This post first appeared as an article in the March issue of LBD Group's GLOSS Magazine.
There’s been a series of incredibly cool photos doing the rounds online this week featuring 31 year old Sean Connery and 26 year old Ursula Andress, shot between takes during the filming of the very first James Bond film, Dr No. The pictures provide a ‘time and place’ snapshot of a barely known young Scottish actor clearly out to impress a stunningly beautiful, completely unknown Swiss actress, both totally at ease with each other while utterly oblivious to the international mega-stardom that was just weeks away. Considering where that film took ultimately Connery and Ursula’s now iconic white bikini scene, what is so remarkable about the photos is the innocence of Connery’s adolescent displays of physical prowess while the clearly impressed Andress looks on. It suggests a time when life was much more simple. Men were men. Women were women. Men wore the pants. Women hung around looking beautiful in bikinis and all it took to impress them were a few handstands. Good times.
I’ve been a mad Bond fan for many years now and I’ve always proudly qualified that distinction by saying ‘...Fleming’s Bond, the Bond of the novels, first - movies second’. And, loving the novels as I did, and still do, it was inevitable that they would eventually influence my own modest offerings as a thriller writer many years later. However, when I compare the views of my 15 year old self (the one who thought, I’m going to write books like that one day) with those of my (almost) 50 year old self, I’m very relieved to say that I’ve matured - significantly so, particularly with regard to my views on how women were presented back in Ian Fleming’s day.
So what exactly have we done over the past half century to further the cause of women in the modern action thriller? What have we done to present women in a way that reflects our aspirations for equality and respect? I’ve always held the view that progressing equality for women is something that will only ever be achieved by men and women working together in true partnership. There can’t be any reticence and there can’t be any begrudging acquiescence either. It’s not about women pleading with men, saying ‘Come on, it’s our turn now you bastards.’ No, it’s about all of us saying ‘Hang on, it’s 2014 and we still haven’t got it right yet?’
It’s been 120 years since women over 21 were able to vote in this country. In that time we’ve had only one female Prime Minister, one female Governor General and, in the current government, just one female in the Cabinet. What does that say about us and our commitment to evolving? What’s taking us so long? It is inconceivable that success will be achieved in isolation. I mean, how can we possibly achieve equality if only half of the equation is working towards that objective?
So, as a man I looked for inspiration among my brothers, home grown champions of change, and in this particular case, thriller scribes who not only respect women and value the right of every woman to be heard as an equal, but have wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to present women, front and centre as their principal protagonists.
I’m talking about Tony Park, Greg Barron and Nathan Farrugia. All three of these great Australian writers have shifted the focus on women in fiction out of the bikini and into the line of fire. Tony’s Sonja Kurtz (The Delta), Greg’s Marika Hartmann (Savage Tide), and Nathan’s Sophia (The Chimera Vector) are contemporary heroes in every way, capturing all of the power, sophistication, physical and moral toughness and smarts of the modern woman.
First in the EON Productions series. The first filmed version of Ian Fleming’s novels was in fact a television adaptation of Casino Royale which aired in 1954 and starred Barry Nelson as ‘Jimmy Bond’.
Women shouldn’t need to ask for permission – Sonja, Marika and Sophia certainly don’t - and men shouldn’t consider themselves the final approvers. Success comes by standing side by side with gender a non-issue. What we need is collaborative communication, a shared vision of the end-game and, above all else, mutual respect. Team work, what a concept! That’s what I like so much about what these writers have done. They’ve embraced the position of women as equal in every way and have created female characters that don’t need to be considered the rival of any man. They just are who they are – strong, resourceful, intelligent and, most importantly, still women. So, that’s it girls. Take a leaf out of the books of Park, Barron and Farrugia and go and kick some arse. On second thoughts, go easy on us.
Remember, without you guys we’d still be living in trees. Seriously.