These are tough days for men. It is not just MeToo undammed, or even the joyous ‘outing’ of trans desires across the world, but also the steady breaching of the walls that grimly preserve maleness from threats and frivolities. That, too, is not merely a question of traditionally male professions being invaded by females; the transgressive imagination is now trying to turn male characters on screen into women. What else would explain the arrival of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Dr Who in the science fiction series on TV? True, the fictional assumptions can allow for the change: Dr Who is a time traveller who can reinvent himself — herself?—but the question is, why now? Why didn’t anyone think of this before? So, has the Era of the Woman dawned at last?
Probably not. Not while that eternally 30-something, gleaming muscled, piercing-eyed, lightning fast spy with the glad eye and gladder technique, the inimitable James Bond, remains cast in male stone. Barbara Broccoli, the executive producer of the Bond franchise, must have felt the dangers of imaginative expectations when she firmly scotched the idea of a female Bond. Bond will ‘probably’ never be played by a woman, she said. Created by Ian Fleming in the 1950s, there is something in Bond’s DNA that cannot be transferred to a woman, feels Ms Broccoli, a powerful woman herself. This is not a new debate, though. The pros and cons of turning James into Jane have been argued with alternating passion and wit for a while now — Gillian Anderson projecting herself as Jane Bond added grist to the mill — with the vote still going for James. Not that action heroes cannot be female. How would a Bond fare against, say, Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill? And these are just two of them.
The Bond girls, though, are both irresistible and often highly trained, even quite lethal. But they usually come to sticky ends, because they must play second fiddle to Bond. It is not just the impression of virility that male stars would like to preserve by their sole claim to ‘action’ parts, but also the huge sums that go with it. The entry of women into this arena certainly breaks down that glass ceiling. Ms Broccoli may be sensing the creeping danger from all directions. Quite possibly, it is not the female Dr Who but the female Dr Watson who is more unnerving. Lucy Liu is not only an action star in Charlie’s Angels, but she also became a highly successful Dr Watson to Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock Holmes in the 2012 series, Elementary. Even fabled bromances are losing their sanctity, it seems, in this heretical age where women wield cutting-edge — or futuristic — hi-tech devices as deftly as the alpha male. Making James hold firm is getting to be quite a challenge.