Written by Fiona Longmuir

Voices

“It is not a woman’s job to be palatable”

The Woman’s Hour ‘power list’ puts a fictional woman where there should be a real one. Sweet fancy Moses, sighs Fiona Longmuir.

Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones. Photo: Universal Pictures.

Get real: Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones. Photo: Universal Pictures.

BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour celebrated its 70th birthday recently. In honour of seven decades of their programme, they chose seven women for a definitive version of its annual ‘power list’. Seven women whose “role as a catalyst for change over the past 70 years” was deserving of recognition.

This was a very exciting prospect. See, our lives have changed almost unrecognisably in the past 70 years, largely down to the tireless, incredible, thankless work of women. Women have put a man on the moon, discovered the double-helix and spoken out bravely against injustice. It’s been an amazing 70 years, so the only question is: how on earth do you narrow it down to just seven women?

Well, it turns out that Woman’s Hour didn’t have that problem. In fact, not only does their list suggest that Beyoncé is the only woman to have done anything of note after the late 70s, it suggests that women have done so little overall that the list had to be padded out with a fictional character.

According to the power list, one of the seven most influential women of the past 70 years is… Bridget Jones. Now, don’t get me wrong, I bloody love Bridget Jones. Bridget Jones is great. She absolutely does not belong on a list of influential women.

In a year that also saw Wonder Woman appointed as an ambassador to the UN (since withdrawn), it seems worthwhile to ask, what is the deal with boosting fictional ladies over real ones? Women’s contributions to the world are often shouted over, ignored or taken credit for by men. When the opportunity to celebrate them arises, it seems bizarre to let women who don’t actually exist take up spots.

Bridget Jones is on this list because she’s kind of a screw-up. She blasted into our hearts with her blundering English charm and reassured an entire generation of women that it’s OK to be flawed. And that, of course, is nothing to be sniffed at.

Now, we love flawed women in pop culture. From the interchangeable romcom heroines who seem to have real trouble staying on their damn feet or entering a room without knocking 50 things over, to women like Jennifer Lawrence who have turned being ‘relatable’ into a full-time career, being flawed has never been more fashionable.

“Do you think a male power list would contain a sweet, bumbling fictional guy whose main function is to tell other men that it’s fine if they’re not perfect?”

Maybe you snore. Or maybe you snort when you laugh. Or maybe you’re just super-duper clumsy, you silly thing. These are all fine. You go girl! Embrace that imperfection! Just as long as your imperfection is cutesy, endearing and nonthreatening.

We celebrate these new fictional idols as being ‘real women’, as being just like us. But the truth is, the new super-chill real girl is just another pedestal to stick women on, another unrealistic image to lambast ourselves for not living up to.

Non-fictional women, especially those fighting for change are complicated, loud and threatening. To be heard as a woman, you often have to yell, you have to get angry, you have to make such a nuisance of yourself that people simply can’t ignore you.

Women are as varied and complex as men. We are by turn selfish and stubborn and cold and kind and mean and funny and nasty. We do not have the smooth, soft edges of our fictional counterparts. We contain vast, endless multitudes and not all of them are entirely palatable.

But here’s the thing: it is not a woman’s job to be palatable. A woman’s contribution to society does not depend on her being palatable. Do you think a male power list would contain a sweet, bumbling fictional guy whose main function is to tell other men that it’s fine if they’re not perfect? My arse.

Fictional women are honoured over real women because they can be ballsy and fun and brave without actually getting in your way or demanding that you confront your shitty behaviour.

Celebrating fictional women is a great way to show the world that you love women, while also keeping them at arm’s length. Women in the real world are going to incredible lengths to do incredible things every day. They’re making real change. It’s time we celebrated them. For real.

@EscapologistFi

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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.