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

Helen Fielding lives in the land of gleaming gnashers and giant, plastic breasts
Click to follow
The Independent Online

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.