Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: "Bridget doesn’t speak for us all"

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Cigarettes: I don’t smoke. I eat mars bars instead. Calories consumed: a perfectly reasonable amount plus a perfectly unreasonable number of mars bars. Units of alcohol: three million and six, mostly consumed since I heard the news that Bridget was back.

You know who I mean, of course. the most famous diarist since Samuel Pepys, the most famous smoker since Churchill and the most obsessive calorie counter since ever – Bridget Jones. The character invented by Helen Fielding as the protagonist of a column in The Independent first appeared in book form in 1996. The sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason followed in 1999 and now we have a third instalment – Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy.

G – as Bridget herself might say – aaaah! That woman (and it’s a testament to the power of her creation that I am referring not to Fielding but to Jones) is the bane of my life.

Jones I and II came out when I was in my 20s and ruined them by holding up a vision of one’s 30s (absorbed by cultural osmosis even if you didn’t read the books) as a vale of desperation, neuroses and selfpitying tears that made me wonder if suicide would be a nobler option. Was this what I had to look forward to? Weighing and berating myself? Could congenital idiocy actually come in later life? the answer, from every corner, came back: ‘Yes’.

And now she’s back to ruin my 30s with what I suspect will be a blastedhellscape vision of one’s 40s (apparently she’s 51 as the book opens, but there are flashbacks to at least five years before) that will finally force me to build that bunker I have been planning for the last 15 years and clang the steel-banded door shut behind me.

The books were, I know, meant to be a bit of fun, maybe even a light satire on our unfortunate masochistic tendencies as a gender, a bit like harry enfield originally intended Loadsamoney (google it, younger readers. We’ll wait) to be a satire on the eighties greed-is-good philosophy instead of the hero he became.

The problem was that the story had just enough truth in it and not quite enough exaggeration to stop people reading it straight. I looked around with fear-filled eyes, feeling my ovaries tighten with tension at the nods of recognition and the unquestioning public embrace of Bridget as the acceptable face of slightly older womanhood.

Women were regarded as needy fruit loops

It felt like an assault on every side, at every level. For some, the books and their success was gleeful proof that women of a certain age were indeed the marriage/baby/calorieobsessed idiots they had always suspected. It provided a lazy but incredibly handy shorthand for the media to use in any news story with a ‘female’ angle and the Bridget Jones figure became not a comic attraction but a mythic truth. Any story about any woman having one drink, cigarette, pudding or shag too many, anything that so much as hinted at something referred to in a couple of diaries you would by now have thought had been carved on two stone tablets and sent down the mountain with moses, was adduced as evidence that all women were Bridget Joneses. Which is to say that all women were emotionally unstable, whining, undisciplined, needy fruit loops who couldn’t be trusted to find the right man but could only be happy if they did.

Which wasn’t helpful. and the social space became even smaller as more and more women – usually the kind who went on to love Carrie Bradshaw and insisted on making that poor, starving, crippled clotheshorse into an icon of femininity and, through some twisted logic, a feminist role model – loudly proclaimed their affinity with Bridget and used her diaries’ kernels of truth as an excuse to embrace and indulge our common bonds.

What got lost in the mix was any notion that the capacity for self-flagellation and emotional masochism that lies within the X chromosome might be a weakness to be fought against rather than an adorable quirk to be gloried in. and now Bridget’s back, to start the whole sorry cycle again. this time I’m making a stand. read the book. enjoy the book. But remember that she doesn’t speak for everyone, and that she almost certainly doesn’t speak for the whole of you. But if you let them, other people will insist that she does. and you’ll be silenced – save perhaps for a softly whispered ‘gaaah!’ as you are squashed slowly back into your place."

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