Yesterday I saw Kingsman: The Golden Circle. To be clear, I loved the first film, and I did enjoy the sequel, despite some major problems in the narrative. I do love the characters: Eggsy is fun to watch, as is Harry Hart and Merlin. I’m also a fan of men in well-tailor suits beating up bad guys and over-the-top, ridiculous fight scenes set to upbeat music.
But Kingsman has gotten a lot of attention for a particular scene in which Eggsy has to seduce a woman (named Clara, played by Poppy Delevingne) to plant a tracking device on her, which he hopes will lead the Kingsmen to Charlie, Clara’s (ex?) boyfriend and one of the major antagonists of the film. Simple enough, but like me, a lot of viewers found the scene uncomfortable for a number of reasons. First, the tracing device had to be planted on a mucus membrane so some chemical could be absorbed into the bloodstream – so naturally, that means the woman’s vagina. Second, as Eggsy is fingerbanging the target, the camera pans down her body so we get an up-close shot of CGI vulva. What the actual hell?
Kaila Hale-Stern for The Mary Sue wrote about her discomfort watching that scene, and I want to make clear that I absolutely agree with putting responsibility on Matthew Vaughn. I also want to express some sympathy for actor Taron Egerton (who plays Eggsy), who had to be diplomatic while promoting the film and who was clearly uncomfortable with the scene – so much so that he refused to be the one to film it (the hand shown in the film was actually that of Poppy Delevingne’s husband).
But I want to also use this post to respond to other things that have been said about this scene, mainly Vaughn’s commentary and something Egerton said that has been repeated around social media. Vaughn told Entertainment Weekly:
“Some bloody feminists are accusing me of being a misogynist. I’m like, “It couldn’t be further from the truth.” It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind, which will cause a big argument again I’m sure. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and crazy… I was surprised when people are saying to me, “I loved the movie. I think it’s great, but I was offended by that.” I said, “Really? That’s more offensive than exploding heads, massacres in church, swearing, people being cut in half?” I was like, come on. It’s just a joke. It’s not even graphic […] For the 20 percent who were offended by it, there are 80 percent who are rolling around laughing so hard. Those 20 percent of people just need to lighten up a little bit. It’s about pushing boundaries and having a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be offensive, and it’s definitely not misogynist or any attack on women. That’s for sure.”
“It’s what Matthew [Vaughn] does, it’s his signature thing. He likes to do something that shocks. In Kick-Ass it was Chloe Grace Moretz saying the C-word, in Kingsman 1 it was the bum shot of the Swedish princess, and in this one it’s the thing. And, you know, it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly gets people talking. All it is is explicitly showing what Bond alludes to and says in a double entendre kind of way.”
Together, these comments got me thinking: is the scene different than what Bond does, or any spy for that matter? Is the whole “sleeping with the target” trope inherently misogynistic, or is there a way to do it that is empowering?
In this blog post, I’m going to compare the Kingsman sex scene with a number of other instances of spies or secret agents sleeping with a target, hopefully illustrating why I was so uncomfortable with Kingsman while also exploring the trope as a whole.
Trigger warnings for misogyny, including rape and graphic images of violence against women. Also a brief mention of homophobia and the “Bury Your Gays” trope.