On the one hand, you’ve got BBC3’s Fleabag. Masturbating over a video of Barack Obama in bed. On the other, you’ve got Bridget Jones. Face down in the mud at a music festival, wearing all white. Most women I know have been in situations similar – if not identical – to these. But the question remains, which one is the most relatable to women of today?
When Helen Fielding’s columns were first published in The Independent in 1995, Bridget Jones’s Diary was adored by the masses for portraying a character who encapsulated the day-to-day musings of a lot of women.
Fielding’s hapless heroine gets roaring drunk, wears ginormous knickers, is splashed by trucks as they drive through puddles, does her makeup in the dark, worries about her weight, and complains about “Smug Marrieds”. Name me one British woman you know who can’t relate to a single one of those characteristics, and I’ll eat my hat.
This said, one of Bridget’s vital flaws is that she seems to deem herself incomplete without a man to solve all her problems. The third line of the very first column is “Oh why hasn’t Daniel rung?” Good old Bridge would struggle to pass the Bechdel test, which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
Critics say that while Bridget may have been the everywoman of the 90s and the 2000s, women in 2016 have different concerns, and lead less whimsical lives:
Nowadays we face the revolutionary (and, at times, apocalyptic) impact of Tinder on the dating scene. When men and women have the option to swipe, swipe, swipe, dating becomes more and more like a game – and the sort of long-term courtship that Bridget enjoys remains elusive for many single twenty- and thirty-somethings.
Please, please correct me if I’m wrong but how many women do you know that have someone as disarming as Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy or as devastatingly sexy as Patrick Dempsey’s Jack Qwant compete not only for their attention but also to be the father of their child? Bridget’s concerns no longer feel like those of a real-life women. (Do they?!) Being in a “casual relationship” or “seeing someone” is all the rage these days.
Also, sexting is now “a thing”… A survey conducted in April this year found that 56% of women aged 20-26 are sexting, and 36% are sharing nude photos.
Both casual sex and the sharing of salacious photos are habits explored much more effectively in Fleabag. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s unapologetic everywoman has sex like it’s going out of fashion, sends intimate pics while she’s at work and has the aforementioned penchant for Barack Obama.
And her preoccupation with men, though very much a feature of the series, is not the same as Bridget’s. She seeks male attention and sex for validation, but she doesn’t believe that the answer to all her woes is a knight in shining armour. In fact, there is not a whiff of the heroic, dominant male in Fleabag. Instead, the men she is surrounded by seem rather lost: her father (Bill Paterson) is trapped and weak, while her on-off boyfriend (Hugh Skinner) is bumbling and hysterical.
And the powerful and direct way in which she constantly breaks the fourth wall, the fact she is so unapologetic, fierce and contrary, feels more representative of women today.
With Fleabag, Waller-Bridge has achieved in 2016 what Fielding did with Bridget in 1995. She’s captured the zeitgeist and the latter didn’t quite keep up. Tom was on to something when he said: “Come the f*** on, Bridget.”
The last episode of Fleabag airs on BBC2 at 10:30pm tonight