a critique of her stigmatization of the single woman
Carrie Bradshaw and her three friends Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda were one of pop culture’s most admired friend groups in the late 1990s through the 2000s. “Sex and the City” was a television show that took the audience on the journeys of four single 30-something women living in New York City as they tried to figure out their careers, come to terms with growing older, and most of all, find love—while looking in all the wrong places, I might add. After six successful seasons, two movies, countless boyfriends, and more overly-sexual brunch conversations than is probably normal, Carrie and her three best friends bid the big screen adieu in 2010. But that doesn’t mean that their messages and influence don’t still live on.
I’ve watched “Sex and the City” for a few years now, and I’ll admit that in the beginning the explicit scenes and sexual jargon both shocked and confused 16-year-old me. Though I could see many facets of myself in the four women, I couldn’t understand their obsession with hunting down bachelors at every single event they went to, so much so that it became some of the girls’ weekend activity. But apart from that, I found the show very entertaining. I appreciated the ways in which it was relatable: The four friends were very different, from neurotic Carrie to naïve Charlotte, and many women I talked to said that they could see parts of themselves in each of the four. Carrie and her friends got themselves into situations that at the time I found hilarious, and despite being in their mid-30s, they were just as preoccupied with boys as high-schoolers are. As I watched the show, I loved how comforting it was to see these independent, beautiful women explore the complicated modern-day dating scene. They showed me that it was normal to feel insecure, even if you were as gorgeous as Charlotte York, and that it was perfectly all right not to know where your life was going. Furthermore, I saw that these characters’ tears and frustrations made women in the real world realize how normal it was to go on failed dates and meet their fair share of—pardon my French—douchebags. Guys and drama in high school were just the beginning.
Fast forward two years, and I found myself revisiting the lives of Carrie and co. However, while naïve 16-year-old me had found their escapades hilarious, I now found myself cringing at some of the messages in the show. One of the episodes in season four is entitled “They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?” If the title wasn’t enough to make you uncomfortable, at the end of the episode Carrie ponders to herself: I couldn’t help but wonder … When did being alone become the modern-day equivalent of being a leper?
First of all, it didn’t. Now, with (at least marginally) more mature and open eyes, I realized how ridiculous their fixation on finding men was. Sure, it might have been the premise of the show, but there’s something depressing about how these women repeatedly compromised their friendship just to go out with hot, rich dudes. Carrie’s fixation with one of her primary love interests, Mr. Big, is a perfect example of her irrational behavior. She put him above everything—above her wellbeing, above her friends, and above her life—all because he was a suave, smooth-talking, and wealthy businessman. I mean, would Carrie really have continued to go out with this man who betrayed her and purposely hurt her time and time again if he hadn’t been as rich and charming as he was? I watched uncomfortably as she hung onto his every word and then made her friends sit through an extensive analysis of her budding relationship. Carrie is an intelligent, eloquent woman with a column in The New York Star, yet one stray word from Mr. Big (or any other man in her life) and she stumbles around Manhattan smoking cigarettes like a chimney, carrying shopping bags full of newly-bought designer shoes that a person in her circumstances in the real world wouldn’t be able to afford. Basically, she repeatedly seeks a man’s approval in order to validate herself, and she lets herself fall apart if this approval doesn’t come.
Similarly, Charlotte, a beautiful woman with an eye for fine art, spends a good part of the show looking for her Prince Charming. Whenever she couldn’t find the perfect man she sought, she took it as a sign that she wasn’t beautiful, or sexy, enough, and she wondered what else could have been wrong with her. It seemed that she put more effort into searching for a husband than in furthering her career and making herself independently happy. What message did this give out to other young women? That a woman who is single probably isn’t pretty enough? That there’s something wrong with her if she’s not perpetually dating, or sleeping with, someone?
Though I used to think that Carrie and Charlotte’s behavior was standard, I realized how pathetic it actually was. It was common for teenage girls to fawn over some athletic guy who accidentally made eye contact with them in math class. It was typical for them to giggle over him, and other “cute” guys, at sleepovers with their friends. It’s different, though, when it’s 30-something women being able to only talk about men at every single breakfast, brunch, lunch, cocktail hour, or dinner together. Not only did they endlessly complain about their love lives, or lack thereof, but two out of the four girls heavily stigmatized being single. As mentioned above, Carrie and Charlotte whined and sulked if they did not have men in their lives. It was as if there was no other purpose to being a woman, if not to find a man. And this wasn’t a 1960s black-and-white film or a ridiculous vintage advertisement; oh no, this was a widely successful 21st-century TV show.
I will admit that the other two main characters, Miranda and Samantha, served as a buffer to Carrie and Charlotte’s romantic fixation with men. Both Miranda and Samantha set their sights high on success in the workplace, and in the spirit of proving that they could do everything men did, they worked extremely hard to earn respect in the workplace. Yet, instead of romantic fixations with men, they had sexual ones, and constantly sought to have meaningless sex with men they found attractive. In fact, the show rarely talked about their professional achievements, and if these were mentioned in passing at the lunch/brunch/dinner table, one of the others always found a way to steer the conversation back to men and relationships. It might have been amusing at first, but after a while, their conversations just got tiring to listen to.
The most worrying thing is that many teenage girls and 20-something women watched the show and believed that it was an accurate template for a woman’s priorities. Conversations about boys (or girls) and sex over virgin Cosmopolitans can be really fun, but have we been conditioned to believe that our love lives are the most exciting part of us?
Carrie and her friends all had their happy endings, but these happy endings involved finding men who made them happy. More than anything, this show perpetuated the media-wide message that in order to be fulfilled, a woman must be with a man. Of course, “Sex and the City” gave me many laughs and handed me some tricks for dealing with overzealous men. Yet, it also showed me by counterexample how much sexier and more fulfilling it is to be a strong, hardworking woman who isn’t attached to a man for life support.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is perfectly okay to be single. Being single did not become the modern-day equivalent of being a leper, nor did it become socially unacceptable. The only two things standing in the way of you being happier and independent are unrealistically sappy Hollywood rom-coms and, believe it or not, you. By all means go out, meet new people, and “quench your thirst” if you need to, but don’t be disheartened if a person who took your number doesn’t ever call you. After all, you are a beautiful, intelligent, and hardworking person, so do you really need the validation of somebody else?