Feminists Rejoice! The Return of Bridget Jones

4th Feb 2013

Bridget Jones

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.

These concerns were bitingly depicted in Dr Angela McRobbie’s very readable and for the most part highly commendable essay, The Aftermath of Feminism.

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


  • June Hughes says:

    Using humour to highlight this trivial, superficial take on life does not alter the fact that it is just that, superficial trivia.
    The outrageous generalisation that ‘ intelligent, thoughtful women saving lives, imparting knowledge……’ ‘are also chain-smokers, wear unflattering and overly complicated underwear, ……fancy the wrong men…..’, is either badly expressed or completely misguided.
    Perhaps you meant that amongst this group of ‘good women’ there are some with failings.
    W e should not shy away from this aspect of humanity but neither is it necessary to glorify it with humour or any other literary devise. There is more to life than trivia.
    Sorry but for me these books are not a positive move for women or feminism.

    • Beulah says:

      I would disagree that it’s an “outrageous generalisation” that women can do good (I did not say ‘good women’) and act in a human way. All women have failings, by ignoring this fact or dismissing it as “trivia” we are only adding to the immense pressure already placed upon women to strive for perfection.

      There are a lot of flaws to the Bridget Jones series but they do allow women to make mistakes and, whether you like it or not, a large number of women identify with the characters. I’m not suggesting that BJD is a feminist text – I am suggesting that it can be an incredibly useful tool for feminists to understand the pressures women are facing.

  • June Hughes says:

    I totally agree with you that women are under immense pressure to strive for perfection.
    I think that the thing I disagree with is that by BJD concentrating on something which is fundamentally of no great importance, even when treated in a humourous way, it gives it more credence than it deserves.
    I see it as more pressure for us as feminists who are trying to get away from being judged in such a superficial way?
    We strive to prove we are more than how we look; more than the sum of the perceived ‘failings’ that the current society lays on us, and BJD appears to undermine that.
    Perhaps you are right though, BJD may just be a safety valve.