Oh, Ada, I hated Bridget Jones! I bought the book when it came out in 1998, but I was totally put off by the character’s endless scorekeeping–how much food she’s eaten, how many cigarettes she’d smoked, how much wine she’d drunk–and never made it past the first couple of pages.
But even though I want to bash her…I’ve done those things. More than that, I sort of think there is something to her, and to why she was considered an icon of 90s womanhood. As this (egregious) CNN writer says, Bridget is “in her 30s, independent, a bit neurotic, obsessed with her weight. Her body clock isn’t ticking — it’s gonging — and she’s worried she’ll never find a man.” I knew lots of women like this in the 90s, and the early 00s.
It makes sense. Not every woman was radicalized by riot grrrl and Sassy magazine or even by Alanis Morissette. As we know from Susan Faludi, there were tons of feminist backlash articles and books in the 1980s and 1990s–remember Time magazine’s infamous “Is Feminism Dead?” We were told, over and over again, that it was. And good riddance because it was responsible for divorce and a man shortage. Meanwhile, the beauty myth was still in effect and Kate Moss ushered in heroin chic–meaning lots of women felt like they had to spend more time worrying about their weight than, say, universal day care.
Second wave feminism told women it was okay to want–to eat, to wear pants, to be single, to have sex, to protest, whatever–but that didn’t mean that, by the 90s, the culture had absorbed the message. So even though I don’t like her, or identify with her, the Bridget Jones type feels uncomfortably familiar–a woman who is struggling with her desires, who seems unclear on how much she’s allowed to want, how much is possible for her to get. (Did you ever read Caroline Knapp’s book Appetites? A pretty meditation on this general subject.)
Now I feel less annoyed by Bridget Jones and more a bit sad for her and for women like her. Not that their lives are that dire. But I still think they might having more fun and be less freaked out by, say, being a few pounds over their target weight or by the specter of being over 30 and single if they were feminists who spent more time reading any of the aforementioned books or, I don’t know, hanging out and talking about Beyonce and Katie Roiphe over a drink or three with us. (We definitely aren’t keeping score….)