Why is it that the only time you hear the term "role model" it's being used as a weapon? Take Suzanne Moore's recent piece for the Guardian, titled "Why I Hate Bridget Jones". Moore, who is starting to gain a bit of a reputation as the Liz Jones of the left (I'm sorry Suzanne, I immediately regret saying that) counts the ways in which the fictional character Bridget Jones is actually an awful example of womanhood. A terrible role model, an anti-feminist nightmare of dieting, self-obsession and materialism. Obviously the fact that Jones doesn't exist IRL means it's not as damning as when someone at the Mail goes in on Rihanna, but it still hinges on the premise that this is a woman who deserves to be written off the pages she first emerged from, because – shock horror – she represents a side of our society that freaks out when the man they fancy doesn't text them back.
Moore reckons Bridget Jones is a perfect example of a post-feminist. A woman who, thanks to the struggles and sacrifices made by previous generations of women, is now free to spend her life satisfying purely egotistical and selfish impulses. Impulses like wanting to have sex with Hugh Grant, get married to Colin Firth, wear short skirts to work and pursue a career in "serious" journalism. Wow: guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.
Let's take a look at the article.
Suzanne says: "The ditziness, the choice between the good man and the bad boy (Darcy and Cleaver), the overbearing parents all seemed infantilising. As for having kids, I just thought get on with it. Now she is alone again and the internet has been invented, she could have sex any time. But Bridget doesn't just want sex, does she?"
Sorry Suzanne, but could you elaborate on that last sentence? Is it a criticism or simply a comment? Because right now it sounds an awful lot like you're blaming Bridget Jones for having higher expectations than a quick romp in a pub toilet. Now that Tinder exists, Bridget could have casual sex with strangers night and day, if only she could stop whining about wanting a relationship long enough to remove her (giant) pants. Would that make her a better feminist? Would that make her a better role model?
As for the argument that Bridget's character isn't representative of anyone beyond that swathe of Britain's upper middle that relies on "Ocado deliveries" and spends time "chauffeuring children to extra-curricular activities" – well, yes, quite. You're absolutely right that we don't all worry about which incredibly handsome, rich, charming man with a Kensington townhouse we want to have our dinner with, but for one goddamn second can everyone stop talking about privilege and accept that the feeling of fancying someone is the same whether they're a street-sweeper, a millionaire or a foppish human rights lawyer with questionable taste in Christmas jumpers?
Suzanne says: "The humour that comes from her rhetoric about being a strong independent woman is always undermined by her pseudo neurosis."
Here we go again. I'm not necessarily a paragon of independent womanhood but as far as sexism goes I'm pretty sure I veer towards the self-aware end of the spectrum. I also happen to be intensely neurotic; I put Bridget to shame. Why are these two things not reconcilable? Isn't everyone pretty neurotic pretty much all of the time? To be honest, I don't think the novels would really work if Bridge didn't embody that 3AM-Facebook-stalking, gym-joining neurosis which exists – in some form – in every human I've ever met. Whatever the source of the angst, everyone is dogged by their own version of it and it's tough to see what the argument here is beyond the idea that – in Moore's eyes – Bridget Jones somehow worries about the wrong things, and that this makes her a bad, corrupting example to other women. Quit trying to colonise people's internal dialogues, Suzanne. Also, it would be hard not to focus on your own internal dialogue if you were writing a diary, right? That's what diaries are.
Suzanne says: "For Bridget is everywoman, after all, isn't she? Obsessed with three of the most boring things in the entire world: dieting, trying to get a bloke and drinking and feeling bad about it... Bridget at 51 is more cynical, but without this quest what would her life be? Lunches, Ocado deliveries, chauffeuring children to extra-curricular activities?"
And then Suzanne draws for the nuclear option: criticising the fictional character Bridget Jones for not engaging with Serious Issues. I mean sure, the third Bridget Jones film could have revolved around Bridget travelling to Libya to save oppressed women, only to end up getting kidnapped, flogged and raped by jihadists, but it would be kinda hard to tie that back to the original storyline. Unless Cleaver's badboy behaviour has escalated into him joining al-Shabab and you don't know it's him until the last minute when he rips the black hood off Bridget and wraps her up in his arms while screaming "Allahu akbar", I just don't really see how it would work. What's this obsession with everything having to deal with serious issues, anyway? How often do we deal with "serious issues" on a day-to-day basis, and how often do we do laundry and empty the dishwasher and check our phones for the texts from our friends that may or may not be there?
I'm not the type of person to flop my arms dismissively and mumble "live and let live" whenever somebody does something offensive. I love criticism, I live for criticism, I have just spent more than 1,000 words doing it.I'm just really bothered by the argument that all women need to grow up and stop fussing about trivialities. Sorry, but we're all human, we live for trivialities. Of course we care about whether we've been rained on when we're trying to look glamorous, or whether we'll die alone next to four empty cartons of Betty Crocker birthday sprinkle frosting. That doesn't make Bridget, or me, or anyone else an anti-feminist.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes