Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard great and wonderful things about a small movie called Skyfall. Yes film fans, the latest addition to the Bond franchise is as well-scripted and action-packed as you have been promised, complete with enormous explosions, cool cars and seductive sirens. However, while the movie has been praised […]

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Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard great and wonderful things about a small movie called Skyfall. Yes film fans, the latest addition to the Bond franchise is as well-scripted and action-packed as you have been promised, complete with enormous explosions, cool cars and seductive sirens.

However, while the movie has been praised by many for bringing Bond into the twenty-first century, this last and most notorious Bond trope is the thorn in the side of Skyfall. While the plot may have been tightened and the cheesy villains dropped, the women are still merely decorative foils for Bond’s masculinity. They cause trouble through incompetence, leaving Bond to clear up their mess, and are seen as entirely disposable when their purpose has been served. The only beacon of hope for women in the film is the marvellous M (Judi Dench), who retains her power over Bond purely because there is no potential for a sexual relationship. Indeed, for all her cutting quips and stolid British courage, M frequently comes across as something of a victim, reliant on Bond to save the day.

Of course, Skyfall and its predecessors are not the only films to fall into the trap of using women purely as plot-shaping damsels in distress. Taken from a 1985 comic strip by Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel test aims to show a film’s gender bias through three requirements. To pass, a film must have two (preferably named) women who speak to each other about something other than a man. Although this is not an absolute measure of whether a film can be described as feminist or not, the purpose of the test is to highlight token female characters, thereby revealing a film’s underlying failure to offer substantial female representation. Interestingly, Skyfall passes, although many would challenge this by querying how significant the conversation needs to be to count as a pass.

While it has its limitations, the Bechdel test succeeds in highlighting the gender discrimination in certain surprising films. For example, while summer blockbusters Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises both feature butt-kicking heroines, both films fail, as do all three of the original Star Warsfilms. Many filmgoers see one female character hold her own in one fight and think that this is a stride towards positive representation of women. InThe Dark Knight Rises, for example, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman can fight, flip and quip with the best of them, and all in high heels, yet she remains a one dimensional and unreliable figure ultimately relying on Christian Bale’s Batman to turn up at the right moment.

All too often, the women intended as the tough female presence are forced to double as the damsel in distress. How many times have we watched said damsel swooning in terror on the sidelines while the hero wrestles with the villain, and wondered why she isn’t helping too? One film which turned this on its head was Pixar’s Brave. While criticised as lacklustre in comparison to their classics, this film sees a mother-daughter team take on a fearsome enemy while an army of men stand by watching. Before men everywhere start bleating about how this is unfair too, consider the rarity of this scenario in film.

Finally, and to stem yet more male bleating, it should be noted that criticising a film’s feminist credentials is not to challenge its credibility. Skyfall is a sharp, clever and compelling thriller which men and women are enjoying in their thousands. However, in the twenty-first century it is no longer acceptable to take films at face value. If we want to see greater and more substantial representation, we must begin to look through generally accepted representations of women as sirens and victims, and to demand more female characters capable of taking care of themselves.

Written by Natasha Lavender

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