From Bond girl to Bond woman: charting the feminist evolution of 007

Posted by for People

We’ve decided to take a look at the OG ‘Bond girl’ and chart her feminist evolution to Bond woman. So grab yourselves a shaken (never stirred) martini, and let’s get this show on the road…

It was during 1962’s Dr No – about halfway through Sean Connery’s 007 debut, to be precise – that we first clapped eyes on a ‘Bond girl’. Indeed, the sight of Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder emerging from the ocean, dripping wet and clutching oversized seashells in her hands, has been burned into our memories ever since.

She was blonde, tanned and dressed only in a white bikini. She was singing a sweet song about love and mangoes (what else?). She was equipped with a dagger, and she wasn’t afraid to brandish it at 007 when he interrupted her soulful little ditty. Most memorable, though, was Honey’s insistence that she didn’t need a man to save her, as it preceded… well, it preceded a series of events in which Bond proved her wrong.

And, just like that, the stage was set. From that moment on, the ‘bikini-clad sidekick’ was as much a part of James Bond’s repertoire as his array of gadgets, flashy car, and inability to introduce himself without first barking his surname at someone. 

Watch: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) walks out of the ocean in Dr No

Movie buffs will no doubt remember that, in 2018, a video compilation of some of 007’s “most inappropriate moments” went viral, featuring clips of the secret agent groping women, lunging at them, yanking off their clothes and even – in one scene from 1964’s Goldfinger – forcing himself on a woman as she tries to fight him off. The video also shows Daniel Craig as Bond in Skyfall, seducing a woman he knows to be a former sex slave (much like Dr No’s Honey, who reveals herself to be a rape survivor early on in her and Bond’s relationship).

It seemed damning evidence against the 007 franchise. However, many fans have pointed out that the ‘Bond girls’ were much more than trophies to be won: they were strong, capable women, too, and representative of their own era’s take on feminism.

Now, as we eagerly await Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s No Time To Die – which boasts a bevy of badass female leads – we’ve decided to take a look at the OG ‘Bond girl’ and chart her feminist evolution to Bond women.

So, grab yourselves a shaken (never stirred) martini, and let’s get this show on the road.

The ‘Bond girls’ of the 60s: feisty, feminine and oh so vulnerable

Hot on the heels of Honey Ryder comes Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), the secret SPECTRE agent that’s not so much hinted at as underlined with a bold red pen in From Russia With Love’s title. She, like Bond, is an undercover agent, willing to use her feminine wiles to seduce 007 so that she could get the information she wanted. And, yes, she does save him at the end (using a poison-tipped shoe, no less). But it’s hard to take her seriously as a female protagonist when Bond keeps slapping her bum, telling her that her mouth is “just the right size… for me, that is,” and violently beating confessions out of her.

James Bond (Sean Connery) and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfinger
James Bond (Sean Connery) and Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Goldfinger

Next, we have Goldfinger’s nauseatingly-named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) – another blonde, this time in the employ of the film’s eponymous villain. She’s skilled in martial arts, is leader of an all-female aviation group, and unwilling to take any shit from Bond. That is, of course, until 007 overpowers her in a barn and physically restrains her until she has sex with him.

Thunderball’s Domino Derval (Claudine Auger) spends much of the movie in her black-and-white bikini after Bond rescues her from a coral reef. You Only Live Twice sees Bond partnered with Japanese SIS agent Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), who proves herself another smart and capable bikini model in the making. However, in an early example of ‘fridging’ (the term used when a lead female character is killed in order for the plot to move forward), Aki is murdered halfway through the film, mere moments after a passionate late-night encounter with 007.

James Bond (Sean Connery) in You Only Live Twice
James Bond (Sean Connery) in You Only Live Twice

Viewers at home needn’t have worried about a bikini-less second half, though: YOLT’s Aki is almost immediately replaced by Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), a ninja warrior who ‘marries’ Bond in a mock wedding ceremony and helps him find Blofeld’s secret underwater volcano base – dressed in a bikini, naturally. It’s worth noting that one contemporary film reviewer genuinely thought it was OK to describe her as “sexy yet cute-as-a-kimono”.

The last ‘Bond girl’ of the 60s, though, was Tracy Draco (Diana Rigg) of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service fame. George Lazenby’s Bond first encounters her on a country coastal road, when she rushes by him. Always interested in women, he follows her to a beach and prevents her from killing herself – and later runs into her at a casino. It isn’t long before Tracy’s father is spilling his daughter’s deepest darkest secrets and offering Bond one million pounds to marry her – which 007 refuses (yay), before promising that he will continue Tracy if her dear old dad reveals where SPECTRE’s Blofeld is based (wait, what?).

It’s worth noting that Tracy and Bond do eventually marry, and on their own terms, too. The union is short-lived, though: she is killed shortly after their Portuguese wedding, devastating Bond and leaving him a free agent once more. Making this, you guessed it, yet another example of fridging in action.

