Sex and the City: Feminist or Anti-Woman?

Read ‘Sex and the City: Undressed’ here

Sex and the City is a hugely successful US TV show which ran on HBO for 6 series between 1998 and 2004. The series has received high acclaim, and also criticism, for its portrayal of four single female friends in their thirties, living in New York City. The TV series is based on The New York Observer column written by Candace Bushnell, which was made into an anthology called Sex and the City.

The four main characters in the show have their own personalities and qualities to contrast with each other. Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is the narrator of the show and ‘the main one’. She is a sex columnist for the fictional New York Star, and each episode is based around the topic for her column that week. Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is slightly older than the other members of the group, and is the most confident with her sexuality. She shuns romantic relationships for sexual relationships with many partners. Miranda Hobbs, played by Cynthia Nixon, is a cynical lawyer who is very distrusting of men and relationships, although her image softens as the years pass. Charlotte York, played by Kristen Davis, is the most optimistic and traditional of the group, believing in true love and waiting for her knight in shining armour to sweep her off her feet. In addition to the four main characters, there are several recurring characters that the four leading ladies date, including a man the girls refer to as Mr. Big, who is Carries’ ‘on-off’ boyfriend throughout the show.

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The series itself also spurned two feature films in 2008 and 2012, and a HBO prequel series entitled The Carrie Diaries, showing Carrie Bradshaw leaving high school and moving to New York to pursue her dreams of being a writer. If you search for Sex and the City online, you will find endless quizzes telling you which of the four girls you are most like!

The show was extremely popular when broadcast, gaining millions of viewers in the US and UK each week. However, the show has also received some criticism, aswell as praise on its main subject matter – sex. Although the series included a range of topics on serious issues such as pregnancy, abortion, divorce, bereavement, infertility and cancer, it has been noted that the show appears to glamorise sex, and show it as being the only way to get (and keep) a man, whilst discussions about STIs and the possible risk of pregnancy are not greatly discussed, at least not until much later in the series. However, it cannot be said that the show is just shopping and man trouble; bigger issues creep up in episodes amongst all of the sex discussion, to make the show more serious and less frothy than it could be.

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In terms of a feminist argument, Sex and the City had appeared to some to be both pro and anti-female at the same time. The basis of the show, around four, independent single females, shows these woman having jobs and apartments which they have worked hard for without needing a man. They can do what they want, when they want, and they certainly talk about anything and everything they want in a very blatant and honest way. Although the show is based on independent woman, they appear to spend most of their time obsessing about men, and this is quite often the main substance of their conversations. In an episode in series 2, Miranda finally outburst with; “How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?” This question could be put to the entire show.

The female characters also appear to have no bonds or emotional ties with people outside their foursome. There is a distinct lack of mention about any of the characters families. In the first few series, the four main characters have friends outside of their group who are mentioned or seen in episodes. However, as the show continued, they were eventually eradicated with the focus being on the four main characters only. It appears as if none of the characters have any other friends from school, university or their jobs. The only other character who is constant throughout the show is Carries’ gay best friend, Stanford Blatch, who Carrie can talk to about men, and who brings a gay perspective to the topics each week. Without the burden of families or other issues, such as money or employment, the characters priorities are constantly on their sex lives, and that appears to be their main focus throughout every episode.

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The show has also been accused of being not very ethnically diverse, although set in New York City. There is a distinct lack of racial groups throughout the show, with almost all characters being white and middle class. Although perhaps not a realistic portrayal of how diverse New York actually is, the show isn’t majorly realistic in any department. These women who only think about sex and relationships and seem to have endless amounts money for shoes and eating at restaurants are not very realistic of females in general, even in New York.

In spite of everything the show has to offer, the four main characters have a bond that, although not bringing them money or material goods, brings them pure happiness. They provide moral and physical love and comfort to each other, in all situations. In a series 4 episode, when Carrie admits to feeling lonely as she is single on her 35th birthday, Charlotte says; “Maybe we could be each other’s soulmates, and then we could let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with?” All of the girls smile and agree. This perfectly sums up the show – in despite of being mostly about sex and the quest to find the perfect man, the show is a wonderful and realistic portrayal of a great female friendship.

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It cannot be denied that Sex and the City has shown that woman can talk and act just as men do in regards to sex and relationships. These women have all earned high positions in their work life, all have their own places and are independent, even though they are shown to run their lifestyles around meeting and dating men. When the show first aired in 1998, there wasn’t a massive rush of feminist writers saying that Sex and the City is great feminist TV, but neither is this a programme which doesn’t show woman as being empowered and independent, and who have more ambition in life than to be just a wife and a mother. Whatever your opinion of it, it cannot be denied that Sex and the City will go down in TV history as a great TV show, all about and all for the girls.

All images courtesy of HBO.

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About writingsuzanne

History graduate. Freelance writer and reviewer. Passionate about film, theatre and music (film soundtracks!).
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One Response to Sex and the City: Feminist or Anti-Woman?

  1. Pingback: Sex and the City: Undressed | Writing Suzanne

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