‘Sex and the City’ and Feminism

A while back, Glamour magazine had done a photo shoot of female “American Icons” throughout history and included Carrie Bradshaw. The blurb under the photo of “Carrie” called her “feminine and feminist at the same time.” I disagreed with the belief that Carrie was in any way a feminist figure, and went on to say that I didn’t really regard the show itself as touting feminist ideals, though you could surely find them if you looked hard enough. In that post, I said:

“The last time I checked, feminism was not about women being obsessed with material items, high heels, and finding a man. Feminism was not embodied by a woman who is desperate to find a man and who takes back the same man that keeps treating her like crap and who leaves her at the altar. And I’m not saying that the show didn’t sometimes break barriers in regards to women who were single in their 30s not being seen as spinsters, and in terms of allowing women to showcase themselves as sexual and sexually free people. I’m just saying that the show, and Carrie, did not embody feminist principles.”

It seems that Double X magazine agrees with me.

“[People have] exalt[ed] the ladies of Sex and the City as feminist icons mainly because the show centers on female friendships and it’s brutally honest in depicting how even professional females are still entirely obsessed with men.

Sounds…uh, feminist?

…two of the main ladies, Carrie and Charlotte, admittedly want to land a rich husband who can finance their extravagant purchasing habits (in the SATC movie, Carrie makes louder moans of joy upon being reunited with her promised walk-in closet than she does with Mr. Big) and, Samantha, the token slut who sleeps around “like a man”, is cosmically punished with cancer during the last season of the HBO series run. The ladies are so clichéd and one-dimensional hailing them as feminist icons is like arguing that Beavis and Butthead define manhood in all its robust glory.”

I couldn’t agree more. Though, if I was going to pick one Sex and the City character that was the most feminist, it’d be the one who’s portrayer is most feminist in her life, too. Miranda, played by Cynthia Nixon (who is amazingly outspoken in her support of women’s and gay rights). Miranda was an independent, smart, successful, snarky lawyer. She had short hair, and in the earlier seasons wore frumpy clothes and was unconcerned with her looks. She was less concerned with landing a man then the other ladies were, and often got frustrated with them for having nothing but men to talk about. She had a baby out of wedlock. She married her boyfriend, yet refused to wear white because, “I have a baby; the jig is up!” In many ways, she was the anti-Carrie.

That’s not to say that she wasn’t just as hung up on men at times as the other women, that she felt badly about the number of men she’d slept with, that she was sad to check the “single” box when buying her own apartment, that she was worried about not being able to have kids when she discovered she had a lazy ovary, and that her clothes and looks didn’t greatly improve as the seasons went on. But at least she was an example of someone that could have very strong feminist ideals, yet still want some traditional things, or get caught up in society’s expectations for women.
Granted, there could be entire courses dedicated to dissecting the feminist and anti-feminist themes in Sex and the City. There’s plenty of them. But I’ve always found it odd that it was touted as such a feminist show when, 1) none of the women EVER called themselves a feminist (except maybe Charlotte in the (one) episode where she befriends the high powered lesbian lawyers, but I’d have to check on that), and 2) the show centers around so many things that feminism eschews.
Groundbreaking? Sure? A step forward? Definitely. Feminist? Not so much.
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  1. Sa
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    I have a love-hate relationship with that show. To me the most positive element was how female friendship was shown as a relationship just as valuable as marriage. Throughout the series, the four women were always each other's "soulmates" and the men were more on the side.

    This being said, I hate that Carrie is touted as a feminist icon. First of all, she was so judgemental of her friends' choices. Samantha was often an object of mockery. Even Charlotte, the so-called "prude", was less judgemental than Carrie.

    Miranda was also the only one I could relate to. Cynthia Nixon is a wonderful actress and I enjoyed many of the story arcs. (single motherhood, sex after having a baby etc.)

    To me the most obnoxious moment in the series was when Carrie had to buy back her apartment from Aidan after breaking off their engagement. She goes to Big to ask for money, she gets mad at Charlotte for not offering to give it to her. It was her choice to spend all her money on clothes and she never took responsability for her own behaviour.

    Sorry for the long comment!

  2. Welcome to Chicago, Jillinois
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I disagree. I think you still can be a feminist and still whine and naval gaze, want stuff, still want a man, still want a man to buy you stuff. All of these women on the show do what they want. They support themselves, they are educated and have well-rounded lives. There's nothing wrong with wanting stuff nor wanting a man. There's nothing inherently anti-feminist about that.

    Don't you think many people could read your blog and say, "Well this character Britni isn't a feminist. She naval-gazes on a blog and eats out of a dog bowl at the feet of a man who literally keeps her on a leash and who buys her presents of clothes and shoes, etc?"

    If someone said that, of course I'd say yeah, but so what? It's what she likes. And she's doing what she likes as a free, equal, educated woman, and THAT makes her a feminist.

    We all could be characters on SitC, really. But we all are feminists, too.

  3. moresexchocolateandredlipstick
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I am so there. So many people tell me that they expect me to like Sex and the City because I'm girly and I like rom-coms. I actually can't stand it, they're just whining most of the time. And obviously they do tap into many of young women's concerns, but it just annoys me. I hate all this 'which SATC girl are you?' – we're not all like that!

    —Amy xxxx

  4. alana
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know. I definitely think there are better role models out there but I have a hard time being so dismissive of Carrie and SATC. I mean, do you consider yourself less of a feminist because of all that shit that happened a while back with that douche bag? I think this show is a good example of how consumerism is often depicted as empowerment, but I’m with Jill on this one.

    And I don’t even like SATC.

  5. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Jill and Alana, I don't think that you can't be a feminist and like material items, or obsess over men. Lord knows I do both.

    And there *are* great things about the show, and there are feminist things about the show. I just don't think that touting the show, or Carrie herself, as feminist is accurate. None of the characters ever identified as feminist, and really, there are a lot of NON-feminist things about it.

    I don't disagree with either of your points, I just don't think the show itself is blatantly feminist, nor is it really a good example of feminism. Unfortunately, though, there aren't really any better examples out there. Which says a lot.

  6. alana
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    That’s exactly what I was thinking when I typed my comment actually. The fact that we even have to look to this show says a lot about our culture I think.

    It just makes me uncomfortable because sometimes it seems like people use the guise of “is this really feminist” in order to vent and as a way of being judgmental towards other women’s choices. That’s not what you’re doing here, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

  7. Jess
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Alana said everything I was thinking, but better :)
    on a semi related note, Im not sure I understand why Miranda being upset that she might not have been able to conceive negates her being a feminist. Not that this is what you're saying here Brit, but I've heard from others before that motherhood and feminism don't mix. I disagree. As long as a woman is making the choice to have a baby, and not pushed into it by someone else, it seems pretty clear cut to me. Isn't feminism about women being able to make their own choices and not conforming to ideals – whether they be traditional or otherwise?

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