The Misogyny of Kingsman: The Secret Service

posterKingsman: The Secret Service is about a working class young man (Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton) who finds himself amongst the new recruits for a top secret service of upper class spies. Directed by Matthew Vaughan, the film tries to say something about class – that it’s not defined by your background, but your attitude – and has attracted some interest for casting an able-bodied actress (Sofia Boutelle) as a disabled character. It may sound liberal, but it’s actually very right-wing – Obama gets his head blown up, and the bad guy is an environmentalist.

But the film’s biggest issue, for me, is its misogyny.

Kingsman: The Secret Service has four female characters.

The first (Samantha Womack, née Janus) is the hero’s mother – a female character existing only in relation to a male one. Her boyfriend beats her up – a damsel in distress serving only to be saved by the hero.

The second (the aforementioned Sofia Boutelle) is the bad guys’s henchwoman. Superficially she’s pretty cool and bad-ass, but really all she does is follow the commands of her boss – a man.

The third (Sophie Cookson) is set up as if to be the love interest, but that angle is never pursued. Instead she fills more of the ‘best friend’ role – that’s a little more original – but she’s the single token woman in the ranks of new recruits. And she’s the worst recruit. She messes up all the time and has to be saved by the hero.

But it’s the fourth that really made me ashamed of both my gender and my industry.

Hanna Alström plays Princess Tilde, a character who exists to be captured by the bad guy and rescued by the hero. As if that’s not bad enough, Tilde offers Eggsy anal sex if he frees her. And if that‘s not appalling enough, the movie ends with a shot of her naked behind as she looks over her shoulder as if to say, “My hero, you’ve saved me. Now take your reward.”

Vaughan is unable to see the misogyny in this. “It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind,” he says. He seems to think that because the woman offers the man anal sex it’s a clever reversal of all those movies where the hero beds the leading lady as his prize.

But how many people were sat in the cinema thinking, “Ha ha ha, how brilliantly Mr. Vaughan has satirised the cinematic trope of the hero ‘winning the girl’ by pushing it into the realm of absurdity.” And how many were thinking, “Yep, that’s normal.” And worse still, how many were thinking, “Yeah, take it up the arse, bitch, like you deserve.” The filmmakers might be horrified by that latter comment, but that’s the kind of attitude they’re reinforcing.

This objectification is not how I want to see women. It’s not how I want women or men to expect me to see women. And it’s not how I want society and the media to tell me I should see them. So I’d like to offer a few observations and suggestions to Vaughan and his co-writer Jane Goldman.


  • The prevalence of female characters who exist only to be saved can make men think that women cannot be equal partners or authority figures, which is bad for society as a whole.
  • It’s wrong to teach young men (who will be the bulk of Kingsman’s target audience) that they deserve sex.
  • It’s wrong to teach young women that they are expected to offer sex as a reward or a currency.
  • It’s wrong to teach anyone that sex is the only thing women have to offer.
  • It’s wrong to perpetuate the ridiculous trope that women need to accept anal sex from their partner on special occasions or as a reward, regardless of whether they’re fully comfortable with it or not. It’s equally wrong to train men to ask for anal sex from women and see it as a badge of honour, when they might not be comfortable with it either.
  • It’s wrong to require an actress to do gratuitous nudity, doubly so for a scene that seems to exist purely in the service of misogyny.
  • Jokes that satirise a trope by repeating that trope may well do more harm than good.
  • The closing image of a film can be very powerful. To close a film with an image that degrades 50% of the world’s population is irresponsible to say the least. (Technically there is another shot after the naked backside shot, but it’s the naked backside shot that everyone will remember.) Did you actually stop to think how a woman in the audience might feel being left with that image, particularly if she’s sat next to her boyfriend who has also been left with that image and may now be feeling some sense of entitlement?

There has to be more responsibility on issues like this from filmmakers who are reaching huge audiences. You have the power to change the world. Use it.

The Misogyny of Kingsman: The Secret Service

Representation of Women in my Films

There have been a lot of articles going around lately about the representation of women in the media. A lot of the statistics are pretty shameful. A New York Film Academy study of the top 500 films of 2007-2012 found that less than a third of speaking characters were female, there was almost three times more female nudity than male, and the ten highest paid actors made over two and a half times more money than the ten highest paid actresses.

I’ve always considered myself fairly enlightened on this issue. From my first major film project (The Beacon, 2001) I began a deliberate policy of alternating the genders of my leading characters with each movie I made. But before I get a sore arm from patting myself on the back, let’s delve a little deeper by applying the Bechdel Test to my films. To pass this test, a film must have

  1. at least two named female characters
  2. who talk to each other
  3. about something other than a man.
The Beacon
The Beacon

The Beacon is a cheesy action film about Sarah Mayhew (Lorna-Jane Hamer), a council clerk who ends up saving Britain from a biochemical terrorist attack planned to be launched from the Malvern Hills. I switched up the traditional gender roles by making Sarah an action heroine who has to save her useless boyfriend from the terrorists. It easily passes the first two steps of the Bechdel Test, but I had to skip through 55 minutes of it before I reached a conversation between two women that wasn’t about a man.

Soul Searcher
Soul Searcher

Soul Searcher is a marginally-less cheesy action film about an ordinary Joe (Ray Bullock Jnr) who is chosen to be trained as the new Grim Reaper. While it passes step one, that’s as far as it gets; leading ladies Heather (Katrina Cooke) and Luca (Lara Greenway) never speak to each other. There is a brief exchange between Clubber Girls #1 and #2, but since they don’t have names, and their only purpose is to be put in jeopardy by a man (alright – a demon, but a male demon) and saved by another man, I hardly think this counts. Massive fail.

The Dark Side of the Earth, apart from a five minute sequence shot in 2008, exists only as a screenplay, so it’s the screenplay I’ll judge. The protagonist is a young woman, Isabelle (played in the pilot by Kate Burdette), who sets to out to re-start the earth’s rotation after it shudders to a halt, nearly wiping out humanity. There are brief exchanges between Isabelle and some minor, but named, female characters in which they talk about things other than men, but the one proper conversation she gets with the only other significant female character concerns a man. And at least on some level, the reason she goes on the quest is to impress a man. So technically Dark Side passes, but it’s hardly a glorious victory.

The Picnic
The Picnic

My three Virgin Media Shorts entries have little or no dialogue, but even without applying the test, it’s easy to see how sexist they are. The Picnic is a silent film revolving around a man trying to get revenge on another man for stealing his girlfriend. Woman as prize. Hardly enlightened. (Earlier drafts of the script had the gender roles reversed. I can’t remember why I changed it.) The One That Got Away makes the female character a trophy in exactly the same way. And Ghost-trainspotting doesn’t have any women in it.


Stop/Eject, on the other hand, seems well-placed to pass the test with flying colours, with two of its three main characters being women and plenty of conversations between them. Unfortunately, the whole movie is about the death of a man. It does pass the test though, because the final conversation between grieving widow Kate (Georgina Sherrington) and mysterious shopkeeper Alice (Therese Collins) is not about the man. It shames me to recall, however, that Alice was (a) originally written as a man, and (b) not given a name until Therese requested one.

In general, writing this article has drawn my attention to the imbalance in the number of characters of each gender in my films. Even those movies with female leads are otherwise populated predominantly by men. I think I have a tendency, and I’m sure many of you out there do this too if you’re honest with yourselves, to make characters male by default, and to only make them female if there’s a “reason” to.

I know that some people may say, in defense of their own films or actions, that they did not intend to offend or oppress. I certainly did not aim, when making Soul Searcher, for example, to oppress women. But that is no excuse. Everything we do, say or create will be judged in the context of our society, and if – in combination with things said, done or created by others, innocently or otherwise – it contributes to a culture of oppression, then it is wrong. So for my own mistakes, I apologise unreservedly.

As with all of my blog entries that point out my own failings, I record this publicly to burn these mistakes into my memory and reduce the chance of me making them again. I hope too that it might make others out there consider their own work in the light of the important issue of gender representation.

Representation of Women in my Films