More Bridget Jones's Diary

Pollitt and Sullivan

More Bridget Jones's Diary

Pollitt and Sullivan

More Bridget Jones's Diary
New books dissected over email.
July 7 1998 3:11 PM

Pollitt and Sullivan

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Good day Andrew,

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And to think I thought I would have to persuade you that Bridget Jones's Diary is not proof that feminism is dead! I underestimated you--so in penance I won't take the bait you laid about more women than men preferring intimacy to power. (Can't one want a bit of both?) I saw that silly piece in the Weekly Standard--as if the Bridget Joneses of the world would be happier guarding their maidenheads and marrying at 24 (and marrying whom? one might ask).

There does seem to be this curious mini-movement of conservative women who want to bring back virginity, the double standard, early marriage, stay at home wives. Lisa Schiffren, high-powered conservative ideologue and one of Dan Quayle's many brains, recently wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times in defense of retro femininity and actually had herself identified as a "full time mother of two." Sure, when she isn't appearing on television and writing articles in national publications! By that standard, I'm a stay-at-home mom too.

But I digress. As I wrote yesterday, I did have a problem with Bridget Jones. Not the many British references -- we have Mars Bars and those other characteristically English things you mentioned here. (I believe Mars Bars are actually of American origin, says she patriotically.) The drinking is a genuine cultural difference, though. As we shall also see when we talk about Auberon Waugh, the British seem to drink, without censure, amounts that would send an American reeling to the Betty Ford clinic for life. By U.S. standards Bridget is definitely an alcoholic, and so is just about everyone else in the book.

What troubled me, though, is that so much of the humor relies on Bridget's self-abasement, embarrassment, even humiliation. One publicity handout referred to her as "deliciously self-deprecating." A male comic protagonist would never be described this way. Why is it "delicious" for a young woman to have a low opinion of herself, as so many do? To feel incompetent, stupid, fat, unable to cope, even with the tangle of pantyhose in her laundry basket? There is something about this book that seems to invite the reader to give Bridget a patronizing pat on the head. She certainly doesn't seem to me like a woman in her thirties--early twenties maybe.

This style of female self-put-down humor was fading away in United States, or so I thought, before Ally McBeal (which is written by a man, though). Remember the Days and Nights of Molly Dodd? She was another young woman who could hardly finish a sentence she was so self-conscious and conflicted. The one time I watched the comedy revolved around a big date that Molly gets all beautifully dressed up for, and she gets up from the candlelit table at the glamorous restaurant to go to the Ladies room and comes back with toilet paper stuck on her shoe, unbeknownst to herself but of course noticed by her date. Ha, ha. It's the girlish version of those old female comics, like Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, where the jokes were always about how old and ugly they were.

Helen Fielding has dodged this issue in interviews by saying one, the book is just for laughs, and two, Bridget is not intended to stand in for all women, any more than Bertie Wooster stood in for all men. This strikes me as unsatisfactory on several counts. Jokes, after all, do have meaning; Bridget is indeed intended to represent not a single, distinct individual but a social type -- that's where the comedy lies, not to mention the whole Bridget-is-everywhere publicity campaign; and Bertie Wooster, although not a stand-in for all men, is intended to suggest a certain kind of man, as Bridget suggests a certain kind of woman.

Cheers,

Katha

Katha Pollitt is associate editor at The Nation. Her most recent book is Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism. Andrew Sullivan is author of Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival and a senior editor of the New Republic.