Sex And The City is a controversial show in feminist circles. Is it a feminist show in itself because it focuses on the empowerment of women? Or is it trash that presents women in a negative and untruthful way, a show no real feminist should watch? Chiara Milford and Hannah Ridyard, two avid fans of the show, look at each argument:
Sexism and the City – Chiara Milford
I’m going to stand up and say something, despite the subsequent tirade. I like Sex and the City. There. I said it. I watch it VOLUNTARILY. Sometimes on A DAILY BASIS. But having somewhat of a mild obsession with a show indicative of the sorry state modern feminism has not made me any less of a feminist. Not at all.
Sex and the City isn’t that much to do with the city, there is a minimal amount of sex; it’s not even about women. It is about women obsessing over men. It is not, despite what the thousands of emancipated 90s women say, about empowerment. Why is this show, centred around four female protagonists, entirely dependant on the lives and desires of their male counterparts? I was of the opinion that feminism was this wonderful thing that permitted us women folk to stop having to need men and become free to want them instead.
Capturing a man is their major objective in life. These unbelievably gorgeous women can’t find fulfilment in any other aspect of their fabulous lives. It appears that everything they do is for the sole purpose of acquiring a husband, fetishised in their fluffy Manolo Blahnik’s (a hideous wardrobe mistake in Season 1) and Chanel earrings. Even love is commodified; a man has to be well off, tall, handsome, well endowed – the cliché of what every woman apparently wants. In reinforcing gender stereotypes, this show does nothing to prevent perpetuating the myth of woman.
All us women need, it seems, is an expensive wardrobe and a penis to finance our troubling addiction to shoes. The fact that every single one of these four, seemingly intelligent, high-powered women can talk about, think about, do anything about, is men. Men men men men men men, oh look at my new handbag!, men men men men…
Having watched every season as many times as normal people have watched Friends, I can say, with some authority, that at least 98.9% of the dialogue (I’ve counted) revolves around men. The promiscuous Samantha Jones is, really, the only objection to this rule; flitting around, the epitome of glamour, sleeping with whomever she wishes, seemingly, only for her own pleasure. The desperation that women are shown to have works on the incorrect assumption that a 30-something female singleton is a BAD thing in society; that spinsters to be shunned. It brings up that old debate over why the bachelor lifestyle is so revered, while a single woman is looked down upon.
I am not even going to begin looking into how profoundly unrealistic it is that a columnist’s salary lands Miss Carrie Bradshaw a gorgeous Manhattan apartment as well as a collection of shoes that requires its own room. Or how four, apparently ‘real’ women, exude such effortless glamour from every invisible pore. No, WE HAVE FLAWS; namely, eating too much and a penchant for overreaction. Also, we rarely wear matching underwear – in fact, this hardly ever happens.
But back to the matter at hand; in the famous voiceover words of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder, how are the rest of us regular women supposed to find a man? The lingering message is one of hope – that you will eventually find your dream man, and you will live happily ever after with a man to cook for and a ring on your finger. The One.
Despite this all though, there are some truly golden moments; notably Samantha’s salient advice on the art of giving a blow-job, “honey, they don’t call it a job for nothing” which had me whooping and flinging my bra at the screen. The sisterhood between these women, the fact that they’re the ones who are the constants in each other’s lives – the ones who see them through their trials and tribulations with men. It’s the reason I, and millions of others, still can’t stop watching. They are each others’ “soulmates” as Charlotte so eloquently puts it in Season 4. They really do capture the love shared between four female best friends – unshakeable, undying, and stronger than any romance.
So, if I am going to have to burn my bra and stop shaving to prove my feminist worth, then so be it. I will not stop watching Sex and the City.
Feminism and the City – Hannah Ridyard
Whenever I scan through the Daily Mail (one of those things that I do because I hate it so much it’s addictive) it honestly really surprises me that some feminists would consider a programme like Sex and the City to be offensive to women. The Daily Mail is a publication, by no means the only one, purely dedicated to the character assassination of women. From what I can deduce from the gossip section of the Daily Mail, women are supposed to be simultaneously a sexy-but-never-whorey-wife-material-domestic-goddess-child-bearer-but-not-too-mumsy-‘cos-that’s-not-hot-whilst-retaining-a-full-time-job-without-being-power-hungry-and-making-sure-not-to-neglect-her-kids type person. Sex and the City, by contrast, is offering up on a plate a full frontal discussion and humorous criticism of these expectations of females, expectations not only held by some of the most powerful media outlets in the world but other women too, not to mention ourselves.
The main thing I find refreshing about Sex and the City, and which I have never seen in any other programme based around female friendship, is that the notion of these characters being perfect and amiable does not exist. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte are four completely different women, and sometimes I don’t like them. The characters are complex and never reduced to being The Funny One, The Shy One, The Sexy One or The Smart One. I consider this to be great writing, and I am surprised when it receives criticism for portraying female friendships as destructive and negative. In real life, there are aspects of our friends’ and family’s lives we don’t agree with or don’t like; this does not mean our feelings are destructive to womankind. The notion that four women cannot have honest relationships with each other without being deemed unsupportive is categorically unfair. A portrayal of extremely close female friendships that did not include the characters telling each other home truths or falling out on occasion WOULD be pushing an untruth that women all have to like each other and support each other 100% of the time. And that is not what feminism is.
Feminism is about choices, and being at liberty to make personal decisions without being judged by society, something that SATC fully addresses. The choices the girls face are the main focus of the show, with the men, shoes and friendships incidental the same way they are in life. Without the incidentals we would never have to make wider decisions. SATC has also received criticism for claiming to be about women but actually being about men, which I also believe to be categorically untrue. Yes, men are a feature, but why should we pretend that men, shoes and sex don’t appear in our lives or cause us problems, worries or happiness? Being judged as not being ‘hardcore’ enough or a bimbo for considering those things important is actually a feeling I would be more likely to associate with chauvinism than feminism. So it is surprising that those feelings still seem to be out there. The show is not a criticism of one lifestyle choice or another, it is merely a discourse or analysis of the choices these women make, how it makes them feel and why.
Of course, none of this is to say that there are no flaws within the series. In discussing the positive aspects of Sex and the City, I am not including the movie sequels, SATC2 warrants a completely different article. But when it comes to the original series, Sex and the City was a pretty ground breaking show primarily about CHOICE, a word that is often used to threaten and scare women in today’s society for fear of making the wrong one. The main message to be taken away from the series is that whatever life choices you make as a woman, they should not haunt you forever, or fill you with regret as we often see in endless tabloid articles about women who ‘were too busy with career to have kids’, it should free you up to be (cheesy Carrie quote alert!) ‘the you that you love’.
What are your thoughts on Sex and the City? Do you feel empowered when you watch it, or slightly nauseous? Join us in the comments.
Written by Chiara Milford and Hannah Ridyard