This week, Woman’s Hour released their ‘Power List’; a list of the seven women who have had the biggest impact on women over the past 70 years. Topping it was Margaret Thatcher. Germaine Greer was also listed. Ironically, the most controversial figure to have been credited wasn’t either of those ladies. It was this person: Bridget Jones.
‘Could the judges honestly not find a seventh real woman to fill the slot?’ Janice Turner asked in The Times today. Woman’s Hour presenter, Jane Garvey, tweeted: ‘I did not have a vote, nor did [Jenni Murray]. Our panel of judges decided #whpowerlist Would I have picked Bridget Jones? No.’. ‘To claim the Power List as a definitive ranking of anything is as daft as the second Bridget Jones film,’ Rebecca Nicholson wrote in The Guardian.
Bridget’s entry has indeed proved contentious. I imagine she made the list because she makes women feel better about themselves – about their perceived imperfections, namely. And as Helen Fielding (Bridget’s creator) said of her character’s inclusion ‘there's something in Bridget's nature which is very British which is ultimately quite decent, quite kind, quite resilient, not judgemental.’ Indeed, these are the characteristics we love about Bridget and would want for ourselves. But the irony about this much-loved literary character is this: we don’t actually want to be her.
To utter the phrase ‘I’m basically Bridget Jones’ is not a compliment. It’s not to give yourself a big pat on the back like saying: ‘I’m Lizzy Bennet’ or ‘Me? I’m Jo March’. To say you’re like Bridget is to do yourself down, to out yourself as hopeless on a number of fronts. Because, what image does the phrase ‘Bridget Jones’ conjure – that of a woman who ends up with her dream job and man? Or of someone who struggles with their love life, endures an on-going battle with their weight and embarrasses themselves often?
I think it’s the latter. And really, do we aspire to be that person?
Yes, there are aspects of her life we might like. Living in that nice flat in South London for one. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth chasing after us (I’m going on the films here as I’ve only read the first book… 10 years ago…) for two. But as for the other stuff… None of us want to be the person who’s laughed at by their co-workers because in reality, it’s not funny. Who wants to be the woman who can’t see that the complete sleazeball is using her whilst simultaneously cheating on her? Or the person whose mother runs off with another man, leaving them to counsel and console their father? A lot of it’s presented humorously, sure, but there are aspects of Bridget’s life that are genuinely sad. We might be able to relate to some of her experiences, but given the choice, we’d rather not be able to.
Predominantly, we don’t remember that things work out for Bridget and she ends up doing well, because that’s not what’s made her famous. What made her famous are all the things she didn’t do well. Those are the things we associate with her.
I believe this is why the third film has been such a surprising success. It doesn’t focus on any of the attributes of former Bridget – her hopelessness, her weight struggles, being fooled around by men. Bridget Jones the third is good at her job, respected, happy with her appearance and has her life effectively sorted. She is a woman we might actually want to be. Crucially though, she’s not ‘Bridget Jones’…
Yes, there are plus points to being ‘like Bridget’. She’s loveable and funny. And she makes us feel better about ourselves, knowing we’re not alone in our quest to find love and happiness. She’s certainly a good person to draw strength from, to read or watch in moments of romantic melancholy. And it’s then – when we relive her whole story – that we’re reminded she does get her happy ending after all. Being ‘like Bridget’ means we might get ours too. But she’s not someone we want to be like for long. Finding ourselves ‘like Bridget’ is a phase we hope to pass through. And why the saying ‘I used to be like Bridget Jones’ is something we might actually aspire to.