No Time To Die was finally released on 30 Sept., and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month or so, I’m sure you’ll have seen the outrage that was sparked by Daniel Craig daring to suggest that James Bond should not be played by a woman. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, his comments were taken out of context, and there was uproar for no apparent reason. What he’d actually said is that there’s no need for James Bond to be played by a woman because there are simply better female characters out there for women to play. Considering he’s been playing Bond for over a decade, he’s somewhat of an authority figure on the future of the character that we all know and love. And you’ve got to give it to him, he’s got a good point.
Now, before I get labelled a bad feminist, let’s just get one thing out of the way — I obviously believe in and want equal rights for everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, or religion. But that doesn’t mean that I think everyone has to do absolutely everything together to achieve this. There’s a bizarre obsession with trying to get women and other gender identities to “catch up,” but that’s not really what anyone is asking for, is it?
So, humour me while I present to you St. Andrews’ own version of this dilemma: in the same vein that James Bond should, in my opinion, continue to be played by a man in the way that he was written, the Kate Kennedy Club shouldn’t have to have any girls in it.
I’ll admit that a large proportion of my reservations are down to the fact that I absolutely hate change for the sake of change. On the other hand, I do enjoy the odd tradition. And as a university, I think we can all agree, we do tradition particularly well — the pier walks, the running into the North Sea at 4 am on 1 May and the red gowns, to name a few. Raisin Weekend, to draw on the most recent event, is a near-perfect example of everything that’s great about tradition — it’s a bit of common ground for everyone; they provide a sense of constancy, and even though they’re a bit weird, everyone enjoys them deep down. And it may have had its ups and downs in the past, but the Kate Kennedy Club and its procession are undoubtedly one of these traditions.
Some quick research on the club shows that it was officially founded in 1926 by two male students at the university, though the procession itself dates back to the 15th century. The old club rules stated that “the number of members cannot exceed sixty and only male matriculated students of St Andrews University are eligible to apply.” Fast forward to 2009, when then principal Professor Louise Richardson released a statement announcing that the University of St Andrews would be withdrawing all official recognition of the club and would not be represented in the procession until such a time when every student was welcome — clearly not a great look. Two-and-a-bit years later, the club voted in favour of allowing every student, regardless of gender, to apply and, unsurprisingly, the university reinstated their recognition.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but that timeline feels all a little too convenient, and is exactly what I mean about change for the sake of change. The club raises a huge amount of money for charity every year — Opening Ball alone must have raised thousands, and that’s just the first event of the year. That’s reason enough for the club to be respected, and they shouldn’t have to change their rules and traditions purely to bolster their own reputation in the eyes of the university. There are more productive ways to be inclusive than having a few token girls for the sake of it, or because your hand was slightly forced. And either way, no one is clamouring for Lumsden to start admitting boys, despite the fact that they are proudly an all-female club.
One of the best parts of university is everyone being able to do their own thing and embrace their individual hobbies. It’s a refreshing change for most people after years of being at school where it wasn’t necessarily a good thing to be different, and it was easier to follow the crowd than strike out on your own. Just as some people may choose to play hockey rather than netball, others will prefer to get involved in music or debating rather than sport, and that’s a good thing because we’re not supposed to be clones of one another. As long as everyone can come together at the end of the day, a bit of separation is not only natural, but it’s entirely okay. And if no one is actively being hurt, it’s perfectly acceptable to have groups designated for a specific demographic, whether that’s a male/female divide or not.
So back to the question of James Bond. Created in 1953 as a combination of people Ian Fleming had encountered during the Second World War, 007, with all his martini-drinking, Aston Martin–driving and womanizing ways, is a product of his time. The world has changed significantly, in so many ways, since the publication of those novels, and so there’s really nothing wrong with embracing Fleming’s universe, provided you recognise it for exactly what it is. Let’s be honest: No one’s going to see James Bond films for the realism, are they? There are so many other ways for the Bond franchise to evolve than changing the way the character was written, like having a person of colour take the role.
We’ve come a long, long way from Roger Moore’s toe-curling chat-up lines (genuinely, who gave anyone permission to write the line “Bollinger? If it is a ’69 you were expecting me”), and Daniel Craig’s grittier portrayal of Bond feels so much more appropriate for the 21st century. An honourable mention has to go to Naomie Harris, whose Moneypenny is a world away from Samantha Bond’s simpering take on the character, but there is more work to do. That doesn’t need to involve a woman taking the lead though, perhaps an emphasis on not having a villain whose facial disfigurement serves only to perpetuate harmful stereotypes would be a better place to start.
Crucially, this question of reversing gender roles, isn’t black and white — which is why I think it’s okay to respect the way in which some characters were written. Take Doctor Who, though I haven’t watched it since I was a child, I thought it was great when they announced that Jodie Whittaker would be the 13th Doctor. And it worked, because the point of the character is to constantly evolve and regenerate, so placing a woman in the role seems entirely feasible and is a natural progression.
Usually I’d like to say if you can’t beat them, join them, but in this case we most certainly can beat them. There are so many better characters out there for women to play, rather than flogging a somewhat dead horse and changing a canonical character to appear politically correct. From Scarlett Johannsen’s Black Widow to Jodie Comer’s Villanelle — and for that matter, anything else written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge — there’s an entire host of complex female leads who are far more interesting to watch and are more inspiring role models to see on-screen than Fleming’s slightly stubborn secret service agent. The ongoing battle for abortion rights in Texas shows that there are many more important and far bigger feminist issues that we have to tackle before Bond.
My main point, though, is that every underrepresented group deserves their own characters, or their own societies, rather than recycling an old one to appear more contemporary, diverse, and inclusive. And to be honest with you, I don’t begrudge men James Bond one bit. They can keep him — I’d rather be Villanelle any day of the week.
Image: Wikimedia Commons