Is it possible to be a feminist and still like “Sex and the City”?

Alice Wignall ponders this question in The Guardian today.

For a show about women, it displays a singular obsession with men. 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

Yep, I’d agree with that. Apart from Samantha, all of the women in SATC want to settle down with a rich man and make babies, with varying degrees of optimism ranging from Charlotte’s prissy fairytale attitude to Miranda’s world-weary cynicism. And by the time the show ended they were all coupled up – even Samantha had finally found someone she actually wanted to commit to. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the way it all turned out, but it’s all very traditional stuff.

One of the more obvious criticisms of SATC from a feminist point of view is its lack of representation – all of the main characters are white, middle class, rich, well-educated and heterosexual. But are we expecting too much of it?

On one level, this is simply a piece of scene setting – it is a show about wealthy New Yorkers, not about all women everywhere. Kim Akass of Manchester Metropolitan University points out that because there are so few television programmes purely about women, “Sex and the City bears the burden of representation. No one expects The Sopranos to encompass the experience of all middle-aged Italian-American men.” The lack of drama in any other aspect of the women’s lives except their relationships – the fact that they don’t generally have to deal with issues arising from, for example, financial burdens or family ties – clears the field for their sex lives to become their first priority.

I hope that it’s possible to call oneself a feminist and still watch SATC, because I am going to admit, right here in feminist cyberspace, that I love it and can’t get enough of the repeats on Paramount Comedy. I will say however that I have never found it completely unproblematic.

In the anti-feminist corner we have:

  • The obsession with men’s money and status
  • The way that Brazilian bikini waxes are done without question
  • The fact that other than frowning over her laptop the heroine never really appears to do anything except buy shoes and go on dates with complete sleazeballs
  • The fact that the one character who has no interest in settling down is by far the weakest and least believable

    Battling it out in the pro-feminist corner we have:

  • The fact that all of the female characters seem to have A LOT of sex and enjoy it
  • The fact that they all have successful careers (even if Carrie’s doesn’t seem to involve much actual work)
  • The fact that they are strong characters and rarely afraid to air their opinions
  • The fact that you rarely hear them bemoaning their physical appearance
  • The fact that they all seem to be pretty comfortable with their bodies in general

    I’d say that it was pretty much a dead heat between the two, but that because some of the stuff on the pro-feminist side was so groundbreaking at the time, I’m erring on the side of approving of it.

    But what always bothered me the most about SATC, and what continues to confuse me even more now that I am a journalist myself, is how on earth Carrie paid for her Manolo habit by writing one newspaper column.

    It doesn’t stop me watching it though. Or wishing that I had her job.