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Honeytrap Lies and Women Spies

Female spies have been the subject of cultural fascination since Mata Hari, but the realities they face are quite different from fiction.

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Depictions of female spies thus reflect upon women's conundrum in twenty-first century in the wake of alleged equal opportunities: the doubled emphasis on work and on the work of femininity, that women be beautiful, make a home, have children, care for them. Where John Berger once asserted that "men act and women appear," in the twenty-first century privileged white women are often required to both act and appear. Women spy-protagonists in popular fictions map this dynamic. Television series like Alias and films like Nikita show how women spies cross the boundaries of femininity and are shepherded back to it by visual codes of beauty, whiteness, and heterosexuality. They both break out and are contained, becoming an amphibious combination of radical and reactionary. In this way the woman as spy in popular culture tests the bounds of gender and is encrypted both as a cypher of social change and of resistance to change.


Rosie White is Senior Lecturer in English at Northumbria University (Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK). Her book, Violent Femmes: Women as Spies in Popular Culture , was published by Routledge in 2008.

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