Death of the Critic

Compulsory Heterosexuality in Film

Written by: Tom Blaich

When we look back at film, it is amazing to see how far we have come, but at the same time how far we have to go in the portrayal of characters on screen. Even now, epithets like “fag” are used as the butt of many jokes. Look, for example, at the 2007 film Superbad. In it, character Seth refers to another character as “Faggle” multiple times, and its intended to make the audience laugh. But what it does is it shows us the way in which heterosexuality has been accepted entirely as the norm, and that anything that exists outside of it is laughable in some way. If a character is not a heterosexual, or actively seen as a heterosexual, then they are weird, and need to be made fun of or fixed in some way.

Now imagine we go back even further. To 1964. Hardly our most progressive year in our history. This year, a James Bond film came out, entitled
Goldfinger. The third in the bond franchise, based off of the 1959 book of the same name. Our series hero must foil a plot by gold loving mastermind Auric Goldfinger, who wants to detonate an atomic bomb in Fort Knox, thus irradiating our countries supply of gold bullion, and making the gold in his possession vastly more valuable.

On this quest he is assisted by pilot Pussy Galore, leader of Pussy’s Flying Circus, an all female flight troupe. She is introduced to the watcher of the film on Goldfinger’s flying jet, as James Bond wakes up after being tranquilized. The screen focuses on Galore’s face and Bond immediately starts to flirt with her. The exchange is as follows:

Bond: “Who are you?”
Galore: “My name is Pussy Galore”
Bond: “I must be dreaming” (

From the first moment that she appears on screen, Galore is inherently sexualized. Both through her name and through the way in which Bond looks at her. In this scene, in which he attempts to banter with her, he also flirts with a flight attendant named Wai Lin, frequently staring at her buttocks while she makes him a drink. Galore is introduced to us as an object of heterosexual desire. Even though she attempts to retain some agency, rebuking his advances after he insinuates that she is sleeping with Goldfinger, “I’m a damn good pilot” (
Goldfinger) and chastising him for his advances. “You can turn off the charm, I’m immune.” (Goldfinger).

The immediate insinuation is that she is not normal for not going for James Bond. He is set up as a sex icon, and woman simply don’t turn him down. Somehow she is trying to deny her heterosexuality by refusing him. The reason for this is evident clearly in the accompanying book and is implied in the movie. Pussy Galore is a lesbian. And this is shown to us in many ways. She runs an all female group of robbers in the book and is a lesbian because she was molested by her uncle at a young age. (Fleming)

If we look at the writing of Adrienne Rich, she says this, ”the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being 'dried up' and sexless, or lesbian.” (Rich 133). And in this way we can see the way in which Galore is set up to be a lesbian. But because lesbians are not heterosexual, they are therefore, against the norm, a matter that must be corrected. “Another layer of the lie is the frequently encountered implication that women turn to women out of hatred for men.” (Rich 140) The implication within the novel is that Galore turned to the female sex because of her experience with her uncle at a young age. In this way, the author sets up he character as spiteful against men, needing to be brought back into the fold.

This is where James Bond comes in. In the film, the scene in which he “seduces” galore, is now extraordinarily uncomfortable to watch. It begins with the two of them in a barn talking, as Bond tries again to put the moves on her. Clearly uncomfortable, she tries to fight him off with judo, but even after throwing him several times, he manages to toss her and climb atop her on a bale of hay. While she repeatedly says no and attempts to hold him off, he forces himself onto her, her hands on his throat as he attempts to kiss her.

She continues to struggle until moments after he manages to kiss her, only then having her resistance melt. Then she gives herself up to him completely. We see here that not only did she in fact “want it” from him, she was not a lesbian at all. She was simply confused and needed to be shown the right way. This mirrors the experience of a Norwegian lesbian Rich mentions in her work.

The moment she said in family group therapy that she believed she was lesbian, the doctor told her she was not. He knew from 'looking into her eyes/ he said. She had the eyes of woman who wanted sexual intercourse with her husband. So she was subjected to so-called 'couch therapy.' She was put into comfortably heated room, naked, on bed, and for an hour her husband was to ... try to excite her sexually. ... The idea was that the touching was always to end with sexual intercourse. (Rich 138)

The outdated idea that through heterosexual contact a lesbian could be in some way, “fixed” is used here. Because of the conception of heterosexuality being compulsory, we “know” that in fact Galore does want to have sex with Bond. And through contact with his penis, all of her psychological issues are fixed and she is “correct” again. Her “seduction” relies purely on the idea of compulsory heterosexuality being intrinsic.

And while the idea of a woman not wanting sex was a popular one within movies of this period, it was usually not out of a lack of sexual desire. Usually they are portrayed as being afraid of being seen as a sexual beings, and all they need is a gentle push or incentive from the right man to unlock their sexuality. But not in a way that liberates them sexually. In a way that intrinsically ties their sexuality to the man that they are with. It removes any sense of sexual agency that they have and portrays them simply as an outlet for male sexual desire that a man must approach and then conquer with his sexuality. Outside of their interaction with men, women are not allowed to have sexuality of their own.

That is what happens in this film. Galore is stated in the book to like women, but she is never allowed to actually express this desire physically. Instead she must wait for a man to come along and activate her sexuality and bring her back to the norm. This removes the agency of the woman, one of the characteristics of Rich’s definition of male power. “to deny women [their own] sexuality”. (Rich 131)

Even though films are getting better at portraying women as sexual beings of their own, with films like
Blue is the Warmest Color and Nymphomaniac they are still filmed for the male gaze. Heterosexuality is still prevalent, even when the subject matter is strictly non heterosexual. This is a problem that continues to need to be addressed.

Fleming, Ian. Goldfinger. New York: Macmillan, 1959. Print.
Goldfinger. Dir. Guy Hamilton. Perf. Sean Connery. MGM, 1964. DVD.
Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Superbad. Dir. Greg Mottola. Prod. Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg. By Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Perf. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera. Columbia Pictures Industries, 2007. DVD.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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