Why Do Female Spies Have To Use Seduction As Their Weapon of Choice?

By Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

There’s a moment on 30 Rock where Jenna says to Liz: “Don’t worry. I have a secret weapon.” Liz mutters, “Please don’t say your sexuality,” as Jenna cuts her off: “My sexuality!” While watching the trailer for Red Sparrow, I felt a lot like Liz.

Let’s break this down: the teaser shows Jennifer Lawrence in red, the color of sex, sitting on a bed. We hear a male voice say “Take off your dress.” Then we see her killing the man, having successfully used the secret weapon of her sexuality. We learn that Lawrence is one of a group of Sparrows, who are “trained to seduce and manipulate. To use their bodies. To use everything.” (By everything, the trailer means their sexuality). Really, Hollywood? You give us a female spy, and she’s the Sexy SpyTM? It would be one thing if there were plenty of other female spies out there using weapons other than their sexualities. Unfortunately, there are very few female spy characters, and what do you know—they all use their sexualities as weapons!

Red Sparrow has been compared to Black Widow, since the whole “trained to be a Sexy SpyTM in Russia against her will and also ballet is involved” thing lines up almost exactly. Since Black Widow is probably the most recognizable female spy out there, the fact that she, too, is a hot Russian trained to seduce probably says a lot about what American audiences think about women—and Russia. Despite her knowledge of a dozen martial arts, it’s clear what Black Widow’s real superpower is—her comic book stories have names like Kiss or Kill.

“Your body belongs to the state”,Lawrence’s character Dominika is told during a training session. Like Black Widow, Dominika is forced into the life of a Sexy SpyTM, beginning her training by being brutally raped. She is also forced to strip in front of other cadets, and has to watch disturbingly violent pornography as part of Sparrow sex-ed. The fact that these two spy stories combine Sexy SpyingTM with the absence of consent is especially concerning—and it’s nothing like the backstories of male spies.

Think back: has James Bond ever been raped on the job? Did James Bond have to strip in front of the rest of MI6 to get his license to kill? Is James Bond in the spying business against his will, as the result of blackmail or brainwashing? The answer to all these is obviously no, because James Bond is a man, and he can do spying in a consensual and non-sexy way.

Not only does James Bond have all that going for him, but he also gets to canoodle with the beautiful Tatiana Romanova in 1963’s From Russia, With Love. Tatiana is a Russian spy whose mission—surprise—is to seduce James Bond. Is Hollywood trying to be feminist by literally taking Bond girls and giving them their own movies?! If so, they might want to lose the James Bond sensibilities toward women first, because Red Sparrow shows that a female lead does not a feminist spy movie make.

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