Fleabag: A Tale of Clumsy Womanhood

Fleabag, a dark comedy, is a television show for every chaotic feminist out there. It is a brutally honest account of a dysfunctional yet nonchalant woman, who is clearly failing at life with her passive-aggressive family, dead business and meaningless sexual relationships. The show, set in contemporary London, speaks the mind of a modern woman through a feminist lens. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the writer of the show, also stars as the protagonist and plays her unnamed character with utter brilliance, whom we call Fleabag.

The viewers take a ride through Fleabag’s mind, quite literally, when she talks to them by breaking the fourth wall. She, conceitedly, predicts the actions of the people she meets and talks to her audience about it. In the very first scene, she presumes exactly what is going to happen after she has sex with an immensely attractive man, and does so throughout the series. She seems to understand the routine behaviour of the men who she sleeps with, and is seldom fascinated by them. As viewers, we do not see Fleabag’s story, we see Fleabag. She is present in every scene of every episode and is almost constantly talking. The audience is not provided with other characters’ stories, and Fleabag’s encounters and perceptions form the plot of the entire series. In fact, a few interesting events in the characters’ lives build up to form the narrative of a rather bigger story.

In the first episode, Fleabag and her sister, Claire, attend a feminist lecture, the tickets of which were given to them by their father. Fleabag called this “[her] dad’s way of coping with two motherless daughters”, who is now in a relationship with their godmother and has minimised contact with them. The lecturer asks the audience to “raise [their] hands if you would trade five years of your life for the so-called perfect body”, to which the sisters promptly raise their hands, followed by Fleabag calling themselves ‘bad feminists.’

Through a lot of instances in the show, we come to understand how Fleabag uses sex to validate her own body and desirability, once even explicitly saying, “I know that my body is the only thing I have left, and when that gets old and unfuckable, I may as well kill it.” We later see how the complexities of Fleabag’s anguish over the death of her mother and her best friend are intertwined with her sexual encounters.

Season 1 is an entry into the mayhem of Fleabag’s life, whereas season 2 is what she calls her love story. Andrew Scott enters season 2 as Sexy Priest and one cannot take eyes off him. As Fleabag says ‘his arm’, ‘his beautiful neck’, ‘I found myself pining YES, YES, YES!’ But glass shatters, it’s not as much a love story between Fleabag and ‘Sexy Priest’, as it is Fleabag’s self-introspection and overcoming her disruptive behaviour. She learns to love and to let go. Her cafe business thrives, and so does her relationship with Claire.

A magnificent scene in season 2, with guest star Kristin Scott Thomas, playing the role of Belinda who wins an award for women in business, might just be the monologue of the year, and will absolutely pierce through your heart. Belinda says, “I was in an aeroplane the other day, and I realised – I’ve been longing to say this out loud – women are born with pain built-in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives.”

“Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these Gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on our own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.”

“And we have it all going on in here, inside. We have pain on a cycle for years and years and years. And then, just as you feel you’re making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes.”

Men capitalise to feel alive, but women bring things to life. She protected even when she suffered, while he created violence to be able to restore peace. Women built walls to nurture, not to divide.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Phoebe Waller-Bridge confirmed that Fleabag is not autobiographical. “A lot of the time when I was being asked about the show, it was through the prism of feminism which was an important part of the show for me…I just started feeling like I was suddenly being moved into a different position that it wasn’t so much that I was a writer, it was that I was a feminist writer, which of course I am, but that becomes a category of writing”, added Phoebe.

So, I would say, watch this for the love of clumsy womanhood, for learning to be strong in this modern feminist world even when your entire life is crumbling down. Fleabag taught me that feminism is hope, even if its standards you cannot seem to reach, and women (dead or alive) will be your strength.


Hrishita Sharma

Feminist, economics, panic, dance battles, artsy corners in the city and book recommendations. That's the recipe.

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