Just considering Ms. Anderson for the role has seemed to turn the world on its side, only to reveal that the world itself is bigger and more beautiful and far far more exciting than the upright version I've been living in for 37 years. This is the feminist sea change I've been waiting for.
Is Bond "Quintessentially Male?"
Last night, I was unable to sleep because someone was wrong on the internet.
I had expressed my delight about the Gillian Anderson Bond rumor on Reel Girl's Facebook page, where people come to talk about gender equality in the fantasy world. More than one person suggested that writing a new story/franchise about a female spy played by Gillian Anderson or Priyanka Chopra would make more sense, since James Bond is quintessentially male.
When I responded that James Bond is anything we want the character to be because that's how fiction works, another commenter stated that changing Bond's gender would be taking away the fundamental characteristics that makes James Bond James Bond. She likened it to changing Superman's origin so that he no longer came from Krypton, and was simply a hard working reporter, or making Dr. Who an accountant instead of a Time Lord.
But why is Bond's gender identity or genitalia one of the character's defining characteristics, like Superman's Kryptonian origins or Dr. Who's powers?
As I see it, these are the things that define Bond:
- International espionage
- Loyalty to Britain
- A casual attitude toward sex
- Ruthlessness and aggression
- A license to kill
- Bad puns
- Gadgets and cars
Not a single one of these characteristics is quintessentially male. Though Bond's sexual attitudes have been incredibly misogynistic in nature since the character's creation, that does not change the fact that they reflect Ian Fleming's (and possibly Albert Broccoli's) discomfort with casual sex and with women far more than they reflect some intransigent property of the character. Bond already has changed a great deal in that regard, considering the fact that audiences in 2016 will no longer accept a lesbian character named Pussy Galore who "turns straight" after a literal roll in the hay with Bond.
Bond's quintessential maleness in many people's minds (including my own mind, had Anderson's casting been a suggestion made back in the 1990s) shows how sexist WE are. We cannot imagine a woman who is devastatingly competent, has casual sex, and is willing to kill and torture while throwing off smug one-liners. We cannot imagine it not because a woman cannot do this, but because we have internalized the idea that the world will not allow it.
A New World Is Not Enough
So why not leave the Bond franchise alone and create a female spy who kicks ass, takes lovers, and generally makes the world a more badass place?
Honestly, I would happily watch that movie and probably buy the Blu-Ray. But it's not enough. Because creating a new character who we have decided ahead of time is female means that many of our assumptions about women and men will be baked right into the story.
If we create this female spy character, then perhaps her badassity will stem from the fact that she was raped. Or she will be fighting sexism and glass ceilings left and right so that the story feels more "realistic." Ultimately, writing a new female character means that we will start the exercise with all of the same old assumptions we already have. It will be a small step in the right direction, but casting Gillian Anderson as Bond, the Bond, the shaken-not-stirred badass spy we already know will overturn the world and change everything.
I truly believe that we need stories about badass women that are rooted in our current world. I loved the HELL out of Mad Max: Fury Road, and it is based on many of the above assumptions--rape as backstory, fear of men as the source of anger/courage, and the reality of sexism and the loss of sexual agency. It is an important story (with guitar flamethrowers) that was told well and that makes my heart sing--but it still does not provide us with a world free of our assumptions.
But I need, and my boys need, and we ALL need to see stories that throw out all of our assumptions about gender (and race and age and beauty and any number of other harmful assumptions). That's the only way to make the world open up to us.
The best and most efficient way to throw out those assumptions is to begin gender-blind/race-blind/assumption-blind casting of iconic characters. Creating a new world for a female spy to inhabit will not do it.
Further Up and Further In
The only way to describe the feeling of lightness and freedom I experienced when hearing this rumor about Gillian Anderson is to turn to another British author.
In C.S. Lewis's final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Narnia is destroyed, only for Aslan to show the characters that the real Narnia is still very much there, and it is much bigger and grander and deeper than the Narnia they knew and loved:
The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.(Considering the fact that C.S. Lewis's Narnia/heaven was closed off to poor Susan for committing the awful crime of caring about lipstick and boys, I can't imagine he would be pleased at my comparison. Perhaps if we could figure out a way to harness the energy, the UK could solve the energy crisis through the power of Ian Fleming and C.S. Lewis spinning in their graves).
Casting Gillian Anderson or another incredible British actress in the part of James Bond makes me feel as though the world has opened up, revealing a larger, more complex, more beautiful, and freer place than the one I have lived in so far. I want that world for my boys and myself, and I'm greedy. I don't want to get there in small incremental steps, but in a giant upending of the world--an upending that popular culture can provide for us.
There is so much to explore further up and further in, and I don't want to wait another minute to get there.