The Guardian asks…Can a feminist really love Sex and the City?

I just had to blog about this article because it asks the question I have been often asked by my mother: is it really possible to call yourself a feminist and still like Sex and the City?

I am a feminist. And I love SATC. Love might be an understatement. I’ve been known to reference episodes in my every day life (“it’s like that one time when Aidan wanted to stay at home and eat chicken and Carrie wanted to party! ya know?”) Not being an HBO-type family, the first time I saw an episode of SATC was, interestingly enough, in my Intro to Women’s Studies class where we asked that very question–is the show a feminist show?

Alice Wignall, the author of this article, does a fantastic job of discussing both sides of the argument. First of all, is it even a realistic show? Sure, the show features characters who represent less than 1% of the American female population (successful upper-class New York educated white women who can blow over $300 on a pair of shoes). So perhaps it isn’t the most cookie-cutter example of females, let alone feminists. Secondly, the show focuses on the character’s relationships with men, and often they do seem a bit boy-crazy:

As Miranda, the character most likely to consider herself a feminist, points out in one episode: ‘How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?’ Since the primary purpose of SATC is to explore what it was like for thirtysomething heterosexual single women negotiating sex and love in a late 20th-century urban setting, it would be hard to do that without mentioning men. But that makes it, at its heart, a protracted romantic comedy, and SATC suffers from being bound by the still-pretty-conventional constraints of the genre. […] The most significant story arcs are about the characters’ search for relationships. And at the conclusion of the television show, all four characters – even Samantha, whose avowed aim for most of the series was emotion-free sex – are happily paired up. “It does seem that, in the end, it had to come back to a traditional view,” says Whelehan. “That the future for most women means marriage and children.”

The thing is, are feminists being too harsh on the show when they say it’s only (gasp!) about relationships? The show is called Sex and the City after all. This goes back to some of the articles I posted earlier this week, questioning what does a “feminist relationship” even look like?

I’m a woman. I like men. When I get together with my girlfriends we do talk about guys. And there’s nothing anti-feminist about that. Sure, it is creepy when Charlotte says she hears a voice inside her that says “mate for life, mate for life” around men. Yes, that’s creepy and kinda not in tune with feminism. But Charlotte’s thoughts represent loads of other women’s thoughts, I’m sure, and thus shouldn’t be devalued but examined.

Another issue that many take up with the show is the character’s materialistic label-obsessed fashion:

“They do exist in this kind of vacuum,” says Whelehan. “The chaotic element in their lives is their partners. Everything else is ultimately fine, mainly because they have the money to fix most problems.” Which also explains why SATC is often dismissed as being simply a show about shoes. With no real battles to fight, excessive screen time can be devoted to tales of trivial consumption.

Good point, yes, but the author goes on:

But that can also be easily rebutted. You may not applaud the way that the show tackles more serious issues, sandwiched, as they are, between dates and dinners, sex and shopping, but SATC is never just froth and froth alone. Illness, infertility, bereavement, ageing, single motherhood, sexual discrimination and divorce all play their part in the show’s storylines.

I think I appreciate the show first of all as an entertainingly funny half-hour television show. (Let’s not forget that what it is, people.) But I also appreciate it because it did put sex out there. Women have sex outside marriage. They’re not sluts. And they’re not devaluing themselves. And although Carrie is often on the search for “the one,” SATC showed that single thirty-something women aren’t to be pitied–they lead fulfilling and successful lives despite their lack of a ring on their finger. And that, my friends, is awesome.

But I’d like to know what you all think…


One response to “The Guardian asks…Can a feminist really love Sex and the City?

  1. I don’t know.

    I do know that this is a show about individuals (fictional ones) who do dumb shit sometimes. (Like Carrie cheating on Aidan – what the hell was her PROBLEM?!) This is also a show about rich white women, but I don’t remember a memo going out saying that all TV shows and movies have to show a perfect vertical slice of different socio-economic levels.

    I agree that the show opted for the HappyHappy ending by getting everyone paired off. Entertainment does that. “Friends” ended the same way, didn’t it? (I didn’t watch that much, I don’t remember. Most movies end that way. What would a feminist sitcom, romantic-comedy, or television series look like? Is it limited to “The L Word”, which, like “SATC”, also doesn’t speak to a variety of experiences across the spectrum of women living in America.

    I think, again, that the show is about individuals: Carrie, the idiot (seriously, I think she’s an idiot, especially dumping Mikhail Baryshnikov), ends up with a misogynist woman-user; Samantha ends up with a smokin’ sex-toy/boyfriend. See? Balance.

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