Bridget Jones’ Diary: Is it a feminist novel?
Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ is at the forefront of modern female culture, contributing greatly to creating the ‘chick lit’ genre as we know it today. The novel was written and published in the mid-1990s, at a time when post-feminism was highly popular and the aims of second-wave feminists in the 1980s were seen as accomplished. Throughout the novel, Bridget and her single, feisty friends do seem to have it all: the jobs, the property, and most importantly the freedom to drink, smoke and swear as they see fit. So, with the novel set amongst post-feminism where the characters are seemingly free from the restraints of a patriarchal society, the question remains: Is Bridget Jones’ Diary a feminist book? The following examination of her relationships, status at work and her own relationship with her body image seeks to explore this further.
There are two main heterosexual relationships in ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’, Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy, respectively. These relationships seemingly have a feminist slant, as Bridget has the freedom to choose who she has sexual relations with, especially in the workplace. However, there are still aspects of degradation throughout the interplay of both relationships. The most obvious example is the origination of Daniel and Bridget’s relationship. It subverts the peacocking routine (usually performed by the male) so Bridget wears more and more revealing clothes at work to gain Daniel’s attention; he quite literally sits in his office running the company whilst Bridget presents her body to him for sexual judgement. When he is inevitably a scoundrel, she writes in her diary: ‘Why, when people are leaving their partners because they’re having an affair with someone else, do they think it will seem better to pretend there is no one else involved?’ Through using the confessional format of the diary, it grants an agency and sense of control to Bridget. This is despite the fact that one of the first entries in her diary is the aim to find a ‘sensible boyfriend’ who isn’t one of the following: ‘alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits or perverts.’ She also sets out a New Year’s Resolution to ‘not fantasize about a particular person who embodies all these things’, referencing Daniel Cleaver.This presents the idea of choice, a key aspect of second wave feminism and an element which post-feminism claims to have allowed women, as a dangerous thing. The post-feminist woman has the freedom to choose whom she courts; she knows that a man is bad for her but can and will pursue him anyway. However, the reader is too embodied with sympathy for Bridget’s situation as a jilted woman to notice this, especially as Fielding poses this question to the reader for them to answer the ‘Why?’ and empathize with. Once Bridget has been proven at making bad choices with men, Mark Darcy swoops in and saves her, the man who her Mum has recommended she date. When Bridget attends a dinner party where a number of smug couples mock her single status, Darcy saves the evening by professing he likes her just the way she is. He takes the lead in the new relationship to save Bridget from making these decisions. Therefore, the postfeminist aspects of this novel trick the reader in to thinking that Bridget has the freedom to make her own decisions and therefore mistakes, whereas in reality she is mistreated by Daniel Cleaver, the text-book villain, and saved by Mark Darcy, named after the brooding but heroic character in Pride and Prejudice, a definitely unfeminist ending.
One of the predominant aspects of fourth-wave feminism is a woman’s relationship with her body. The female body has always been political, whether it is concerning exposed skin, make-up, promiscuous dancing or sexual relations. Bridget’s relationship with her body is heavily informed by the culture she lives in and is wholly postfeminist. This is emphasized by the diary entries at the beginning of each chapter that tell the reader her weight, calories consumed, weight lost or gained and cigarettes smoked. When Bridget is at her lowest, for example during her break-up, these figures reflect it by an increased calorie count and a weight gain, which is always viewed as a loss of control and moral failure. Her postfeminist relationship with her body is also shown through her Bridget’s pre-date ritual: ‘Being a woman is worse than being a farmer there is so much harvesting and crop spraying to be done: legs to be waxed, underarms shaved, eyebrows plucked, feet pumiced, skin exfoliated and moisturized, spots cleansed, roots dyed, eyelashes tinted, nails filed, cellulite massaged, stomach muscles exercised.’It is particularly interesting that Fielding defines this as the routine you go through for ‘being a woman’. This suggests that the following activities, in this instance designed to please a man, are intrinsically connected to a women’s identity. It also suggests that if you don’t do abdominal routines or shave your legs you somehow lose this identity and become less of a woman according to social standards. Fielding also injects humor in to the frankly horrifying list of beauty standards by comparing it to being worse than a farmer who sprays and harvest crops. This creates the impression that these female activities are just as normal and natural as harvesting crops, presenting the grooming as a mammoth but necessary job. To conclude, Bridget’s relationship with her body image is firmly rooted within postfeminism. It suggests that a woman can court a man as she likes and has the sexual freedom as a woman, but it comes with rules. You must look and perform a certain way in order to pay this freedom and remain with in the status quo for the mid-1990’s culture.
The central storyline in Bridget Jones’ Diary follows her antics with her friends, family and various boyfriends. It focuses very little on her career, and its primary use within the plot is as a vehicle for her to meet Daniel Cleaver. There is also very little focus on Bridget moving up the career ladder. The only way that Bridget can be seen as having an advantage on Daniel after he cheats on her is by leaving her job and announcing to the office when he asks her not to leave: ‘Thank you, Daniel, that is very good to know. But if staying here means working within 10 yards of you, frankly, I’d rather have a job wiping Saddam Hussein’s arse.’ The insult elicits a response from both characters within the novel and the reader, especially when imagined as in the movie with a girl-power soundtrack played alongside it. However, the advantage that Bridget now has on Daniel is neither professional nor realistic. She has been reduced to the scorned women who can throw insults from him that would be at home on the playground. Furthermore, her lowly position as an assistant in publishing lusting after Daniel as the boss presents different priorities to the readers; you should be putting all your effort in to your appearance and in to dating and performing for men, even in the workplace. The goal is to find a boyfriend and settle down to happiness, not discover this happiness in one’s career. Even her Mother, and her Mother’s circle of friends, are housewives and are seen as devoted to their husbands, waiting for Bridget to join their ranks. This scene also has distinctly post-feminist aspects. Bridget is the woman who has it all and can throw her job back in a man’s face to publicly embarrass him. The reality is that she has to work hard to get another job first, perhaps taking a pay-cut and changing her situation in order to obtain this satisfying end to the relationship and her professional career.
In conclusion, Helen Fielding injects humor regularly in to this novel to mock the very ‘Cosmopolitan culture’ that Bridget originates from, in order to distract the reader from the wholly unfeminist behavior throughout. Therefore, it has been argued that ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ is not a feminist novel, but a text that largely feeds in to the post-feminist rhetoric. The novel highlights the limitations that women still encounter in every day life, but chalk it down to this experience of ‘being a woman’ without actually confronting the systematic patriarchal systems that perpetuate this social situation.
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Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ is at the forefront of modern female culture, contributing greatly to creating the ‘chick lit’ genre as we know it today. The novel was written […]