Britain’s last line of defence: Miss Moneypenny and the desperations of filmic feminism
I'm a bitch
I'm a lover
I'm a child
I'm a mother
I'm a sinner
I'm a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I'm your hell
I'm your dream
I'm nothing in between
You know you wouldn't want it any other way.
-Meredith Brooks, Bitch
Good old Moneypenny. Britain's last line of defence-James Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The fracturing of femininity is a strength of, as well as a problem for comtemporary feminism. No political label can encompass the plurality of women. Since suffragettes chained themselves to the gate of Number 10 Downing Street, the representational politics of subjectivity have been a central topic of gender theorists. Without a metaphoric Boadicea to embody strength, the political objectives of contemporary feminism can seem tenuous and ambivalent. In response to these larger concerns, this paper explores a minor character from a long-running film series and demonstrates that even in the midst of saturating sexism, a voice of social justice and responsibility can speak. With the latest Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, released during the Christmas season of 1997/8, it is timely to evaluate a superspy's supersecretary.
Miss Moneypenny has been featured in more James Bond films than any figure except the title role. She is the assistant to M, head of the British Secret Service. All agents, administrators, technicians and scientists must pass through the Moneypenny office and antechamber to reach the Imperial core. She is, as the Lazenby-Bond described her, 'Britain's last line of defence.' Moneypenny has been played by three different actors: Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss (in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and Samantha Bond (in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies). Moneypenny's scenes with James Bond have become a generic characteristic of the series. The gender politics enacted through these semiotic snippets of text provide an insight into the desperations of filmic feminism. This paper introduces the character of Moneypenny, following the changes to her ideological configuration from 1962 to 1995, and concludes with an exploration of textual harassment and seduction.
Filmic feminism may seem a clumsy or awkward phrase, yet it acknowledges a political framework that stands for and against specific discourses, world-views and values. Recognition is made of a representational field while maintaining a politically astute identification of who speaks, who is spoken for and how subjectivity is constituted. As Judith Butler has stated:
Politics and representation are controversial terms. On the one hand, representation serves as the operative term within a political process that seeks to extend visibility and legitimacy to women as political subjects; on the other hand, representation is the normative function of a language which is said either to reveal or to distort what is assumed to be true about the category of women.
The relationship between feminist theory and politics is particularly convoluted and ambiguous when invoking desires for social justice in the cinema. There is a necessity to concede that the label of 'woman' is a signifier of contestation and anxiety. While statements about the fragmentation of the sisterhood are common, it is rare to watch the workings of desperation within a film's frame. Very few historical or semiotic spheres have persisted like the Bond phenomenon. The character of Moneypenny offers a useful site for an exploration of the crevices in patriarchy and normative categories.
Feminist readings of Bond films are frequently negative and generalized. As Lindsey has (over)stated:
The James Bond films ... depict women enjoying rape, especially since Bond is the 'good guy' and the supposed fantasy of every woman. Once raped they are then ignored by the male star. Rapes and murders are likely alternatives to women in token roles.
Although Moneypenny is the token woman in the masculinist, colonial project of the British secret service, she has never been raped or murdered. Instead, the muffled eroticism of Moneypenny and Bond has survived for over thirty years, forming the longest unconsummated screen relationship. Wearing has suggested that 'women need to be depicted in situations in which they are active and autonomous, assertive and able.' Miss Moneypenny performs a mode of femininity outside of marriage, fidelity and the private sphere. Certainly the character is framed by her attachment to men. Yet all forms of gender organization are historically specific and mobile, particularly in film. When strong binaries are presented, like an aggressive, powerful, financially-secure heterosexual man or a woman who is a home-maker, wife and mother, the ideologies of these formations are subsumed: they have become normalized. Only through the presence of anxious or contradictory binaries, such as a woman active in the public domain or a politically-active gay man, can the oppressive structures be revealed that determine the limits of acceptable behaviour. Bond is a primary representative of strongly heteronormative masculinist ideologies. Moneypenny's office is encased not only by the proverbial glass ceiling, but also glass walls. She can view power, but wields little. Moneypenny remains the woman behind the man (M) behind the legend (Bond).
