Feminism vs. “Sex and the City”?

An article asks whether it's possible for a feminist to like the HBO series.

Topics: Sex, Broadsheet, Sex and the City, Love and Sex,

With the release of the “Sex and the City” movie approaching, an article in the Guardian modifies a familiar scene: a writer sits on her bed, hammering away on her old-school PowerBook while alternating between a smirk and a quizzical frown. Cue voice-over: So I wondered … is it possible [squints eyes] to be a feminist and like “Sex and the City”? As with many of the questions that appeared on Carrie Bradshaw’s flickering computer screen, I immediately shouted out my answer in frustration: “Of course!”

The article lays out the familiar argument that even though “Sex and the City” is ostensibly about women, it “displays a singular obsession with men.” As high-powered lawyer Miranda exclaimed at one point in the series: “How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?” And, of course, it would be impossible to ignore the fact that, like any fairy tale, the series ended with all four “happily paired up” with a man. So, the Guardian asks, is this a “betrayal” of women and feminism?

But, refreshingly, the piece seems to answer in the contrary and quotes Kim Akass, co-editor of “Reading Sex and the City”: “Is it the case that a strong women can’t desire a husband?” Of course not! News flash: Heterosexuality is not anti-feminist. Now, I’m not saying that all heterosexual women are as relationship-obsessed as the “Sex and the City” quartet. But most women — and men — do long for companionship; is it anti-feminist for that common longing to be fulfilled at the end of the series? It’s not as though any of the characters settled, at least in their own eyes, for subpar men; they’re all, as the Guardian puts it, “happily paired up” (albeit in all of their neurotic and dysfunctional glory).

The story arc may be reminiscent of those childhood fairy tales we feminists love to deconstruct, but the “Sex and the City” ladies aren’t damsels in distress; they’re all fully realized women who sought out a meaningful and fulfilling relationship, and eventually found it. Horrors! That’s not to say that “Sex and the City” is overtly feminist — although, at least the show has an equal-opportunity attitude toward gettin’ some — but it isn’t anti-feminist. Carrie and crew make terribly stupid decisions about their love lives and are, at times, desperate and self-destructive — but so it often goes with real-life friends, and that hardly makes them enemies to feminism.

The truth is that the show doesn’t revolve around men so much as female friendship. Crises over men come and go, along with the ups and downs of life, but their four-way friendship remains. As the Guardian puts it: “They identify as each other’s soul mates and provide emotional, practical and moral support.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I recently comforted a female friend who had just been violently mugged, we opted for eating ice cream out of the carton and watching “Sex and the City.”

Tracy Clark-Flory

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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