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HBO’s ‘Sex and the City’: Are the characters empowering women?

| Thursday, November 8, 2018

Long before HBO started creating some of my favorite shows, like “Game of Thrones” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” they were putting themselves on the map with an iconic show that ran for six seasons and morphed into two blockbuster hits. That’s right, ladies (and gentlemen, to be sure), I’m talking “Sex and the City” today. I have vague recollections of sitting in our family room while my mom watched the show, and definitely heard the latest plot lines while eavesdropping on the neighborhood Book Club. Suffice it to say, from a young age, I equated that show with glamour, womanly wisdom and feminine power.

When I finally reached a mature enough age to watch the show myself (i.e. was old enough to figure out how to get onto our HBO account in high school), I binge-watched the show and felt myself oozing with enlightenment — I wanted to BE these women. Until recently, I might have even considered the show formative to my development. Upon attempting to rewatch the show recently, I was appalled at the fundamental flaws interwoven throughout the plot, and realized the show was far from the feminist showcase I idealized it to be.

One need only look at each of the main characters, women who generations of girls have sought to align themselves with (I used to think I was “such a Miranda”) to understand the problem inherent with the show.

Miranda is a HARVARD-educated lawyer who (allegedly) refuses to settle for just any old man. Samantha is a sexually liberated woman who runs her own PR firm and can’t be tied down. Charlotte owns her own Manhattan art gallery and Carrie is a prominent author for The New York Times. You’d think these women would have conversation enough to last a lifetime, and would not be too concerned about their dating lives, given their extreme success. And yet, every single episode features a lunch or dinner date between the women, where the only topic that is ever breached is their dating lives and the men with whom they are involved. Bit of a problematic idea, that the only thing successful women in their 30s think about and discuss is men.

And don’t even get me started on Carrie …

“Mr. Big,” the longtime romantic interest for Carrie, is straightforward from the beginning — he is not looking to settle down. For him, things are little more than physical. Why then, does Carrie keep going back to him? She let him know that she’d like to have a husband and family one day, and when he said it wasn’t in the cards, she ended it. “Hooray,” you might think. “She’s standing up for herself and what she wants.” This message is quickly diluted when Carrie returns to Big’s arms and bed after barely four episodes, and is once again trapped in a relationship with a man whose future goals do not align with hers. Goals, am I right, ladies?

The overall hype for the show comes from the idea that it allegedly features a bunch of powerful women, embracing their sexuality and living their best lives together, with or without men. However, does this message really stand, if at the end of the day, after each episode, season and the series entirely, our wonder women return to the same fate time and time again, dating and sacrificing for some man or another?

Look, I want to find love and get married as much as the next gal, but there are many things I value much more than the validation of any man. A really good slice of pizza, for one. Or the ability to have an intense debate about a great film or a political debate with my girlfriends. When all I see on a show that is championed as a feminist feat is a bunch of successful women, spending all their conversations on failed dates, sexual escapades and fears of spinsterhood, I’m left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

To be fair, it’s not like there are any shows about powerful men, and their lives and careers, right?

And I couldn’t help but wonder — why the heck was I allowed to watch this show as a 12-year-old?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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