Christina Patterson: Of course women can't have it all

Helen Fielding lives in the land of gleaming gnashers and giant, plastic breasts

Share
Related Topics

When a multimillionaire novelist, married to a successful screenwriter, living in a mansion with a swimming pool, with two gorgeous children she squeezed in just before menopause, announces that women can't "have it all", it is, you might argue, time for half the female population to lay down their handbags, and the touche éclat they use to hide the ever-growing shadows beneath their ever-more bloodshot eyes, and just give up.

"Women," said the creator of the unit-counting, calorie-counting, fag-counting, shag-counting singleton who became a column who became a novel who became a film who became a £50m franchise, "feel they should be getting up at six in the morning and going to the gym, then doing a full day's work and coming back late and have to feed 12 people for dinner." Do they? I don't dare tell the world (or even the readers of this paper) what time I stagger out of bed, but I'm delighted, at the end of a working day, if I can shovel some food into my own mouth, let alone rustle up a banquet for a football team and a WAG.

But then Helen Fielding (or Bridget Jones as we can now call her since the character, she told the Oxford Union on Tuesday, after years of denials, was herself) lives in LA, the land of gleaming gnashers, toned, tanned bodies and giant, plastic breasts. Also, of course, the land of self-improvement, the land where surrendered wives who love too much feel the fear and do it anyway and run with the wolves, and not with the guys who are Just Not That into Them. "I've gone for photo shoots," said Fielding, "and looked at myself on the cover of magazines where I have been completely changed." Have you? Lucky you. I had to beg the picture editor to soften the under-eye bags on my picture byline, practically bribe her to bleach out a spot.

The fact, however, that the point is made in hyperbolic Bridget mode, by a woman who seems as near to dammit to having everything, doesn't make it wrong – any more than the facts about global warming, the death of the rainforest and the horrors of world poverty propagated by billionaires with offshore tax havens and private jets. Fielding is right that her mother, and my mother, were less "affected by the idea that one minute she should be a woman, the next she should be a career woman and the next she should be a mother" than the daughters they produced and then watched floundering. Floundering, alas, in front of the great god, choice. Which, when it came down to it, didn't feel like too much choice at all.

Bridget Jones struck a massive, global chord because she spoke to a generation of women who suddenly found themselves unable to do the things their mothers did without any effort at all. Fall in love. Get married. Have babies. Well, they could do the falling in love bit, or at least the falling in bed bit, after a couple of bottles of chardonnay, but then the fuckwits (technical term coined by Fielding for a high proportion of human males) would scarper, or they'd just be a bit all-round useless and generally prove themselves less than fertile ground for dreams of rose-clad cottages and peachy bundles who would gurgle and coo on demand.

Bridget and her fans didn't want to run the world, or wreck the global economy, or alchemise taxpayers' money into plasma tellies and moats. They just wanted a nice boyfriend and a nice enough job. Something to keep the wolf from the door, the rent on the little flat paid, and the mind from going mad. All of which made their characterisation as a generation of career-crazed harpies, baying for bonuses and swapping their decaying eggs for rungs on some corporate ladder, as confusing as the myriad choices by which they were supposedly immobilised.

Most of my women friends, like me, earn more than the national average and a great deal less than an MP. Most of us work pretty hard. Some found decent partners. Some even kept them. Those who juggle jobs with families feel as if they fail, all the time. So, for that matter, do those of us who don't. Those shackled by domesticity sometimes envy the freedom of those of who aren't. Those who aren't sometimes envy the ballast of those who are. And so it goes on. This merry-go-round of trying and failing and envying and trying all over again.

We don't get up at six to go to the gym. We don't have plastic breasts, or whitened teeth, or Hermès handbags. Like Bridget, we aspire to more than we manage, but, like Bridget, we're struggling with the compromises on offer to women in a particular culture at a particular point in history, and if we ever thought we could have it all, we sure as hell don't now.

But we also, on a good day, recognise, that "having it all" is just a myth created to inspire misery, and that seeking it, like seeking happiness, is a worthy aim, but doomed, and that "all" is only, in any case, a matter of perception and that the only thing we can be sure of, and celebrate, and cherish, is what we have, right here, right now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick