Pass the milk tray. More than just a Christmas telly staple, Bridget Jones is a flawed feminist hero we can all learn a thing or two from, argues Kitty Grady.
The BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List has established itself as a modern pantheon of female achievement and activism.
So, the inclusion of Bridget Jones into the list this year, which also included Margaret Thatcher, Beyoncé Knowles and Germaine Greer, created a small controversy, and not just because she’s a fictional character.
There’s certainly a case to say Bridget Jones is an anti-feminist figure. She is obsessed by her weight, getting on the scales multiple times a day. She flirts shamelessly with her lothario boss Daniel Cleaver, dreams of marital bliss with him and wears ‘sluttishly’ short skirts and see-through tops to the office in an attempt to achieve said bliss which she believes will be her happily ever after.
However, if we analyse her inclusion with the specific Woman’s Hour Power List criteria in mind: women who have positively impacted and reflected female British life in the past seventy years, then Ms. Jones seems rather excellently placed.
Most figures on the list are problematic in some way. Jenni Murray once said that Thatcher, ‘did nothing’ for women, as she got herself to the top but helped no women rise up with her. Greer is widely accused by third wave feminists as transphobic. Playing devil’s advocate, you could say that Beyoncé, a music industry puppet and media-trained machine who doesn’t write her own music and performs in revealing clothing, is hardly a role model for young girls.
It all comes down to that horribly overused word: empowerment. Beyoncé makes women feel like they can be comfortable in their own skin and that they can achieve anything. And before ‘Independent Woman’ and ‘Single Ladies’, there was Chaka Khan (and vodka).
When she stumbled – sauvignon blanc in hand – onto the scene in the mid-90s, Bridget Jones showed women an alternative model of femininity that reassured them it was ok if they weren’t impossible thin, didn’t have it quite together, or if they worried about relationships more than they’d like to, even if we know it makes us a ‘bad feminist’. She voices the insecurities and inconsistencies many young professional women grapple with.
The minutiae of Helen Fielding’s universe similarly struck a chord with British women. With quotidian struggles such as struggling in the morning, bleary-eyed to put on your last pair of tights to find there’s a hole in the back of them, the torment of ‘smug marrieds’ and attempts to be a domestic goddess in the kitchen.
Ultimately, Mark Darcy is not her happy ending, but the cherry on the cake to her new-found reassurance in her career and personal life. Ditching nasty Cleaver, rather than wallow in a breakup she hits the gym, gets a new job and finds solace in her fabulous group of friends.
It’s also important to remember that Bridget Jones is now a multi-million pound book and film franchise created by (huzzah, a woman!) Helen Fielding. Zellweger is also a hugely talented comic actor, in a field so depressingly dominated by men.
Refreshingly, she plays a flawed, guffawing and sometimes unseemly heroine when we are so accustomed to seeing stick thin, easy-on-the-eye, furniture female parts. Rom-coms are generally quite dire, but Bridget Jones re-appropriates the genre, making laugh-out-loud humour out of the hackneyed trope of the desperate spinster.
Finally, Bridget writes. A great diarist of the 20th and 21st century, she documents, with a deceptively simple stream-of-consciousness, the sleazy bosses, heartache and hangovers – and the book is a million times more giving in this respect. Fielding’s heroine is nuanced, intelligent and insightful.
It is by writing that Bridget Jones is precursor of millennial feminism with her confessional narrative filled with gems of self-care wisdom: “It is proved by surveys that happiness does not come from love, wealth, or power but the pursuit of attainable goals.” New Year’s Resolutions anyone?
And on that note have a v.g. Christmas everyone.
Main image: Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001.