Film & TV

Is Fleabag the Anti-Hero of Modern Feminism?

Echo Callaghan

“Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pains, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out.”

Who could forget the now infamous lines from BBC Three’s smash-hit Fleabag – the show that not only captured the nation, but managed to perfectly express all the intricacies and complexities of modern day feminism. 

Fleabag depicts the life of a woman constantly at war with herself, whether choosing between her desire for the handsome but self-absorbed motorcyclist or the comfort she finds in the comparative safety of her painfully serious and bland boyfriend Harry. Or struggling with the person she thinks she should be (independent, successful and serious like her older sister) and the person she finds herself becoming. The show addresses delicate themes such as grief, alcoholism, and miscarriage, without ever losing its nimble comic touch. 

You get the feeling that Fleabag is a show truly made for women by women, not just because it was written and produced by women, but rather because of the way that it explores the recesses of femininity, without ever offering easy solutions. It delights in laying bare hidden and worrying elements of modern sexuality and relationships, without ever making a moral judgement. In fact, it is a deeply compassionate show. Whether your mistake is marrying a pervy drunkard, sleeping with your best mate’s boyfriend, or stealing from your step-mother-to-be, Fleabag and her sexy priest are here to offer you forgiveness. 

Much like her predecessor, Bridget Jones, Fleabag captures a familiar sense of constant but minor failure in a manner that is deeply relatable. The comedy genre provides these failures with an endearing quality that is sorely needed. Without the ability to laugh at, and even love, our worst selves, these failures would present as alarming inadequacies. Watching Fleabag purges any fears of our own shortcomings by amplifying and celebrating them at the same time. 

The draw of Fleabag is that she reflects the moral and social pitfalls of modern life. She is both a woman trying to be independent and one constantly reliant on the people around her for emotional and financial support. She is the quintessential millennial, compassionately rendered on screen as the perfect comeback to baby-boomer accusations of laziness and shallowness.

A woman, lonely and adrift, ashamedly being herself, is not a common sight on our TV screens. Given the vast scope of Waller-Bridge’s commentary on modern womanhood, is it any wonder that people can’t get enough? Whilst Fleabag may not be the most innocent of protagonists, she is one of few characters on TV who speaks directly to me. When I hear Fleabag declare that she has a terrible feeling that she’s a “greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist”, I feel relief. Most days, I have the exact same worry. 

Categories: Film & TV

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