4th Feb 2013
Feminists Rejoice! The Return of Bridget Jones
In 1996 Helen Fielding first penned the phenomenally successful Bridget Jones’s Diary; lifting a glass of Chardonnay to the issues, trials and tribulations facing young women at the end of the 20th century.
Bridget battled with body issues, pressure to have-it-all (“it” still being defined by a death-defyingly-priapic patriarchal society), sexual politics and low-self esteem.
Bridget Jones’s Diary was widely embraced for its humour and clever satire. In theory feminists should have been falling over themselves to claim Fielding and Jones for the sisterhood. This, however, was not to be the case and Fielding fell victim to a vicious backlash.
Instead of being lauded for her amusing insights into the modern woman’s condition, Fielding was decried as misogynies plaything by a number of feminist writers who went on to suggest that Bridget was a regressive blight upon woman-kind.
An unhelpful form of criticism that we can hopefully avoid when the third book in the series is released later this year.
The main criticisms of old BJ were; Bridget Jones the novel is doing harm to women and Bridget Jones the character has the wrong priorities.
Examination of this essay swiftly highlights what many feminists initial reservations about Bridget Jones were and how misplaced their criticism was.
Bridget Jones the novel is doing harm to women
A popular misconception surrounding Bridget Jones’s Diary is that the character of Bridget Jones is part of a systematic dismantling of feminism by well-meaning, misguided airheads.
McRobbie concentrated upon the term “post-feminism” and examined Bridget Jones’s Diary in relation to a concept she described as “a process by which feminist gains of the 1970s and 1980s are actively and relentlessly undermined.” Ouch.
McRobbie proposed that “elements of contemporary popular culture are perniciously effective in regard to this undoing of feminism”, leaving Fielding and Bridget out in the cold as far as the Official Feminist Canon is concerned.
Yet while Fielding had neither “lofty ambitions nor deconstructionist intentions”, she did more than any other writer of her generation to highlight the onslaught of negative, contradictory messages young women in the UK were facing.
Post-feminism was a myth and Bridget Jones was the myth-buster. She may not have been a riot grrrl or a third-waver but Fielding saw the problems women like her were facing and she brought them to light in a far more effective way than Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth or a decade of Ladyfests managed.
Bridget Jones the character has the wrong priorities
Yes Bridget is obsessed by marriage and bagging her Darcy in an unfavourably comparison to Elizabeth Bennet’s cool detachment. But we can’t all lift a sardonic eyebrow and avow no interest in marriage when it’s constantly presented to us as the ideal state for women. To suggest, as McRobbie and her ilk do, that women shouldn’t hang their hopes on matrimonial bliss is pointless;
“Despite feminism Bridget wants to pursue dreams of romance, find a suitable husband, get married and have children… Bridget fantasises about very traditional forms of happiness and fulfilment… [the audience laughs along with Bridget] because they, like Bridget, know that this is not how young women these days are meant to think.”
Can anything be more damaging to feminism than the suggestion it excludes or looks down upon these concerns? How far can feminism go when we scoff at poor-Bridge as she longs for “traditional happiness”?
As women we are still bombarded with messages that fulfilment lies in a man’s pocket and his bed; to suggest that this is the wrong way to think is to say that women shouldn’t worry about body issues, marriage, self-esteem or ‘having-it-all’ because it’s not good feminism.
It’s easy for the mainstream media to dismiss the literary merit of Bridget Jones’s Diary; it’s written in an idiosyncratic, mimic-able language and Fielding deals with topics which are widely dismissed as trivial. But Fielding’s novels used humour to highlight the very real problems women in the 1990s were facing.
Because Bridget Jones’s Diary was popular and paid homage to chick-lit leader Pride and Prejudice, it was dismissed as trivial and lacking in merit. But making readers laugh and creating flawed characters they can connect with is a great achievement for any writer.
We should welcome the return of Helen Fielding’s creation because we all know the real life Bridgets. There there can be no benefit to the women’s cause by pretending these women don’t exist. Right now there are intelligent, thoughtful women saving lives, imparting knowledge and doing good.
These women are also chain-smokers, wear unflattering and overly complicated underwear, they forget words, fancy the wrong men, used words like “fancy”, eat food that is 90% fat, skip meals, and drink wine instead of rehydrating with a bottle of water and a copy of Swann’s Way.
The fact that they do incredibly worthwhile things while doing idiotic things does not make them a bumbling herd of Bridgets. It does make them human and to shy away from writing about this side of the female, human, experience is to misrepresent women.
So let’s forget about picking up on all the many inevitable flaws of the Bridget Jones series and instead look forward to the aspects of 21st century life that Fielding will illuminate in the third BJD novel.
She won’t be the first person so talk about the pay gap, female binge-drinking, online bullying, status-anxiety or misogyny in the workplace but she will say it in a new, widely appealing way and that cannot be a bad thing.
Are you excited for the return of Bridget? Do you think these books are a positive move for women and feminism?
Beulah Maud Devaney