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Why the Bond girls are in fact women - and they make perfect role models

Far from being considered just sexual fluff, female characters of the 007 franchise should be admired, says Carol Hunt

They're women. Bond women. Got it? Call them "girls" and you'll get a belt of a bra from a passing feminist.

She may be called something ridiculous like Pussy Galore or Honey Ryder - but that doesn't mean she can't pack a punch when she needs to. Or run rings around your average spy boy.

The latest Bond girl, sorry woman, to counter the almost comforting sexism of our never-aging hero, is Monica Bellucci, who, at 51, is not just the oldest woman to spar romantically with James but is practically setting a Hollywood precedent by being a whopping four years older than her leading man.

Now that's something every woman and girl can cheer - the notoriously sexist James Bond franchise leading a feminist charge and putting strong, spunky, (sorry, the Bond school of bad puns is contagious) sharp and sophisticated women into their storylines. Who'd a thunk it?

But should we really be surprised? If we pass over, just for a moment, the silly names, the physical attractiveness, and the fact that Bond women usually end up in bed with the admittedly sexist - but extremely sexy - hero, what are we left with? A milksop victim who needs a man to do everything for her? A woman filling the role that society deems appropriate for her - in the kitchen and the bedroom?

That may have been Bond's idea of the perfect woman ("Someone who can make Sauce Bearnaise as well as love", is what Sean Connery told Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever -which is probably why she dumped him for a marine) but the actual women he comes up against are very different indeed.

Take Pussy Galore. Yes, her name is a ridiculous double entendre, but what sort of a woman is she? The sort who runs a fleet of terrifying female pilots. Camille Paglia has described her as "one of the most commanding, authoritative women in popular culture for the time". Kara Milovy in The Living Daylights, is a world-class concert cellist. Dr Holly Goodhead in Moonraker is a Vassar-educated astronaut and a secret CIA agent. Tiffany Case, in Diamonds are Forever, is an experienced smuggler. Anya Amasova, in From Russia with Love, is a Soviet army major. In The World is not Enough, Dr Christmas Jones is a rocket scientist. And on it goes. There's not, as Sean Connery put it, "a girl next door in the entire lot" and they all seem to speak at least 10 languages, are adept karate or kick boxers and can pick a lock with the ease of a master criminal (as some of them are).

So why do so many celebrated feminists scoff at the notion that Bond women can be female role models? Fay Weldon has said: "these films were attempts by men to keep women in their place and to ensure they still ironed their shirts". And yet... while you'd expect to see a Bond woman assassinate a rival, scale a mountain, fly a plane or run rings around the bad guys, usually with a raised eyebrow and a sparkling wit, ironing a man's shirts is something she has yet to take to. And the way things are going, it's more likely that Daniel Craig will do the honours and bring his Bond woman a cuppa in bed than vice versa.

Writer Kathy Lette said that the Bond women have always been little more than "a life support system to a pair of breasts". (And admittedly, for a time during the Eighties, they were.) But for the most part, Bond women have been so more than mere eye candy.

Yes, the sexiness of the Bond women is central to the whole shebang but ditto the Bond men. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Dalton -and the gorgeous Daniel Craig; what woman hasn't fantasised about "working under", ahem, one of them?

Daniel Craig's killer bod in those teeny weeny shorts as he emerges, glistening, from the waves? Oh, be still my beating heart!

But no matter how independent and super-smart the Bond women are, they still end up falling for James' chauvinist charms, is what the critics argue.

Even Graham Rye - editor of 007 magazine and author of Bond Girls - said; "I think lip service is being paid to political correctness, but in the end they still end up in bed with Bond". Certainly Bond - even the reconstructed, sensitive, introspective Daniel Craig incarnation - is still a bit of a sexist. As are many other charmingly sexy men in the world today.

But that doesn't mean that the women who go to bed with him are just pandering to the needs of the male. Are they really saying: 'Damn. Here's that handsome spy with the great body who is absolutely panting for me, I suppose I better let him have his wicked way even though the thought of making out with him [insert favourite fantasy Bond here] doesn't appeal to me at all.'

No, I didn't think so.

But just to make sure I may need to look at that scene of Craig in the shorts again… I'm back and I can confirm that's definitely not what they're saying! Not if they have a pulse anyway.

Perish the thought, but the women in the Bond movies may actually like the sex just as much as James does. As Barbara Broccoli (the powerful producer of the franchise) said: "a lot of Bond women were sexual predators who gave as good as they got". On more than one occasion it is Bond who is the prey submitting to the desires of the woman.

When growing up, if I had to choose between one of Doris Day's demure housewives or Honor Blackman's rollicking fighter pilot as a female role-model, I know which one I would have plumped for. Just because Rock Hudson was a little more politically correct than Sean Connery doesn't mean Day's characters were in any way more feminist than Pussy Galore or Dr Holly Goodhead - eye-rolling names notwithstanding. Ultimately, being a Bond woman is to be smart, savvy, independent as well as fabulously sexy.

Bedding Bond is an added bonus.

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