Moneypenny is not a static figure: sexual politics and Bond films have changed markedly since 1962. Yet the workings of ideologies are difficult to trace and document without analysing the behaviours, institutions and texts that circulate in any society. Bennett and Woollacott described Bond as 'a moving sign of the times"--but this description is probably far more appropriately applied to the superspy's supersecretary. As Bennett and Woollacott have suggested:
"The Bond girl" of the 1960s disconnected female sexuality from traditional female gender identities, reserving the latter virtually intact ... whilst articulating the former in male defined norms of genital sexuality.
The obvious rupture in this reinscribed femininity is Moneypenny. She is neither a safely sexual nor predictably patriarchal performer. She remains a bitch, a demanding woman who cannot be trusted.
From the first Bond film Dr. No, Moneypenny and Bond displayed a flirtatious but good-willed attachment.
Bond: Moneypenny, what gives?
Moneypenny: Me, given an ounce of encouragement. You never
take me to dinner looking like this James. You
never take me to dinner period.
Bond: I would you know, but M would have me court
marshalled for illegal use of government property.
Moneypenny: Flattery will get you nowhere, but don't stop
The acknowledgement of flattery, rather than sexual harassment, renders Bond's comments benign and banal. In 1962, terming Moneypenny 'government property' was not framed as offensive. The consensual nature of the liaison allows for the negotiation of (in)dependencies. Pivotally, James Bond has a flexibility and freedom not possible within the limits of Moneypenny's office. In From Russia With Love, Bond is sent to fetch an encryption device. Moneypenny supplies his transportation arrangements.
Moneypenny: One plane ticket. Lucky man, I've never been to
Bond: You've never been to Istanbul? Well, the moonlight
on the Bosphorous is irresistible.
Moneypenny: Maybe I should get you to take me there some day.
I've tried everything else.
Bond: Darling Moneypenny, you know I've never even looked
Moneypenny: Really, James?
Here, in the second Bond film, the representation of Moneypenny starts to change. The humour from this scene is generated because the filmic viewer knows that Bond looks at (and touches) many other women. However, Moneypenny is aware of the joke and doubts his intentions. By Goldfinger, Bond is more open to Moneypenny's advances.
Bond: And what do you know about gold, Moneypenny?
Moneypenny: The only gold I know about is the kind you wear on
the third finger of your left hand.
Bond: One of these days we really must look in to that.
Moneypenny: You could come around for dinner and I'll cook you
a beautiful angel cake.
Bond: Nothing would give me greater pleasure, but
unfortunately I do have a business appointment.
Moneypenny: That's the flimsiest excuse you've ever given me.
Well, some girls have all the luck. Who is she
M: She is me, Miss Moneypenny, and kindly omit the
customary byplay with 007. He's dining with me and
I don't want him to be late.
The Miss in Miss Moneypenny is significant. Operating outside the roles of wife and mother, the character challenges gender roles. Still, her desperation for a golden wedding ring is clear. Doyle and Paludi describe marriage as 'a rite de passage, an entrance into the world of adults.' Moneypenny maintains a job with considerable responsibility. Operating. in the liminal social space between youth and old age, without the ideologically-saturated adjective of 'married,' is a complex semiotic site for women. The Spectre of the 'old maid,' although never mentioned in the films, hovers uncomfortably around her desk. By maintaining her singleness, Moneypenny does not allow the male/female, active/passive binary to stand. While she is helplessly romantic, she also actively pursues her quarry.
The ambivalence of the Bond/Moneypenny relationship not only adds raillery to their scenes, but inserts soap opera elements into the action film series. The banter continues in the next Bond film, You Only Live Twice.
M: Moneypenny, give 007 the password we've fixed up
Moneypenny: We tried to think of something you wouldn't forget.
Bond: And that is?
Moneypenny: 'I love you.' Please repeat it to make sure you've
Bond: Don't worry. I've got it.
