Journalist Sarah Gill reflects on the complicated legacy of Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones, and how single women of a certain age are represented on-screen.

When we muster up an image of the quintessential single woman we're shown on our screens, two very different characters spring to mind — Carrie Bradshaw and Bridget Jones.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve binge-watched Sex and the City more times than you would care to admit, or have never even seen the Bridget Jones’s Diary trilogy, both of these names have been thoroughly imprinted on the minds of Gen-X and Millennial women alike.

They’re nestled together in the same niche cubbyhole, but espouse wildly different messages. Granted, neither piece of hugely significant, zeitgeist-defining popular culture has aged particularly well, their resounding impact cannot be denied.

While they may seem similar at first glance - both women are white, blonde, cis-gender, heterosexual, and wealthy enough to live in their own flats in major cities despite their vague jobs in media - the singletons represent two very different viewpoints on dating in your 30s.

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Carrie Bradshaw is one of the four single women Sex and the City revolves around. When the HBO show first aired in the June of 1998, the dulcet tones of Sarah Jessica Parker welcomed the viewer to the age of un-innocence in a pilot that teed up the themes, characters, and tone that would go on to span six seasons and two questionable-at-best feature films.

In the opening scenes, a 33-year-old Miss Bradshaw introduces us to a certain kind of modern woman. "They travel, they pay taxes, they’ll spend $400 on a pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals — and they’re alone."

"It’s like the riddle of the Sphinx. Why are there so many great-unmarried women, and no great-unmarried men?"

A sex columnist — or 'sex anthropologist’, as she later explains to one Mr. Big — who explores a different facet of love, lust, and dating while using her friends and love interests as sources, the first source of intrigue up for analysis is a question that’s been reiterated in rom-coms and so-called ‘chick flicks’ alike time and time again: Can women have sex like men?

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The SATC foursome exist on a spectrum. At one end you have Samantha, a sexually liberated PR maven; Miranda, a lawyer whose cynicism curbs her conquests; Carrie, a coquettish character that’s been thoroughly critiqued for her prudishness; and Charlotte, a hopeless romantic art dealer with a (mostly) traditional outlook on life.

"Was it true? Were women in NY really giving up on love and throttling up on power?" Carrie’s voiceover says, in what is to be the first of many and-so-I-wondered moments. "What a tempting thought."

And just like that… the scene is set. Social mores and societal norms, gender roles and power dynamics are laid out and ready to be placed under the microscope by one cigarette-smoking, tutu-wearing columnist, and a generation leaned closer with baited breath. Based purely on the pilot alone, one message was clear: being a single woman in her 30s in a big city is empowering, exciting, and thoroughly fulfilling.

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Enter Bridget Jones. Premiering in cinemas in 2001, we’re introduced to a 32-year-old woman who works in publishing that’s resolving to alter her habits and change her life.

Waking up bleary-eyed after some New Year’s celebrations, Bridget’s monologue begins: "New Year's Day. Another year gone. Everyone else has mutated into Smug Marrieds, having children left, right and center — and I'm still going to bad parties."

"Have made big decision. This year, I will take total control of my life and become the perfect modern woman."

Vowing to keep a diary — tracking her weight, calories, and alcohol consumption — quit smoking, and generally level-up throughout the next 12 months. Her opening manifesto concludes as follows: "All in all, will develop inner poise, and sense of self as mature woman of substance, complete without boyfriend... as best way to obtain boyfriend. And not end up tragic bag lady."

A cinematic adaptation of Helen Fielding’s 1996 book of the same name, Bridget Jones’s Diary was written as a piece of satirical fiction. It’s been described as a pastiche of the era’s singlehood, a work that pokes fun at the ‘singleton’ stereotype and lampoons the eternally lonesome feminine.

Regardless, literature, cinema and television are powerful cultural forces, affecting and reflecting our perceptions of ourselves and, in turn, our sense of self-worth. The borderline intrusive fascination with the lives of single women has been ever-present and is likely to never leave the forefront of popular culture.

A term that can be broken down into three categories, a single woman can be divorced, widowed, or — most thoroughly documented — never married. Whether it’s fictional characters or real-life celebrities, single women have always been a source of great intrigue.

At one particularly uncomfortable dinner party with her would-be-ex-cum-love-interest Mark Darcy, Bridget — who has been elected as the spokesperson for single women everywhere — is asked why so many "fine physical specimens" over 30 "can’t seem to hold down a chap", regardless of the fact that the conversation had quite literally just been discussing the fact that one in three marriages end in divorce.

This same question is posed an infinite amount of times daily. How come Samantha Jones never found love, settled down, and got hitched? Why did Jennifer Aniston never have kids? Isn’t it sad that X, Y or Z are still on their own?

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Society makes it clear that a woman’s true fulfillment comes from some kind of external validation of their existence. Even in popular music, how many times do women have to explicitly say (or sing) that they do not need a man in order to be happy, whole individuals?

Though the classic pursuit of a husband at all costs has pivoted in more recent years towards empowerment through work and personal interests, and even more recently to feature the importance of female friendship as a focal point, it seems as though popular culture is reticent to feature single, unmarried women as perfectly content to simply exist within their own space in the world.

Though Bridget’s quest for betterment — whether or not it was solely for the sake of the male gaze or not — contrasts Carrie’s exhaustive scrutiny of a life lived in the ever-fluctuating dating pool, they’ve been indelibly linked together in the cultural ether.

Straight, white, and earning enough to somehow afford gorgeous one-beds in two of the most expensive cities in the world, the stories and experiences we're shown are, naturally, quite a departure from the diverse and much less cinematic reality we live in.

The weighty reality of body clocks and obligatory ten-step life plan of expected milestones were laid out to us from the get-go, and are continually reiterated to us through the media we consume.

We’re told to never ask a woman her age, but everything else seems to be pretty much fair game.