August 7, 2005

 

Bridget Jones stereotype out of date and harmful

A story published today in the Sunday Herald says that some 10 years after Bridget Jones and her diary burst into our lives, the celebrated singleton is back – and denounced as out-of-date and harmful to both men and women.

The newspaper column by Helen Fielding which triggered the phenomenon returned last Thursday, ahead of tomorrow’s launch of National Singles Week in Britain. Yesterday, The Independent gave away a special book of the early columns.

But despite a massive advertising campaign flagging up the column’s return, social commentators and “singletons” alike have agreed that the main theme of the articles – the all-consuming desire of unmarried women to find a partner – is no longer relevant.

Since first appearing a decade ago as a diary in The Independent, the trials and tribulations of the well- meaning but accident-prone, 30-something Bridget Jones have spawned two books and corresponding Hollywood movies, starring Renée Zellweger. Bridget’s creator, author Helen Fielding, has married and given birth to a son.

Professor Richard Scase of Kent University, an economist regarded as Europe’s leading social trend guru, argues that any perceived stigma once attached to the status of being single has now been removed.

He said: “Today’s 30- and 40-somethings are more confident and they don’t necessarily feel the need to be in a permanent partnership.

“The Bridget Jones thing is actually a bit of myth because more and more women are concentrating on their career and their friends. A relationship isn’t their priority … and this is one of the drivers behind the growth in the housing market. Of the 4.5 million homes we need in the UK, 3.8 million are for single people. ”

His views are backed by new statistics released last week by the Executive. According to the 2003-04 Scottish Households Survey, 41% of homes in Glasgow are single person households, with 38% in Edinburgh. Across the UK, almost half the population is classed as single, and a new Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, also published last week, shows only 57% of Scots think marriage is the best type of relationship.

Nerys Hairon, a 30-something writer for a London medical magazine, said: “I think when it first came out it broke a lot of barriers and gave us something to relate to.

“In addition to the humour and the honesty about things people don’t normally admit to, like weighing yourself all the time and counting calories, it also highlighted the contradictions of being a career-minded, financially independent woman. You don’t need a man, but you might still want one.”

But she added: “I think now I would find her [Bridget Jones] a bit too moany. In a way, the books created a stereotype that some girls like to try and live up to. Look at her ridiculous clingyness when she goes on about marriage after only going out with someone for about two months.”

Toni Brennan, writer and visiting lecturer in psychology at the University of East London, said that not only is the Bridget Jones stereotype outdated, it is harmful.

“It perpetuated the idea that a 30-year-old singleton must be desperate to find not so much a companion but a ‘catch’ because the biological clock is ticking, [that] women are simply ‘hens’ looking for a nest and for a man to provide one. ”

Scase said society should be concerned about 30-something single men, as they are the ones “living alone, getting clinically depressed and drinking too much, particularly on estates in big cities, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and London .”