Is Upper Class Life, A Carefree Sexual Attitude And A 40k Shoe Habit Empowering?


French Theorist Helene Cixous once wrote, “It’s time to liberate the new woman from the old.” The term New Woman emerged in the late 19th century and has had a profound influence on feminism since it came to light. The New Woman challenges conventional gender roles, and the belief that women can’t be respected public figures based on their rhetoric and intellect. The New Woman ventures confidently into the world, delving into new jobs and culture outside the realm of the housewife and society’s unfair expectations of what a woman “should” be. In Cixous’ 1970 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa”, she urges women to break through the narrow confines of a Patriarchal society and speak with confidence, breaking through the barriers imposed by a male dominated discourse. The essay bleeds empowerment, and urges women to reclaim their bodies and sexuality, all the while displaying the upmost confidence.

Given the basic idea of Sex and the City, it’s undeniable that the show attempts to portray the liberated New Woman. The show tackles social issues while portraying the unconventional lives of four successful women confidently strutting through life on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, in style. But, is upper class life, a carefree attitude about sex and a $40,000 shoe habit enough to accurately display the embodiment of female empowerment? My answer is no.

Reason number one: 1 Dimensional Characters

I’m not saying that Sex and the City denounces feminism or the power of the individual woman, but it certainly doesn’t do enough to be labeled more than a feminist’s guilty pleasure. The four main characters can each be described in less than a full sentence. Charlotte is the child, Samantha is promiscuous, Miranda is uptight, and Carrie is the motherly figure. The series is predictable. The characters are predictable. An empowered woman is anything but predictable. The series is latently insulting to women; it downplays the multiple facets every woman has to her personality.

Reason Number 2: Stereotyping

Each character has their own stereotype that is born in the first episode and lives on throughout the entirety of the series. Being a self-proclaimed feminist, (or just a human being), I can say with confidence that stereotyping doesn’t do much to accurately portray characters with multi-dimensional personalities.

Miranda: “I’m married to my career”

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being a self-sufficient cynic who openly denounces relationships, but Miranda is far from the perfectionist she strives to be. Some would even go so far as to say that Miranda is portrayed as a man-hater. Why can’t Miranda focus on her career while making time for other things? Miranda is obviously a successful, intelligent, career driven woman with a great deal to offer. The series doesn’t show that, but instead, hyper-focuses on one aspect of her personality. Although her image slightly softens as the series progresses, the label sticks. That’s the thing with stereotypes.

Charlotte: The naive husband hunter

Charlotte is the character who spends most of her time waiting for her knight in shining armor to arrive and carry her off into the sunset. Given her conservative upbringing, she has rather traditional views on sex and relationships. She relies on the other women to educate her on sex, something she doesn’t know much about. She never broke free of the child-like fairy tale fantasy that every little girl has. Being an adult, you would think that she has other things to worry about than finding a husband. She’s a wealthy woman living a life that some women would kill to have, but all she can think about is men. The most mature decision she makes in the series is her decision to quit her job at the art gallery, just because she wanted to.

Samantha: The Promiscuous One

Even though Samantha is a successful businesswoman with a top job in Public Relations, the show focuses almost solely on her sex life. Her relationship with sex is borderline obsessive, and it’s all her character ever really talks about. Why can’t a woman in her thirties living in New York City with a career focus on anything else? The series does her character an injustice by not giving her a more complex personality. She embraces her sexuality with a confidence that should be envied, but it’s unfair for her to be depicted as a woman who only wants sex when she has so much more to offer society. She’s so sexualized that her character is almost never serious, the series focuses solely on her sex life as if it were the only thing she can identify with.

Carrie: The mother of the group/hypocrite

She knows enough about sex and love to write a column about it, but she can’t seem to take her own advice. She’s always trying to fix everyone else’s problems, but neglects her own. That makes her a hypocrite, and a hypocrite isn’t a fine quality. Some argue that Carrie is someone that should be looking up to: smart, independent, empowered. She may be smart, but she lets Mr. Big (her on again, off again boyfriend) push her around and treat her horribly, and ends up living happily ever after with him. What kind of message does that send? Smart, independent women should settle for the guy that treats her like garbage as long as everything’s okay in the end? Her obsession with Mr. Big makes her weak; therefore, I don’t see her as an inspiring, empowered woman. 

It took me a really long time to get here, but I’m here. Carrie, you’re the one. [Mr.Big]

Third Reason: Man obsession

The third and most important reason why I don’t believe Sex and the City can empower women. Don’t get me wrong, I realize that these women are going to talk about their relationships with men. But, men are almost the only thing they ever talk about. Whether they hate them, whether they just had sex with one, whether they’re in love, whether they’re dating, whether they’re making fun of someone, or whether they’re pining after one, it’s all the same. Four successful women with great careers living in the Upper East Side should certainly have much more to chat about than the opposite sex, even among close friends. The only one who ever tries to steer the conversation in a different direction is Miranda, but she’s the one with the metaphorical wall built up; or as some see it, the “man-hater.” So, in short, what the show is saying is that if you’re not obsessed with men, you’re either a man-hater or you’re afraid to immerse yourself in a relationship. That is not the message that should be sent to single women in their 30’s.

It’s okay to be single, it’s okay to be alone and have a career, and it doesn’t mean you hate men or you’re afraid to get hurt. You might just be interested in other things, but this series just doesn’t convey that. It makes it seem like single women in their 30’s are doing something wrong if they’re not searching for their husbands or playing the field.

Overall Sex and the City tries and falls short in representing the liberated ‘New Woman’. The characters don’t embody the multiple facets of a woman’s personality; instead, it gives one attribute to each character and focuses solely on that one characteristic. It’s an unrealistic representation of a woman’s life. It could do much better at representing a realistic interpretation if the characters were more developed, not trapped in their own minds, and not so centered on men.