I’m rather proud of the fact that the very first movie I ever saw at the cinema was the Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. I’ve got older siblings and they often took me with them to see movies that were at the top end of the age range, me being only ten when that came out in 1977.
I loved the glamour and the adventure of it all. The exotic Egyptian location made me yearn for far-off places and while at the time I couldn’t see the point of the ‘sexy time’ between Bond and Russian agent Anya Amasova, I can now see that Barbara Bach’s intelligent, dynamic glamour became the blueprint for femininity for me and throughout my life, I’ve always fantasised about becoming a Bond girl.
Having retrospectively discovered that Bond isn’t exactly the most liberated of franchises, I’ve thought long and hard about my ultimate feminine fantasy and why I long to be Anya Amasova. It turns out that the movie was released during those turbulent years of the ‘second wave’ of feminism and it formed a bit of a watershed in terms of how Bond women were portrayed. In 1974, Britt Ekland had starred in The Man with the Golden Gun and by her own admission, the role she played was not based on intelligence or dynamism: “…we were all sex kittens … We are never called ‘Bond Women’ mind you, it’s still ‘Bond Girls’ but today they are much more sophisticated.”
Perhaps Ekland was the last of the ’60s throwback ‘Bond kittens’ before Barbara Bach came along in TSWLM – nothing kittenish about her. Spy‘s theme song, Nobody Does it Better by Carly Simon, did seems to suggest that Bond was still in charge, but Simon’s You’re So Vain history always makes me think that she meant it in a tongue-in-cheek ‘yes, of course you’re still wearing the trousers, darling’ way.
So fast-forward to 2014 and we’ve just heard that fifty-year old Monica Bellucci has been cast in the latest movie, Spectre, to be released next year. In a subsequent interview, she immediately corrects the ‘Bond girl’ moniker to ‘Bond woman’. Taking over where Honor Blackman left off as a 39-year-old ‘Pussy Galore ‘in Goldfinger (1964) she is the oldest Bond girl ever, and has been awarded the accolade of having a non-innuendo name in the movie, Lucia Sciarra. How far we have come.
I’m delighted that the older woman has been recognised as a box-office worthy attraction, even if it is within a film franchise that is notable for its objectification of women, to the point where they are often disposed of halfway through the movie. (I remember going to an office Christmas party where the theme was ‘Bond’, and one of my female colleagues going as the Expendable Blonde’, complete with fake bullet hole in the head. Brilliant.)
Because as a woman only a few years younger than Ms Bellucci I am only too aware of the invisibility of women in mainstream media once they reach a certain age, especially in movies. As Kristin Scott Thomas has said: “I’m still asked to do leading roles in France, never in the UK. Never ever. People will ask me why, and I don’t really know apart from this idea that in France people are less afraid of older women, or getting old … In England, you have the feeling that with women after 50 you don’t have sexuality any more, or if you have sexuality you are a nymphomaniac.”
Women like Madonna, who ‘ostentatiously’ continue to celebrate their sexuality beyond fifty are constantly vilified in the media. She is the oldest trope in the book – the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ hag who entraps young men into her web of hysterical sexuality. I agree with Kristin that the sexual prime of the older woman is frightening – people don’t know what to do with it and like to label you as a ‘cougar’, a she-wolf predator who needs to sate her freakish desires.
Here’s a thought: maybe we’re at the top of our game and because it’s so damn powerful society has to come up with a range of monstrous myths to keep it on the down low. Can’t have those pesky women being all in our faces when they’ve got no right to be there, sexually, professionally, economically or politically. Let’s make fun of their attempts to present their sexuality, intelligence and authority in public so that they shrink back and don’t bother us again.
And how I love Madonna for never doing that. As Helen Mirren said of her: “I think Madonna got it right. Madonna claimed [her sexuality] for herself, and I’ve always admired her for that. I loved that sex book she did, I thought it was fantastic, because it was a big two fingers up. ‘This is my sexuality, it’s not what you put on me, it’s mine.'” She’s just got her body out again, this time in Interview magazine, and whilst I do have issues around why women are constantly needing to do this to make a point about their sexuality (see my Over-Baring post) I kind of love that she has. Never disappear, Madonna.
My experience of becoming an older woman is one of increasing sexual power, and society’s increasing fear of it. I know that lots of men love it, and want to experience it – many friends my age have reported a recent upsurge in ‘interest’ from younger men – but they are often keen to keep their interest a secret, as though it is something freakish within them they can never admit to. For many men my own age and older, a woman like me is a threat to the power ratio, especially if they happen to come with a good job and a salary. There’s a reason why this is the demographic most prone to vilify older women. Ladies and gentlemen, look no further than AA Gill.
So, go Monica, go. I know you’re in a movie purely because of your astonishing beauty and sexual power, but you are fifty, and never before have those three things been seen as a positive. As someone not far off fifty and fearing the inevitable ‘cloak of invisibility’ descending, I can’t wait to see you up there on screen giving 46-year-old Daniel Craig the runaround.
In reality, he’d be trying to behave as though you didn’t exist.