Huge advances were made by the Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S. from 1848-1920, but those of us who grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s were still largely unaware of cultural and political inequalities between the genders. We enjoyed the battles between the sexes in the delightful Hepburn/Tracy romantic comedies like Woman of the Year (1942), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952), and we felt proud of how far we had come over the last century.
But despite the growing respect for women reflected in these films, Woman of the Year ended with Hepburn in the kitchen promising to be a “good wifey.” Not even the forward-thinking screen writers and film makers of Hollywood could see the blatant inequalities in men’s and women’s roles or the society that created them. In everyday life individual women were still being blamed for not adapting to their “proper role,” and middle class wives and mothers still had no name for their vague sense of dissatisfaction with their lives.
Then in December of 1955 Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat for a white passenger sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and launched the modern Civil Rights Movement. Suddenly the media began to pay attention to archetypal forces which had been rumbling beneath the surface of our willful ignorance since before the American Civil War. Like it or not, our moral reasoning was evolving and our government was taking the idea of equality for all seriously. Even more shocking, our belief in equal rights for everyone was surpassing the previous pinnacle of collective moral reasoning: the supreme value of blind devotion to established law and order, no matter how unfair the law or how repressive the order.
But it took another bombshell from another woman, Betty Friedan, to trigger a second wave of feminism in 1963 with her book, The Feminine Mystique. During the same decade, several groundbreaking films fueled the explosion and kept the momentum going: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967). The suave super-spy James Bond had arrived on the scene and with him, the Bond Girls!
Now I realize that at first glance one might not automatically associate the Bond Girls with an advance in consciousness! After all, they were uniformly young, slender, beautiful, and sexy. (Miss Moneypenny and Bond’s boss, M, are not Bond Girls!) Aaaarrrggghhhh! We might as well call them Bond Barbie Dolls. (Ahem. Without the l.) But stay with me. There are some subtle differences. According to Wikipedia, “Bond girls follow a fairly well-developed pattern of beauty. They possess splendid figures and tend to dress in a slightly masculine, assertive fashion, with few pieces of jewellery and that in a masculine cut, wide leather belts, and square-toed leather shoes.”
Although still obviously sex objects, these women openly and brazenly claimed their intelligence, autonomy, power, sexuality, and masculine sides. I have no problem with sexy women. Every woman has a sexy side. The Beloved is an archetype, for heaven’s sake. And I have no problem with assertive women who have access to their masculine sides. I have one of those too! Because here’s the thing! The Bond girls were not trying to imitate men, but they were happy to work with them in equal partnerships to attain the same goals and enjoy the same rewards. Like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Katharine Hepburn, Rosa Parks and Betty Friedan, the Bond Girls initiated another step toward every women’s right to claim sovereignty over her own body and life. And to sit wherever she wants to, whether in the courtroom or on the bus! We’ve come a long way ladies and gentlemen. Let’s not stop now!