Opinion: Sex, scandal, spoons! But will ‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 be empowering?

Opinion: Sex! Scandal! Spoons! But will Bridgerton Season 2 be empowering? | Soho House

Shonda Rhimes’s fizzy period drama returns to Netflix today, but it could do with some updating, says Olivia Petter

Friday 25 March 2022    By Olivia Petter

Think of Bridgerton, Netflix’s Regency-era smash hit, and everything from sex, scandal and even spoons will spring to mind. But especially sex. Not for nothing was the series breathlessly called a ‘bonkbuster’ when it inveigled its way onto our screens in December 2020, one bodice-ripping romp at a time. What a shock, then, to see that the long-awaited second series has disposed of such sweet titillation. There’s some canoodling, sure, but it’s all rather PG compared to what came before. 
Besides, this is just one of the show’s many egregious misfires this time around. I know: the first series was hardly a paradigm of virtue, given its central relationship was as toxic as the fumes from Elon Musk’s private jet. But hey, at least there wasn’t any brazen sexism. Dive into episode four of this series, though, and you’ll find some serious internalised misogyny. 
Take a scene in episode four. Kate Sharma (played by Simone Ashley) is on a hunt with Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and several other men. She is, as we learn, a ‘great shot’, which is remarkable considering women aren’t permitted to hunt in Bridgerton’s sexist high society. But Kate is different. She can hold her own in a group of men. She goes riding alone in the woods. And she has little interest in marriage. 
All this, it seems, is meant to make Kate somehow superior to other women in The Ton, a fact driven home by the presence of another female character in the hunt scene: her maid. Unlike her employer, though, this nameless worker can barely ride a horse, let alone walk through a woodland without tripping. Anthony even points this out, prompting him and Kate to laugh at her expense. 

Opinion: Sex! Scandal! Spoons! But will Bridgerton Season 2 be empowering? | Soho House

It’s a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, but one that says a lot about Bridgerton’s representation of women. Don’t get me wrong, as a show set in high society Regency England – when women had very few opportunities unless they were married – protests and pussyhats would hardly be true to the setting. But this is a Shonda Rhimes show. And so, there are notable ways that it has been updated to reflect modern times. There’s a diverse cast, for example, and a soundtrack peppered with classical reimaginings of hit pop songs. Why not do the same with women?  
The majority of Bridgerton’s female characters are solely driven by the pursuit of marriage, which, in this exclusively heterosexual universe, means they are basically completely dependent on men. Not just for their finances, but for their happiness and sense of fulfillment, too. This applies to both the young women and their mothers, who talk of almost nothing aside from marrying their daughters off.  
The only exception is Eloise Bridgerton, who is more preoccupied with reading, questioning the status quo and uncovering the true identity of Lady Whistledown (Bridgerton’s own Gossip Girl), than she is with settling down. At least, we thought she was. But it transpires that even she gets drawn into pursuing a love interest this time around. 

Opinion: Sex! Scandal! Spoons! But will Bridgerton Season 2 be empowering? | Soho House

Wanting to get married does not make you a bad feminist. But the fact that this seems to be the only thing motivating every woman in this show is wildly out of touch for today’s telly, even if it is set in the Regency era. What’s more is the way women are consistently pitted against one another. If not Kate and her maid, then Kate and her younger sister, Edwina, who she secretly competes against for the affections of Anthony. 
Why not keep Eloise uninterested in romance? Why not let Kate’s characterisation stand on its own as opposed to being reliant on comparisons to her sister, or her maid? And why not have at least one conversation between women that doesn’t centre around getting hitched?  
Sure, these things might not be true to the source material – the series is based on Julia Quinn’s books – but neither was Regé-Jean Page licking a spoon. And look how well that went down

Opinion: Sex! Scandal! Spoons! But will Bridgerton Season 2 be empowering? | Soho House
Opinion: Sex! Scandal! Spoons! But will Bridgerton Season 2 be empowering? | Soho House
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