Companies & Industries

Carrie Bradshaw's Feminism Is a Sham


The Sex and the City gals are coming to the movies, and that's bad for young career women

Just a few weeks ago, a bright, capable undergraduate I know wrote on Facebook that she was "a Carrie"—a reference, of course, to the main character in Sex and the City. I was puzzled why this impressive young woman would encourage a comparison of herself to a weak, whiny character from an overrated, self-important TV show.

Normally, I wouldn't assign such importance to entertainment at all. However, I am reminded by the "Carrie" posting and numerous others like it that the faux female empowerment championed on Sex and the City is still dangerously pervasive and will probably be revived with the May 30 release of the movie of the same name.

Even worse, in the past few months, the show's offspring Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia began airing on network TV. These shows are potentially more troubling than Sex and the City because, as Tracie Egan of Jezebel.com notes, they apply the bar-and-bedroom formula squarely to the workplace. Furthermore, these women's career success seems largely predicated on the ability to navigate an exciting web of power struggles and sexually charged innuendoes. All in stilettos!

High Glamour

To be honest, I didn't always see Sex and the City in this light. In fact, I was a die-hard devotee when I was in college. The four chic, single, thirty-to-fortysomething central characters seemed like sexually liberated, glamorous exemplars of modern femininity—a successful sex columnist, an art gallery dealer, a PR executive, and a lawyer, respectively—who didn't need men for financial stability or companionship because of the strong bond they shared with one another.

They weren't afraid to be stereotypically "girlie" in their love of fashion and cosmopolitans. It was the first time many of us felt encouraged to own our femininity boldly. Although the women of Sex and the City gleefully used the raunchy dude-like talk often associated with their male "player" counterparts, when their hearts were broken, they definitely showed a soft, feminine side as well. They seemed admirably authentic in embracing these many sides…or so I thought at the time.

My own disillusionment with the show began with my post-grad move to New York City (BusinessWeek.com, 10/11/06), which turned out to be anything but the exciting, glamorous metropolis so romanticized by Carrie & Co.

And it grew into something more. As I became increasingly invested in pursuing my work, I just didn't have the same desire—or time—to painstakingly dissect and incessantly discuss what it meant to be an uncompromising, fully empowered young woman.

Obsessed with Men

Plus, it suddenly hit me that the women's close bond, the true crux of the show, is ultimately built on little more than shared war stories about men. Extreme effort goes into acting cavalier. All the joking about men and talk of "having it all" doesn't leave much time for actively having a life. The characters single-mindedly obsess about men and then hypocritically pat themselves on the back about being strong, liberated women.

Even the characters' "healthy" sex lives seem forced in the end. "Why should we all think we should be having these crazy sex lives just so we can be more advanced as women?" says my friend Jill, another devotee-turned-skeptic of the show.

The bottom line: If you were going to choose a gender-specific role model, why one of these four cardboard characters? As American women have won more and more rights, the feminist movement has had the luxury of branching off in many, even contradictory, directions. Feminist icons run the gamut from activist Gloria Steinem to porn star Jenna Jamison…not to mention our first viable female Presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton.

One friend suggested we organize a boycott of the Sex and the City movie. But it's just not that important. In an ideal world, former fans wouldn't show up because they've moved on. The movie—neither a hit nor a stinker—would simply go out with a whimper, just like any idea whose time had come and gone.

Gerdes is a staff editor for BusinessWeek in New York and writes the Starting Out column for BusinessWeek.com.

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