20 Years of Bridget Jones: Why Is She Still Shaping How We View Single Women?
hink of the stereotypical single woman, and no doubt Bridget Jones comes to mind. You might remember her in matching flannel pajamas, lip-syncing with Jamie O’Neal’s. “All By Myself ”next to an empty wine bottle and a plate of cigarette butts. Or maybe you remember her wincing in embarrassment as Daniel Cleaver bared her “absolutely huge” panties.
Best-selling book by Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones Diary, might have been released a quarter of a century ago in 1996 – followed by Richard Curtis’ film adaptation five years later – but much of what he has said about how society views single women , intentionally and otherwise, still resonates with women today: a 2020 survey ranked Bridget Jones as the most inspiring onscreen heroine of all time.
Although Jones remains beloved, she is hardly a representation of the era. And while the film does its best to poke fun at bachelorette stereotypes, it also approves a lot. Right off the bat, it looks like the movie sets out to satirize the clichéd view of single women as sad and lonely – remember Bridget, home alone, watching Fatal attraction? Or hyper-sexualized Bridget (think the Playboy bunny outfit or “is the skirt sick?”) In a somewhat pathetic attempt to grab a man?
But Bridget is constantly monitoring herself, counting her calories and recording her weight. She puts pressure on herself to exercise more, drink less, and change parts of who she is in her quest for romantic love. “This presents celibacy as an issue that must be resolved,” says Ea Høg Utoft, researcher on gender equality at the Danish Center for Research and Research Policy Studies. Plus, it implies that if Bridget doesn’t succeed and secure a partner (spoiler alert: she does), she’ll just have to blame herself.
This point is also exaggerated by the fact that, similar to Gender and cityCarrie Bradshaw, Bridget’s single status seems to be synonymous with binge drinking and smoking. It’s as if being single is a health hazard, notes Dr Anthea Taylor, author and lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. “When the film was released in 2001, Bridget was reduced to a caricature in the press, with images often used in articles lamenting the growing number of single women alongside stories of moral panic over declining fertility and even the destruction of family life, ”she adds. .
Bridget is an edifying tale, as if her celibacy is causing her a social failure. At the start of the film, Bridget’s mother casually tells her that she’ll never get a boyfriend if she looks like she has ‘wandered out of Auschwitz’, making it clear that this is the only end goal. acceptable to his daughter. Then there is the scene where Bridget goes to a dinner party attended by only married couples, and an obnoxiously smug attendee calls her “old maid” and says she “should really hurry up and freshen up” because the time is running out. It even says the words “tick tock”.
Of course, in the end, Bridget doesn’t ‘fail’ because she ends up with Mr. Darcy, which feminist critics have argued undermines the entire premise of a strong female role model given that her unique identity doesn’t is only ever seen as a sort of purgatory: a space Bridget is stuck in, burning a bundle of Marlboro Lights at a time, until she finds a mate. In this sense, the film presents celibacy as a state of expectation. This is a trend observed in the academic article, “Celibacy, Waiting and the Sociology of Time” by Kinneret Lahad, who writes: “The single woman is constantly asked if she is ‘still single’ or if she is getting married soon or soon.” The implication being that there is a time limit.
There are times when the film rebels, however. Bridget tells her dinner mates that one in four marriages ends in divorce, for example, and that her friendships are presented as her main family dynamic, as if she doesn’t need to live up to society’s expectations. . But it is always romantic love that is valued above all else. “She never really sees celibacy as a permanent way of being in the world, unlike many women today,” adds Dr. Taylor.
So why do we still love Bridget when she represents so many outdated tropes to the modern woman? While it would be easy to revisit the values that Bridget Jones Diary is perpetuated for women and describes them as archaic, many of them persist today. “The idea that a woman can actively choose a life of prolonged celibacy is still largely unrecognized,” notes Dr. Taylor. “It is still considered a ‘pit stop’ on the way to eternal happiness of marriage and children.” In that sense, Bridget’s relevance might simply be that she grapples with issues that single women still face today.
The film successfully taps into a deeply rooted social trend known as amatonormativity, coined by philosophy professor Elizabeth Brake. “It describes the widely held assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term relationship, and that everyone is looking for such a relationship,” she writes about her. website. “Romantic relationships are always preferred over all other forms of intimacy,” says Dr. Taylor.
There are basic economic and sociological explanations for this. Take the many laws and policies that favor couples over singles, which can make life much more expensive for those who don’t have a romantic partner. According to an analysis of Good Housekeeping Institute, being single can cost you at least £ 2,000 a year due to higher costs on everything from vacations to insurance.
Another American analysis found that, over the course of their lifetimes, single women can pay up to $ 1 million (£ 726,325) more than their married counterparts for healthcare, taxes and more. These are just a few of the reasons that led psychologist Bella DePaulo to invent the term “singlism” to describe the myriad ways that single women are disadvantaged in society. And while singlism is not explicitly discussed in Bridget Jones Diary, the threat of it undoubtedly permeates the whole plot.
Our female heroes in 2021 don’t quite look like Bridget anymore: one thing that exists now that didn’t exist in 2001 is the unique positivity movement, for example. Often attached to celebrities who champion women’s empowerment like Lizzo (in her 2017 hit “Truth Hurts,” she sings that she “doesn’t worry about a ring on her finger”) and celebrity Emma Watson. described herself as “self-partner” in 2019, the movement illustrates a growing number of people rejecting romantic norms and redefining celibacy so that it is not so much a state of wanting but of contentment. More and more books explore the subject, including that of Catherine Gray The unexpected joy of being single, in which the author explains how she took a year off in search of a single satisfaction.
Despite all of this, Bridget Jones clearly still taps into something deep in many women today, even if it’s just an innate fear of being left alone on Christmas Eve, watching It’s a wonderful life and throwing chopped pies on TV. But surely it’s time for an inspiring new single woman to decorate our screens, a woman who can become just as iconic as Bridget.
While there are a growing number of movies and TV shows celebrating single women – watch the movie How to be single and programs like Wide city – it remains quite rare to see a principal woman whose ultimate goal is not romantic love. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if female celibacy were so deeply normalized in popular culture that the single woman in real life becomes commonplace?” Dr Taylor said. “It would be a real turning point. But we are certainly not there yet.