In 1996, Bridget Jones’s Diary was published and its sympathetic heroine became an identification figure for many women. Her following even grew when the 2001 motion picture was released.
In this essay, firstly, I would like to introduce various concepts of identity formation, including hegemony, discursive formation and invented categories. On the basis of these concepts, I will discuss masculinity and femininity in the movie, comparing the leading men Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), and the heroine Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) with the seemingly perfect Natasha. Secondly, I will evaluate the role of the feminine gaze and objectification of Cleaver and Darcy.
Gramsci defines hegemony as the domination of one group in society over another (Stillo 1999). In Western society, just considering gender, not class, traditionally white men are the dominant group. According to Bourdieu, this hegemonic position leads to
symbolic violence, a violence that is hardly noticed, almost invisible for the victims on whom it is perpetrated; a violence which is exercised principally via the purely symbolic channels of communication and knowledge (or, to be accurate, mis-knowledge) of recognition and, in the final analysis, of feelings. (1998, n.p.).
The symbolic violence can be seen as the hegemonic power to impose an idea of norms on the rest of society. The norms in turn influence identity formation among the people, which is an important element of Bridget Jones’s Diary. The whole movie seems to deal with Bridget’s development into a better woman by conforming to social expectations and media representations.
Kelly Marsh (2004) says that “the ‘authentic self’ is itself very much a social product, and the attempt to assert its privileged autonomy can merely underline its profound dependence upon the cultural and ideological systems through which it is constituted” (p.61). Weeks (in Hall 1991) talks about “invented categories” (p.301) in this context, which are created by the cultural meanings of certain traits, roles, dispositions and forms of conduct.
The gender terms masculinity and femininity are two of these categories, and can be read in the context of Foucault’s idea of discursive formations (Danaher et al. 2000). Discursive formations (theoretically) include all discourse or simply statements about one topic. One’s self and our ideas of binary oppositions like the concepts of masculinity and femininity are shaped by these discourses. The categories are signified by discursive codes in the media (Hall 1997), which usually shows representations that conform to cultural stereotypes and norms (Strinati 2004).
Angela McRobbie, when discussing the teenage girl magazine Jackie, has given us a definition of these media representations as a “system of signs embodying [an] ideology which tries to secure the acceptance or ‘consent’ [of the recipients] as individual ‘subjects’ to its specific codes and values” (in Strinati 2004: 184). The media, not only film but also and especially glossy magazines, take up cultural stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, usually promoting ‘ideal’ men and perfect women.
In reality though, not many men and women meet the high standards of hegemonic masculinity and femininity represented by the media (Hall 1997), and neither do the characters in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Hegemonic masculinity, although not a stable concept and in constant change (Connell 1995, p.76), includes several traits which are considered typically masculine. There are many definitions of masculinity, which can vary from culture to culture and at different points in time, but several traits are mentioned more often than others as traditionally masculine. The ideal man should be aggressive and competitive, protective and powerful. He should think rationally, be professional and competent in solving problems. The ideal man is successful and strong (Strinati 2004; Hall 1997; Philips 2000).
These characteristics only partly match what women are looking for in a man though, according to Philips (2000), “Mr Right should be educated, responsible, loyal, manly and at the same time tender and understanding” (p.47). It seems women do not appreciate “full” masculinity in a man, but prefer a blend of masculine and feminine traits in a partner.
Considering the movie’s leading men, Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver, both are successful in their careers and highly competitive with each other when it comes to women, trying to defend their territory. But the similarity ends here.
Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver represent two different types of men: Darcy is a representative of ‘conservative Englishness’ (Hall 1997, p.310): in most of his scenes he is wearing suits, even the classic three-piece, and keeps the straight posture and serious facial expression that Hall lists as signifiers for conservative masculinity. If we disregard his reindeer jumper at the beginning of the movie - although he only wears it for his mother’s sake, which shows that he does not want to hurt anyone’s feelings -, he keeps this calm, brooding façade up to the key scene of the film, when he finally shows his emotions and confesses – although quite rationally – that he likes Bridget “just as [she is]” (BJD 2002).
From this point he increasingly displays feminine traits, challenging hegemonic masculinity by supporting Bridget’s career by arranging an interview with his client and later by helping her to prepare a birthday dinner for her friends. As a human rights lawyer he steps in for other people. He shows the right blend of “compassion, kitchen skills, and emotional vulnerability” (Ritrosky-Winslow 2006: 243).