Two whole decades have passed since Renée Zellweger first triumphed as a slim, non-smoking Texan playing the iconic and quintessentially British heroine, Bridget Jones. It’s no secret that Bridget’s politics have not aged as well as her films, but how does her status as a feminist icon measure up in 2021?
A recent, but far from revolutionary, strain of modern feminism takes the form of the #girlboss: typically a white, middle-class, conventionally attractive woman who cultivates a brand, business, and sometimes an entire empire, around her own financial or cultural success. First appearing in 2014 as the title of the memoir and Netflix series of Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, the term quickly mutated into a kind of self-serving, trickle-down feminism. This was only made worse by the fact that Amoruso was sued in 2015 for allegedly firing several employees right before they were due to take maternity leave; #girlboss ‘fempowerment’ was quickly brought into question.
A year later, and very much a product of the times, Bridget Jones’s Baby bulldozed its way onto our screens, weaving every 2016 hashtag and a crude rendition of Gangnam Style into its script. This version of Bridget would likely think of Emily in Paris as an avant-garde urban drama, and routinely refresh the Mail Online homepage during working hours—acknowledging the habit as “naughty” if questioned by passers-by.
7th November 2020: Bugger. Bugger. Mum and Dad coming for supper (trying new Ottolenghi) and there is NO orecchiette in M&S. Should have gone this morning but was binging all 10 episodes of Emily in Paris. Such a brilliant show. Should have had exotic French affair in 30s. Too tired now. Fusilli will do.
The activist aesthetic
New waves of feminism continue to evolve, from the female boss—women achieving success by behaving like men—to the girl boss, women monetising their femininity and marketing their success to other women, without any real commitment to help them get there. It is highly unlikely that Bridget worked her fingers to the bone to progress from “fannying about with the press releases” at a publishing house to producing a mainstream TV news programme. Given the romance-centric plot of all three films, Bridget’s career never seems overly important to her, nor is she fussed about her work on a micro level. The pride she takes in her work is dependent on external validation and ratings, rather than a commitment to a cause.
Her job is therefore never a cause for concern—financially, or otherwise—despite the fact we are seldom shown evidence that she is good at her job. Whether it be sleeping with her boss, exposing her bare arse on live TV or using an interview segment to identify the paternity of her unborn child, Bridget makes mistakes but rarely suffers the consequences. Both her career progression and her resilience are characteristic, but that does not mean they are representative of the everywoman. Bridget’s trajectory is what distinguishes her from other women, it does not offer them a blueprint for the same succes: a hallmark of the #girlboss.
The #girlboss is aspirational, rather than attainable: usually coming from privilege but rarely choosing to recognise it as a contributing factor to her success. Modern day Bridget Jones does not appreciate this mentality as a product of the social media era, nor would she be overly concerned about performative politics—a Caitlin Moran retweet and a Fairtrade bar of chocolate is doing her bit. Amanda Mull writes, in an article about girl boss feminism for The Atlantic, “#Girlboss argued that the professional success of ambitious young women was a two-birds-one-stone type of activism: their pursuit of power could be rebranded as a righteous quest for equality, and the success of female executives and entrepreneurs would lift up the women below them.”
While the 2001 presentation of a walking, talking, eating woman on screen was empowering to a generation of women (sigh), the content of Bridget’s character still leaves much to be desired. She is, above all else, self-destructive, image-obsessed and comfortably floating in a class bubble. Cue the next markings of a girl boss—seeking glorification for living their life. As for injustices beyond her own experiences? They are someone else’s problem. Her version of activism is dropping off underwire bras and a suitcase full of galaxy to domestically abused Thai prisoners. Her version of radicalism is being a geriatric mother without a stable partner. It all goes wrong for silly old Bridget, but never in a life-altering or systemic way, relatively speaking.
Who exactly is Aghani-Heaney?
The results of a hastily conducted social media poll reveal a consensus that Bridget Jones would be a Lib Dem voter, perhaps acknowledging her nods to liberal values without a convincing commitment to change. This is ripe for analysis, in terms of her romance and her politics. Both of which are tied neatly together by the ubiquitous rumour that Mark Darcy, the love of her life, is based on Keir Starmer, a professional fence-sitter.
Bridget tuts at the social snobbery of her romantic interests and defends her lifestyle when questioned by snooty family friends, without any real gumption or commitment in practice. It’s as if her more liberal attitudes are worn as quirks—like a butterfly hairclip or a chain on a pair of jeans. Her on-again-off-again relationship with a man she openly identifies as arrogant and boring is enough to diagnose her with a tendency to settle. In The Edge of Reason, Bridget argues with Mark about whether they’d send their son to Eton, but whether she’d maintain her principles and protest the genetic lottery of private schooling once the child was born is another matter. As YouTube channel The Take puts it, the #girlboss encapsulates “empty jargon and self-congratulation.”
Life chips away at the loose political values she used to hold, and she becomes more complacent as well as more preoccupied with herself. As the only child of two boomers, she pines after the stable and conventional domesticity of her home county parents while also seeking the chaos and excitement of urban life. It is unsurprising that her values do not always align.
18th of March 2020: Have just been asked to be on cover of Tatler’s ‘40 Girl Bosses over 40’ – VERY exciting. They want me sliding down a fireman’s pole in D&G. Must shift winter thighs before shoot. Nice they are giving media women a moment in the sun! Off for celebratory gin with Shaz.
Re-watching Bridget Jones is sort of like stealing the eyes of a narcissist and watching their self-directed biopic, where “I’m Every Woman” plays every time she walks to get milk from the co-op. It is worth considering, 20 years on, the potential over-glorification of Bridget Jones as a feminist icon—flattering, oversized y-fronts, or otherwise. In the very way that her normality and inadequacy are why she’s so adored, it is this over-prescribed and overestimated notion of ‘normal’ that misses the mark. Just like the girl bosses in positions of power, their mere existence is not enough for feminism to be deemed a mission complete.
Words by Nikki Peach
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