characters, we really don’t want to be them (though, like Eowyn of “Lord of the Rings,” these characters retain much of their femininity, which makes them more believable and appealing). Women who are killing machines don’t inspire us the way James Bond inspires men, which is why the franchise is so successful.
Womanizing Isn’t Attractive In a Woman, Either
When it comes down to it, women don’t want to be a woman who acts like a man, especially one who is a “womanizer.” The truth is, most women aren’t into lesbian sex, and in a film that is supposed to be rich in masculinity, this just won’t inspire viewers. There’s no dance or erotic tension that’s unique to the male-female dynamic in lesbian sex. There’s no real, powerful masculine presence, and it’s this element that makes Bond so appealing.
Why do women want to conquer James Bond? It’s not just about luring a man into their bed. It’s not just about hot sex, which two women can emulate. They want their femininity to subdue this powerful masculine ideal. It’s exhilarating for a woman to bring an alpha male to his knees through her feminine wiles. To have a dangerous, intensely dominant man become putty in your hands because of the attraction of your femaleness is the height of eroticism.
The womanizing of a female Bond won’t be appealing to men either, even in a straight-sex context because they won’t be able to truly identify with her. Again, she’s a woman acting like a man. Some men who are into submissive/dominant sexual interplay might want to imagine conquering her, but most men don’t want to conquer women in this way; they want to be subdued by a woman even as he pursues her, not by her mimicry of masculinity and dominance, but by her vibrant femininity. A woman’s femininity enhances a man’s masculinity, and this is what men want.
Casting a woman as Bond will kill the series. People will watch because of curiosity, but it won’t last because it will have lost the key ingredient that makes Bond so compelling: masculinity. Men don’t want to be a woman who is a mere shadow of a real man, and women don’t want to be a woman pretending to be a man.
Hemsworth and others can keep banging the drum for a female Bond, but all who recognize the distinctions between men and women and value men retaining masculine ideals without women stealing them in the name of equality shouldn’t fall for this politically correct stunt. If the franchise does end up caving and 007 becomes a woman, don’t despair. We always have John Wick.