To quote Stylist’s Hannah-Rose Yee: “Dead women are to Bond what spinach is to Popeye.”

Watch: Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg) is killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The ‘Bond girls’ of the 70s: career girls in distress

Just assume, going forward, that all ‘Bond girls’ are gorgeous and clad in bikini/lingerie at some point in their subsequent movies. When we’re identifying a common trope of 007’s love interests in the 70s, though, it’s quite clearly this: they’re all brilliant, and they’re all damsels in distress.

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond refuses to follow orders and blow up ‘Atlantis’ until he’s rescued fellow spy Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) from a watery grave. Voodoo priestess Solitaire (Jane Seymour) doesn’t just need saving from a sacrificial ritual, oh no. She also gets trapped inside a foldout bed in Live and Let Die – which would never have happened if she hadn’t lost her virginity to 007 and, subsequently, her psychic powers – and is forced to wait for James to free her.

The Man With The Golden Gun sees Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) bundled up in the boot of a villain’s car and driven off to an evil lair. Smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) is kidnapped during Diamonds are Forever.

James Bond (Roger Moore) and Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) in Moonraker
James Bond (Roger Moore) and Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) in Moonraker

Our favourite, though? Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) – aka the only ‘Bond girl’ to have sex with James in outer space. Also, the brave and brilliant CIA agent/NASA aerospace engineer of Moonraker fame.

“A woman?” Bond asks in surprise when he meets her.

“Your powers of observation do you credit, Mr Bond,” she replies coolly.

All hail the queen, we guess.

The ‘Bond girls’ of the 80s: glamorous gals of their own means

Close your eyes, imagine an 80s ‘Bond girl’ and you’ll end up with big hair, a big fortune and (in Stacey Sutton’s case) a big ol’ set of lungs – perfect for screaming Bond’s name over and over again. Not, we hasten to add, like the orgasmic screams heard in Herbal Essences adverts: rather, the terrified screams of someone who’s trapped in a burning elevator shaft.

The eponymous Octopussy (Maud Adams) is a wealthy businesswoman and jewel smuggler who also happens to own a circus and live in a floating Indian palace. As one does. Our aforementioned Stacey (Tanya Roberts) is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed daughter of an oil tycoon – and a state geologist, too. Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo) is the girlfriend of a renegade Soviet general and a skilled cellist, too. Pam Bouvier (Cary Lowell) swaps the big hair for a pixie cut (and the bikini for a one-piece), but she’s still a fabulously wealthy ex-CIA agent and pilot. And Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) is the crossbow-wielding assassin with a penchant for skinny-dipping and talking parrots – not to mention sole heir to her murdered parents’ fortune, too.

Watch: May Day (Grace Jones) and James Bond (Roger Moore)’s bedroom scene in A View To A Kill

Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention the ill-fated May Day (Grace Jones). No, the abnormally strong bodyguard isn’t classified as a ‘Bond girl’ per se, but she does have sex with him – albeit on her own terms. In fact, Bond is very much her ‘conquest’ rather than the other way around. And 007 is uncharacteristically taken aback when she walks into his room and allows her dress to drop to the ground, revealing her naked body.

“I see you’re a woman of few words,” he gulps.

“What is there to say?” she replies.

Essentially, May Day saves the day, seduces 007 on her own terms, and showcases some of the best fashion pieces to ever grace a Bond movie. We’re less on board with the fact that she sacrifices herself to stop Zorin and save the world (especially as Roger Moore’s spy, after watching her die, rushes off to bed Stacey), but she’s probably one of the best ‘not-Bond girls’ of the lot.

The ‘Bond girls’ of the 90s: partners in crime

What kind of a world do we live in where a woman crushes men to death between her powerful thighs? The world of 90s Bond, of course.

This woman is Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), and she’s certainly something. Beautiful and seductive, she is a VERY literal femme fatale – and derives a lot of pleasure from the men she squeezes between her thighs. Like, a lot. She’s the complete antithesis to fellow GoldenEye ‘Bond girl’ Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), who keeps things prim and proper in her white bra and satin slip. Of course, Natalya also destroys the villain’s satellite, commandeers a helicopter and rescues Bond, though, so please don’t assume the programmer is boring by any means.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow Never Dies
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) in Tomorrow Never Dies

This pairing of good vs evil ‘Bond girls’ is also seen with Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) and Dr Christmas ‘Don’t Make Any Jokes About My Name Please’ Jones (Denise Richards) in The World Is Not Enough. Both are smart, capable women. One employs her feminine wiles to lure Bond into a false sense of security, playing off his love for ‘vulnerable’ women. The latter? Well, she’s more interested in nuclear physics than she is 007… until she learns that things between him and Elektra are (pardon the pun) “strictly plutonic”.

