Colette Sheridan: Why Bridget Jones wouldn't cut it in today's more serious world

As Helen Fielding marks the 25th anniversary of Bridget Jones's diary with a special edition, on February 4, Colette Sheridan wonders if Bridget would be cut out for this modern world
Colette Sheridan: Why Bridget Jones wouldn't cut it in today's more serious world

Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Picture: Photo/UIP Laurie Sparham

“THERE is nothing so unattractive to a man as strident feminism,” said Bridget Jones, the hapless thirty-something chardonnay-swiller whose raison d’etre was snagging a man with whom she could live happily ever after.

The creator of the popular disaster - prone character, Helen Fielding, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bridget Jones’s diary with a specially designed edition of it that includes thoughts on Bridget in the 21st century. It will be published on February 4.

Bridget was no feminist, not to mention a ‘strident’ one. Her idea of liberation was wearing big pants, all the better to breathe freely, even after indulging in too much wine and food.

She constantly beats herself up as she notes her daily calorie intake, units of alcohol consumed — and amount of cigarettes smoked. It is the fags that date her.

Most young women, these days, would turn up their pert noses at the thought of smoking. But they’re still in calorie-counting mode and suffer guilt if too much wine is glugged down. Things haven’t changed that much for women, or have they?

Today’s Adidas-clad young woman won’t go anywhere without her fit-bit. It’s all about walking at least 10,000 steps a day 1- and swigging water as if it’s going out of fashion.

It would be nice to think that the women marching along streets and doing circuits of public parks are at it for health reasons. But in truth, while they might be giving themselves a cardio workout, it is vanity and weight control that is spurring them on.

Still, it’s better than Bridget’s lifestyle which is decidedly unhealthy. She would never survive in today’s world, which takes itself more seriously than it did in the nineties.

For starters, there’s the #MeToo movement which wouldn’t have suited Bridget at all. Not for her a calling out of the men that sexually harassed her. Hell, Bridget would have been more grateful than disgusted by what we would now regard as dinosaurs of men — the ones who don’t look women in the eye but rather, stare at their boobs.

Helen Fielding. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Helen Fielding. Picture: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Last year, on Desert Island Discs, Helen Fielding, looking back on her creation that started as a newspaper column, said: “The level of sexism that Bridget was dealing with, the hand on the bum in so many of the scenes” made it “quite shocking for me to see how things have changed since then.”

She recalled a scene in which Bridget’s fictional boss demands “a shot of the boobs.” It seems almost anachronistic now. Not even a comedian would get away with a comment like that these days.

But that’s not to say that women have changed irrevocably since the mid-nineties. No matter how liberated we think we are, we’re still mindless followers of fashion and we keep the diet industry rolling in money.

Most of us want to meet that ‘special one’, or our ‘soul mate’ who, we believe, is out there, waiting to be discovered.

If Bridget was in the market for a bloke today, she would be frantically swiping right on Tinder and then regretting her desperation following disastrous dates.

Helen Fielding believes the success of the Bridget Jones franchise (from columns to books and films) lies in the fact that “most comedy comes out of quite dark things”. She has said that it was hard to be a single women in the 90s “and it still is I think”.

Is it really? Do we really need a man to feel complete? Surely the whole culture change that sees women working and choosing whether or not to have kids has made us autonomous?

Those of us who are single are not neurotic self-haters, embittered about past relationships and in some twisted way, on the look-out for a guy — any guy. No way.

Our better selves value our female friendships and these days, at least in my world, we don’t even talk about fancying guys. It’s an age thing as much as anything else. We’re more passionate about our Zoom book clubs than putative life partners.

If Bridget were on the scene today, she’d have to read the likes of Hilary Mantel just to keep up, rather than books about men being from Mars and women from Venus.

Bridget, of course, had her happy ending, marrying Mark Darcy. Helen Fielding says that feminist criticism of her “defeatist view of womanhood” has upset her.

She points out that her heroine is actually conflicted and doesn’t “straightforwardly just want a man”. Really? She doesn’t exactly want to study nuclear physics.

Instead, she puts up with sexism, never calling it out. A sort of ‘boys will be boys’ attitude which lets them get away with all kinds of misbehaviour.

Bridget just wouldn’t be cut out for contemporary life. ‘Must be more feminist,’ she’d write forlornly.

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