The 'romance' between Moneypenny and 007 in these early Bond films was humorous, but relatively innocuous. This reading was inculcated through the choice of actors: Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell were the same age and therefore able to engage in a more equitable exchange of ideologies and innuendoes. Moneypenny remained a semiotic suffragette: probing and questioning the limits of women's sexual and societal roles. As for the suffragettes however, the political effectiveness of her words in the long term is difficult to assess.
George Lazenby replaced Connery in the role. making Moneypenny's part even more pivotal to the survival of Bond. Moneypenny, along with M and Q, allowed for a continuity of plot and character development.
Moneypenny: Where have you been?
Bond: Much too far from you, darling?
Moneypenny: Same old James, only more so. Heartless brute,
letting me pine away without even a postcard.
Bond: Pine no more. Cocktails at my place--ust the two of
Moneypenny: Oh, I'd adore that, if only I could trust myself.
Bond: Same old Moneypenny. Britain's last line of
This new Bond, who was the 'same old James, only more so,' claimed Moneypenny complicitly withheld from M the details of a sexual encounter between Bond and an Italian spy hiding in his closet.
M: Now come along Miss Moneypenny. Morning Bond.
Bond: Sir. Thankyou (to Moneypenny).
Moneypenny: Goodbye James, or should I say Ciao bello.
Similarly, in The Man With The Golden Gun, Moneypenny is deeroticized, while Bond mocks her knowledge and ability.
Bond: Moneypenny, you are better than a computer.
Moneypenny: In all sorts of ways, but you never take advantage
of them. 
Through the Moore years, Moneypenny's role was reduced. She became an instrument of the plot. This tendency was clearly shown in Moonraker.
Bond: Good morning Moneypenny.
Moneypenny: But why are you so late?
Bond: I fell out of an aeroplane without a parachute.
Who's in there?
Moneypenny: Q and the Minister for Defence.
Bond: You don't believe me.
Moneypenny: No, and you should go right in.
Bond: Yes, Moneypenny.
From this banality, the framing of Moneypenny became twisted and negative. Although Maxwell was the same age as Moore, she was aged through make-up and costuming. The Moneypenny scene is at its most destructive in For Your Eyes Only.
Moneypenny: James ...
Bond: A feast for my eyes.
Moneypenny: What about the rest of you.
Bond: I was just going to get around to that.
Her facade is ragged, over-painted and old, compared to a youthful, muscular and tanned Bond. The age difference, rendered through performance rather than chronology, makes Moneypenny a figure of ridicule. Her vanity is confirmed though the on-screen application of makeup. Her 'weakness,' judged by the value of face rather than face value, allowed a fatiguing Roger Moore to be propped up as an ideal man. This archetype is a socially constructed image and permits the ambivalent but disturbing proto-feminism of Moneypenny to be rendered desperate and a visual joke.
By Octopussy, the ageing Moneypenny no longer had control over her own office. A younger, blonder woman was hired as her assistant.
Bond: Well I must say you've become more beautiful every
Moneypenny: I'm over here.
Bond: Well of course you are.
Moneypenny: And this is my assistant, Penelope Smallbone.
Bond: What can I say Moneypenny, except that she is as
beautiful and charming ...
Moneypenny: As I used to be.
Bond: I didn't say that.
Moneypenny: You're such a flatterer, James
Bond: You know there never has been and never will be
anyone but you.
Moneypenny: So you've told me.
The indignity and condescension by which the older Moneypenny is represented is to the detriment of the character and the films. Germaine Greer has suggested that 'the sight of women talking together has always made men uneasy.' Such discomfort is not experienced by Bond, as he attempts to instigate competition between Smallbone and Moneypenny. By the final Moore motion picture, A View To A Kill, she is adorned in a floral frock for a day at the races. Bond simply asks: 'Don't you think it's a little bit over the top for the office?' As an excessive site, she becomes a camp figure, an aged aunt, rather than sexualized partner to Bond. Through her clothing, Moneypenny, like all women, suggests how her body is to be read and treated. Negrin has argued that 'one of the primary functions of women's clothing was to enhance a woman's erotic appeal to prospective suitors. By making fashion a site for humour, her sexuality is muffled or perhaps even extinguished. It is significant that when the feminist movement was radical and active in the public domain, the representations of Moneypenny were at their most repressive and disapproving. Framing Moneypenny as the tortured spinster who no longer had a right to pine for the dashing hero, transformed the supersecretary into a warning beacon for ageing women. The commencement of what Susan Faludi termed a 'backlash' is clearly witnessed in these Bond films from the 1970s and 1980s. Second wave feminism aimed to formulate connections between women but, during this era, Moneypenny remained isolated in her office.
Not surprisingly, when the Bond role moved from Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton, Lois Maxwell was replaced by a younger, blonder version, more suited to a Duran Duran video than a 007 film. She arrives as Q is briefing 007 for his next assignment.
Q: Her methods of killing include strangulation
between the thighs.
Moneypenny: Just your type, James.
Bond: No Moneypenny, you are.
Moneypenny: I'll file that with the other secret information
around here. 
As during the Connery years, humour re-entered the relationship. However for 'equality' to be constructed, Moneypenny had to be young and beautiful. The decline of Moneypenny's role signalled a loss of the plural representation of femininity within the Bond discourse. Through the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton years, the Bond gender order became rigidified and binarized. Only with the arrival of Peirce Brosnan was the Moneypenny character revived.
Bond: Good evening Moneypenny.
Moneypenny: Good evening James. M will meet you in the
situation room. I'm to take you straight in.
Bond: I've never seen you after hours, Moneypenny.
Moneypenny: Thank you James
Bond: Out on some professional assignment--dressed to
Moneypenny: I know you find this crushing 007, but I don't wait
home every night waiting for some international
incident, so I can rush down here to impress James
Bond. I was on a date, if you must know, with a
We went to the theatre together.
Bond: Moneypenny, I'm devastated. What would I do without
Moneypenny: As far as I can remember, James, you've never had
Bond: Hope springs eternal.
Moneypenny: You know, this sort of behaviour could qualify as
Bond: Really? What's the penalty for that?
Moneypenny: Some day, you will have to make good on your
This film was significant to the Bond series for many reasons. Firstly, Brosnan's performance of masculinity maintained a knowing display of codes and narratives. Importantly, the new Moneypenny was attractive, bright and efficient. Her clothes once more signify a desiring and desirable woman, who is able to demand rights in the workplace. Her availability, yet distance from Bond is reinforced by Moneypenny's recognition that she has never been 'had.'
By rendering Moneypenny sexual yet unattainable, the tension, conflict and humour of their relationship continues with a sharper edge. The power imbalance between them is narrowing. It is Moneypenny who enters the security code into the situation room, not Bond. The importance of hearing the words 'sexual harassment' in a Bond discourse must not be underestimated. As Doyle and Paludi have suggested, 'we need to think of sexual harassment as being not the act of a disturbed man, but rather an act of an over-conforming man.' Bond is framed by a hyper-heteronormative masculinity. By Moneypenny reminding Bond of his responsibilities and limitations, the textual harassment of the character is brought to an end.
The gender order of the Bond discourse was changed radically through Goldeneye. Not only was Moneypenny renewed, but the inevitable occurred: M was played by a woman. She made her displeasure (and feminism) clear.
M: You don't like me, Bond. You don't like my methods.
You think I am an accountant, more interested in my
numbers than your instincts.
Bond: The thought had crossed my mind.
M: Good, because I think you're a sexist, misogynist
dinosaur, a relic of the cold war, whose boyish
charms although wasted on me obviously appealed to
that young woman I sent to evaluate you.
Bond: Point taken.
The presentation of a female head of the British Secret Service radically reframed the Bond character. A subordinated masculinity, particularly if the character is heterosexual, English and able bodied, is an odd vision in a patriarchal culture. It shakes (but does not stir) what Tolson has termed 'a masculine aura of competence.' A successful masculine performance means that superiority to women must be affirmed in a myriad of contexts. With Bond possessing 'a female boss' and an assistant discussing 'sexual harassment,' filmic feminism does mark the textual frame.
Viewing the Bond films in chronological order, it is clear that feminism has had an impact on filmic representations. The backlash may continue, but the hegemonic reconfigurations of masculinity and femininity in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies demonstrate that significant changes are being made. Sommers may claim that 'I am a feminist who does not like what feminism has become,' but Moneypenny has become, at least, indifferent. And Bond has been labelled a 'sexist, misogynist dinosaur.' Such a categorisation is completely appropriate, and a justifiable payback for the ideological wars fought over Moneypenny during the Roger Moore years (1973-1984). It seems that the point has been taken.
Patriarchal structures have the capacity to silence alternative stories, enacting an active and passive subordination of women and homosexual men in the workplace, leisure spaces, the home and streets. All these oppressions are made possible by evading discussion of men's power and domination. The feminist potentials from the past require an attention to popular cultural texts, such as film, television and fashion. Clearly, Moneypenny's representation in the Moore years configured ageing women as invisible and inept. Yet the potential of the character to move and build on this weakness permits the remaking of an unmarried woman. Instead of the doting, embarrassing spinster, Moneypenny is an active, intelligent and demanding woman, claiming her rights and reminding Bond that he is accountable for his actions.
The final part of this paper evaluates the politics of seduction for men and women. Jean Baudrillard was clear in his assessment: 'in my view the strategy of seduction is a happy, liberating power for women.' The desperation of seduction remains absent from his analysis. The repeated textual embrace of Bond and Moneypenny raises specific questions about politics and sexuality. Yet, as Ellen Willis has stated, 'without contradiction there can be no change, only impotent moralizing.' It would be too straightforward to saturate Moneypenny with the excesses of patriarchy; the role has actually demonstrated much alteration, subtlety and disquiet. Importantly, she has served to reshape and refocus the limitations of Bond's power. Women who seduce men summon the Spectre of the shrew--independent, demanding and wilful. However, unlike bad women from day time soap opera, Moneypenny has not been punished for her autonomy. Instead, the language of feminism ('sexual harassment') and the changes to societal structures (M being, in recent incarnations, a female), have altered both her demands and rights. Sexual experience means knowing the rules of sexuality, subjectivity and normality.
Sex remains a regulated discursive site. Sexual pleasure possesses contradictory social functions: it is not an end in itself, but linked to punishment or duty. To be normalized and naturalized, sexual intercourse must be situated in 'relationships.' Yet as Julie Burchill has stated, 'people who have relationships put the kettle on, talk things out and "grow",' while 'sex was meant to be dirty, dangerous, and disturbing.' Neither Bond nor Moneypenny are committed to each other: no rings have been exchanged and they never consummated their conversations. As with the Nescafe couple, talking substitutes for sex. Their desires permit the competent performance of gender differences. At times, these exchanges are dirty, dangerous and disturbing. Seduction opens out the potential for pleasure, yet is continually trailed by ambiguity and contradiction. Cinematic representations of seduction are what Sharon Willis has termed 'part of film's allure: as we read it, it also reads us.' Film as a highly evocative ideological sphere reinforces, moulds, twists and subverts many aspects of a culture.
Moneypenny moved beyond the home and lived outside marriage throughout much of the post-war period. She remains a figure of strength and commitment during an era of changing social and political structures. Lindsey has suggested that: 'Movies are creations of male fantasies. Women need to invent their own fantasies and portray these as well.' Such a statement undermines feminist theorists' recycling and reworking of filmic texts from the past. Even the most repressive of sites, like the action adventures of James Bond, offer a Moneypenny moment of humour, discomfort and rejection for 007. She provides a transgressive reinscription of the masculine, colonizing project while allowing the superspy to maintain a heterosexual performance. As the bitch, rather than the love, of Bond's life, she is not only Britain's last line of defence, but feminism's first foothold for attack.
1. Lyrics from Bitch, CD single, performed by Meredith Brooks, written by Brooks/Peiken (Capital Records, 1997).
2. James Bond, played by George Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (United Artists: 1969)
3. For example, Julia Kristeva's theory of subjectivity highlights 'an open system' and 'a work in progress,' Tales of Love, trans. Leon S Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 13-16, 379-382. Also, see Elspeth Probyn's Outside Belongings (New York: Routledge, 1996).
4. The character of Q, played by Desmond L!ewellen, was featured in all films except Dr. No and Live And Let Die.
5. Lois Maxwell appeared in the fourteen films following Dr. No. Her last screen appearance was in the last Roger Moore-Bond film, A View To A Kill.
6. Lois Maxwell stated that "the Moneypenny scenes have become like a Bond trademark," from P Haining, James Bond: A Celebration (London: Planet Books, 1987), 193. This book described Maxwell as "The woman who has made a culture figure out of a tiny part," 193.
7. J Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990): 1.
8. LL Lindsey, Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1994), 312-3.
9. B Wearing, Gender.' The Pain and Pleasure of Difference (Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996), 109.
10. T Bennett and J Woollacott, Bond and Beyond (Houndsmills: Macmillan, 1987), 19.
11. Bennett and Woollacott 242.
12. The word 'bitch' in this context signifies third-wave feminism, frequently linked with the UK writers Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore. Although affirming distinct political objectives, these women claim the power and pleasures of popular culture. 13. Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell, Dr. No (United Artists: 1962).
14. Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell, From Russia With Love (United Artists: 1964).
15. Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell, Goldfinger (United Artists: 1964).
16. J Doyle and M Paludi, Sex and Gender (Madison: Brown and Benchmark, 1995), 95.
17. Sean Connery and Lois Maxwell, You Only Live Twice (United Artists, 1967).
18. Lazenby and Maxwell, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
19. Roger Moore, Live And Let Die (United Artists: 1973).
20. Roger Moore and Lois Maxwell, The Man With The Golden Gun (United Artists: 1974).
21. Roger Moore and Lois Maxwell, Moonraker (United Artists: 1979).
22. Roger Moore and Lois Maxwell, For Your Eyes Only (Nutted Artists: 1981).
23. G Greet, The Female Eunuch (London: Palandin, 1971), 13.
24. L Negrin, 'The Meaning of Dress,' Arena Journal 7 (1996): 138.
25. S Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (London: Chatto and Windus, 1991), particularly 99-103.
26 Timothy Dalton and Caroline Bliss, The Living Daylights (United Artists: 1987).
27 Pierce Brosnan and Samantha Bond, Goldeneye (United Artists, 1995).
28 Doyle and Paludi 172.
29 A Tolson, The Limits of Masculinity (London: Tavistock, 1985), 7.
30 C Sommers, Who Stole Feminism? (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 18.
31 J Baudrillard, interviewed by S. Moore and S. Johnstone, 'Politics of Seduction,' Marxism Today, January 1989, 54.
32. E Willis, No More Nice Girls (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1992), 18.
33. J Burchill, Sex and Sensibility (London: Grafton, 1992), 45.
34. Burchill 46.
35. A series of commercials in Australia and New Zealand for Nescafe Coffee feature the saga of a man and woman in the rural Antipodes moving on from their past lives and trying to establish a relationship. The couple have never been intimate, but persist in talking through their problems, always accompanied by a cup of black Nescafe.
36. The significance of that dialogue should not be underestimated. As Chris Weedon has stated in Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 'language is the place where actual and possible norms of social organization and their likely social and political consequences are defined and contested,' 21.
37. S Willis, 'Disputed Territories: Masculinity and Social Space,' Camera Obscura, vol. 19, 1989, 8. 38. Lindsey 315.
By Tara Brabazon
[Source: Hecate. 1998, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p93-104. / Women’s Studies International Forum, #22, 1999. P.489–496.]