Tomorrow Never Dies switches things up further. Yes, Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver is unceremoniously fridged (RIP yet another ‘Bond girl’), but Michelle Yeoh’s Colonel Wai Lin raises the bar big-time. A high-ranking soldier and martial arts expert, she’s tough, savvy and absolutely Bond’s equal. Best of all, she turns him down whenever he even thinks about trying to seduce her.

“Don’t get any ideas, Mr Bond,” she tells him.

Of course, she eventually falls for Pierce Brosnan’s charms, but only after their mission is complete. One must save the world before one bangs their co-worker, and all that.

Watch: M (Judi Dench) meets James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) for the first time

Please also remember that Judi Dench takes over as ‘M’ in the 90s, putting a fierce female in charge of Bond (sans bikini and sex scenes) for the first time ever. She’s a righteous, critical voice – and she isn’t here for Bond’s caddishness, describing him as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the cold war”.

We like her. We like her a lot. It seems things are well and truly on the up.

The ‘Bond women’ of the 00s and beyond: all change

Ever since Halle Berry’s knife-wielding Jinx Johnson emerged from the water, in a glistening homage to (you guessed it) Honey Ryder, the ‘Bond girls’ (or should that be ‘Bond women’?) have felt different. Hell, actual Madonna even had a cameo as a fencing instructor.

Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) is a Harvard-educated, gold medal-winning, Olympic fencing double agent, and she serves up some serious ice queen energy in Die Another Day. Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is the daring and skilled agent who, understandably, has zero interest in babysitting Daniel Craig’s young and mercurial Bond. Naturally, they fall hard for one another – so hard that Bond makes ‘Vesper’ his secret password – and, while she ultimately betrays him, she redeems herself with an act of self-sacrifice.

Gemma Arterton’s MI6 agent, Strawberry Fields, is subjected to yet another fridging incident, sure, but this time it doesn’t go unnoticed. Indeed, Dench’s M berates Bond for causing the death of Fields, whom she astutely describes as a “sacrificial lamb”. Elsewhere in Quantum of Solace, Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) is fiercely brave and, while she requires rescuing – twice – during the film, she doesn’t share a love scene with Bond. Instead, they share a chaste kiss before going their separate ways, and she wishes him luck in conquering his personal demons.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Jinx Johnson (halle Berry) on the Die Another Day poster
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) on the Die Another Day poster

In Skyfall, Naomie Harris’s Eve Moneypenny gives us a modern, capable and deadly agent who just so happens to be a woman – one who, much like the Moneypenny characters of old, doesn’t sleep with 007 (although, unlike the Moneypenny characters of old, this doesn’t bother her in the slightest). This film, though, does commit the ultimate crime in fridging when it kills off – spoilers – Dench’s M, thus hardening the heart of Craig’s Bond and allowing Ralph Fiennes to step in as the new (male) Head of the Secret Intelligence Service. And let’s not forget that, as mentioned all those paragraphs ago, this is the very same film that sees Bond seduce Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), a woman he knows to be a rape survivor.

Watch: Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) shoots James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Skyfall

Spectre, though, gets us back on track with Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). She’s a psychiatrist who knows the value of consent, threatening to kill 007 if he so much as touches her while she’s sleeping. She’s a terrible marksman, but still fires a gun repeatedly in order to distract the villains and give Bond time to do his thang. And she removes herself from the narrative, informing James that she doesn’t want to assist him in stopping the launch of the Nine Eyes program.

As Seydoux herself notes: “I don’t consider myself a Bond girl. I think I’m not really the stereotyped Bond girl… she’s not a fighter, she’s a doctor. She fights in another way.”

Bond girl or Bond woman? Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Spectre
Bond girl or Bond woman? Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Spectre

So what comes next?

Bigger and better things, it seems, as the first full trailer for No Time To Die has made a point of pushing its female talent into the spotlight.

In it, we see something which rarely happens – the return of a former ‘Bond girl’, as Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann seemingly betrays Bond and breaks his heart. Elsewhere, Ana de Armas’ Paloma wields a gun in each hand and channels some serious ‘don’t mess with me’ energy, while Lashana Lynch’s Nomi tells Bond exactly where he can stick it. In fact, after revealing she’s the new 00, she straight up tells him she will put a bullet in his knee if he fails to “stay in your lane”.

Check it out:

In an interview with Deadline, Waller-Bridge – who was personally asked to work on the No Time To Die script by Craig himself – has said that she intends to give the film’s leading women the sort of dialogue that makes them feel “like real people”.

“I just want to make sure that when they get those pages through, that Lashana, Lea and Ana open them and go, ‘I can’t wait to do that.’ As an actress, I very rarely had that feeling early in my career. That brings me pleasure, knowing that I’m giving that to an actress,” she said.

It’s also worth noting that, when asked at the Baftas if she would be bringing feminist humour to the plot, Waller-Bridge replied: “We’ll see what I can sneak in.”

In short, the future looks bright for the Bond women of 2020. Only time will tell, though, if No Time To Die lives up to our feminist expectations.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty/The Movie Database/EON Productions

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray