You are on page 1of 11

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602

The Feminist Faade


In 1998, I was still in high school. The very idea of being single and living in New York City seemed like such an unattainable, glamorous goal that it could only exist in a fairy tale. I had been getting the lecture from my mother already that I should not get tattoos, I should read the newspaper to keep up on current events, I should walk with my shoulders held back and keep my body in shape all to attract a man. I was sixteen years old and not sure I even wanted a boyfriend, let alone a life partner. My mother, like many mothers, was preparing her daughter of the expectations she would have to live up to as a female. Then, like a gift from the television Gods, a new series was introduced to HBO. It was called Sex and the City. It was about four single, successful women living in Manhattan. The series was presented as the ultimate series in the sexual revolution and feminism. These women refused to settle and appeared, at least on the surface, happy. Every Sunday I would watch the new, thirty minute episode of Sex and the City and call my best friend once the show was over and gossip about it for an additional half hour. At the time, I thought the series represented the single, independent woman rather well. As I became older, however, I realized that Sex and the City did a brilliant job of covering up the deep-rooted sexist values that men have used to dominate women for centuries. Although I still enjoy the show and even quote it quite often (usually during breakups with the ever clever quote by Samantha Jones, a character of the series, I love you but I love me more.), I like it for what it is not what it claimed to be: a feminist faade. The phenomenon of Sex and the City spanned for 6 years on HBO. The free publicity that designer clothing and accessories received from the popular television show, especially Manolo Blahniks, influenced sales to sky rocket. The series swayed major fashion trends, such

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 as the giant flower adorned on Carries dresses, particularly in season three. Aside from fashion trends, the series produced a cosmopolitan cocktail following that bartenders had only dreamed of. In addition to the cultural shift of fashion and cocktail trends, the series main accomplishment was to influence a three hour New York City bus tour that included 40 locations seen in Sex and the City. The following was so enormous by the time the movies released, which spawned from the Sex and the City series, the Sex and the City (2008), grossed $57,038,404 opening weekend and Sex and the City 2 (2010) grossed $31,001,870 in its opening weekend. Women flocked to these trends because they wanted to be the four women depicted in the series: sexy, single and successful. Yet, many of the women who desperately wanted to imitate the lives of these fictional characters did not realize that the series sustained a long held sexist view of women. The HBO series of Sex and the City may appear to uphold feminist values of equality; however, the series reinforces negative stereotypes of women by introducing the unequal parts of society and then conforming to them, displaying women as emotional and hysterical, focusing on fashion and beauty and exhibiting the long held notion that women are in need of rescue by their white knight. I will be examining the HBO series of Sex and the City using the feminist method. According to Foss (2009), the Feminist Criticism was introduced with the recognition that women had been historically neglected in rhetorical studies. Also according to Foss, feminist criticism has emerged as one method by which scholars engage in research designed to intervene in the ideology of domination. Although feminist criticism is concerned with domination of all kinds, for this analysis, I will focus on the domination men uphold over women.

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602

Fashion forward
A common assumption that men hold towards women is that they are materialistic and shallow. Women focus too much time on fashion and beauty. The Sex and the City series not only reinforces this notion but also appears to encourage it. Carrie Bradshaw, the sex columnist and main character of the series, is the epitome of fashion. In fact, in one episode, Carrie forces her boyfriend to swear on Chanel that he would keep her secret she was about to divulge. It was dubbed the oath of Chanel. The most important oath she could think of. She could not possibly understand why this oath was not in high ranking to her boyfriend. Another episode, another boyfriend, she brought his into the Prada store because things were starting to get serious. Yet another correlation between womens obsession with fashion and beauty is Carries unhealthy relationship with shoes. A well-known stereotype of women is their extreme love of shoes, which Carrie seems to fit, well, like a shoe. Carrie will not be caught in just any shoe; however, her shoes must be designer, only Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin. Carries shoe fetish causes her so much debt that she could not afford the down payment to purchase her apartment when she must either buy or move out. While in a shoe store, coincidentally, she realizes that her down payment had been invested in shoes, over forty thousand dollars worth of Manolo investment. If it werent for Charlottes wedding ring, which she decided to give Carrie, Carrie would have become, quite literally, the woman who lived in her shoes. Charlotte York, an art gallery director and, quite frankly, a walking clich of a 1950s housewife, is not innocent of this shoe fetish phenomenon. During one episode of Sex and the City, Charlotte wanders into a shoe store where she discovers a beautiful, five hundred dollar

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 pair of shoes. The salesman greets her and ultimately gifts her the shoes because he claims that her feet look tired and she needs these shoes. Charlotte soon feels guilty about receiving such expensive shoes for free and heads back to the shoe store. She quickly learns that the salesman has a foot fetish and if she would like to keep the shoes she will allow him to put on six different pairs of shoes on her feet. She agrees. The series displays that women will do anything for a cute pair of shoes. Shoes are not the only theme of fashion and beauty found throughout Sex and the City. There is also, of course, designer clothing. After Carries ex boyfriend, the love of her life, marries a five-foot-ten, twenty-five year old model, Natasha, she runs into Natasha at a store dressing room. Carrie soon discovers that Natasha was on the steering committee of an annual luncheon for women in the arts, which Carrie has always been invited but never attended, and claims to Natasha she goes every year. This year she was definitely going. She had something to prove. Stating to her friend, Samantha, she says, I would prefer to look amazing, but not like Im trying amazing. Just effortlessly striking. She soon purchases another pair of Manolo Blahniks that she cannot afford and a dress that cost a months rent all in order to impress a woman. When Natasha comes down with the flu and cannot attend the luncheon, Carrie is devastated. In an effort to cheer her up, Samantha brings a girl to their table to inform Carrie that Natasha gained ten pounds freshman year in college. Fashion and beauty not only validates Carries life to Natasha, the fact that Natasha had a beauty problem had the potential to turn Carries day completely around. The materialism of women is dripping in episode upon episode of the series. The obsession that women have concerning their bodies is also soaked throughout the six-year series. For example, Charlotte hates her thighs. She hates them so much that she

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 scurries from a steam room to avoid disrobing in front of other women. At the end of the episode, Charlotte decides to face her fear and sit naked in the steam room. Although it may appear that she has overcome her body image issue, she looks very uncomfortable until a woman tells her, I would kill for your breasts. This compliment from a complete stranger is what makes her feel good about herself, not facing her phobia. Miranda Hobbes, an attorney and love cynic, shares an unflattering body image. She finds it hard to believe when a man tells her shes sexy and finds it equally hard to believe that a handsome man would ever choose to be with her. She, in fact, goes on a date with a very attractive police officer and even though she mesmerizes him she notices all the other women in the restaurant staring at him. She cant help but think that the other women are wondering what in the world a man like that is doing with a man like her, so she begins to drink to feel better about herself. She soon become intoxicated and awakens to a hangover and a note from the handsome policeman that she should seek help for her alcohol problem. What people do not like about themselves, they can change. With new chemicals and the plastic surgery era, changing ones appearance is easy. Although Samantha Jones, a publicist and nymphomaniac, appears to be a man trapped inside a womans body, her insecurities about her age bubble to the surface more than once in the six years the series was on television. She wants to look young like many want, especially those women who yearn for their youth. Afterall, product companies pay a lot of money to advertise to womens insecurities, why should Samantha be any exception? In one episode she seeks out a cosmetic surgeon to inject fat from her buttocks into her face to make her look young. In another episode, she receives a chemical peel before Carries book party to look fresh. She ends up looking like fresh hamburger meat since the peel removed a layer of her skin.

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602

The hysteria of women


For decades upon decades men have made the claim that women cannot be held in high powered positions because women are, simply, too emotional. Not only do many famous woman in society seem to encourage this stereotype, like Hilary Clinton, the four ladies in Sex and the City do a fantastic job of outlining just how hysterical a woman can become. Take Charlotte York, for example. Charlotte is, in fact the walking female stereotype of the group. All she wants in life is to be married and have babies. She even quits her successful job at the art gallery after she finally becomes Mrs. Trey MacDougal because shell soon be pregnant. Yet, even after she gets married, her emotions overflow. Granted she was being pumped full of hormones in order to become pregnant but the hormonal imbalance can serve as a metaphor for what many men hold as truth: a woman is too fragile. During a discussion with her then husband, Trey, concerning the possible adoption of a Mandarin girl, she blows up at her husband for telling his mommy. Although a quarrel about in-laws is certainly a normal argument held between man and wife, Charlotte thinks it is appropriate to explode on him in true hell hath no fury fashion at the annual Scottish Spring Fling causing an irreparable scene. After Charlottes dream marriage comes to a crashing burn, she meets a bald, short, slightly overweight, Jewish divorce attorney name Harry Goldenblatt. Against all odds, Charlotte and Harry fall deep in love but much to Charlottes chagrin, Harry must marry a Jewish woman. After a lot of soul searching, approximately an episode and a half, Charlotte converts to Judaism for the man she loves. She tells her girlfriends that she would never go through all of this, meaning changing her religion, if she was not sure Harry was going to marry her. During her first Shabbat dinner she notices Harry peering at the television to watch baseball. Perhaps, in part, due to her friends doubt of wedding plans, she becomes hysterical

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 and starts screaming, I gave up Christ for him, and [he] can't give up baseball?" but shes not done. She then proceeds to lose it further and yell, Set the date! Set the daaate! When Harry says she is acting like a crazy person, one would think she would take a breath and calm down but she was still not finished. With the words, Do you know how lucky you are to have me!? Do you know what people say when they see us? Harry sets down his napkin and walks out stating that he couldnt believe he actually bought a ring. Her hysteria cost her her true love. Carrie seems to be the basket case of the four women when it comes to emotional crises. Although her emotional mess is primarily cause by her great love affair, Mr. Big, her most outstanding display of hysteria is when she is dumped via post-it by fellow write, Jack Burger. Understandably, being dumped via post-it is certainly enough cause for an emotional bout of hysteria on the man who caused it, however, Burger being a smart man, does not allow her to vent. She, therefore, takes it out on his innocent friends at a nightclub. Burgers friend, Billy, makes the mistake of telling Carrie that there is no good way to break up with someone and that men avoid breaking up with women in person because they become hysterical. Carrie explodes and shrieks, Most women aren't angry, irrational psychos. We just want an ending to a relationship that... that is thoughtful and decent and honors what we had together. So my point, Billy, is this; there is a good way to break-up with someone, and it doesn't include a post-it. She quickly realizes that her little emotional breakdown is the exact confrontation that encourages these stereotypes that Billy upholds. Samantha does not escape the notion that women are hysterical and overemotional. She, however, reinforces this idea in a peculiar way. After interviewing with hotel tycoon, Richard Wright, for a position within the corporation he decides not to hire her. She expects it is because she is a woman and then learns it is because she had slept with his architect. She very calmly

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 tells him, in her own words, that he is sexist because if she was a man he would be patting her on the back and handing her the company key. She then abruptly gets up and rushes to the elevator as Richard calls after her. When she got into the elevator and the doors were closed, she began to cry. Although she was what many may deem as emotional, she knew she could not show tears in front of a man she wanted to hire her. Oddly enough, she receives the job because Richard likes her balls. Samantha does not stop there with Richard Wright and her overflowing emotions. After they begin a monogamous relationship she learns that he is cheating on her. Samantha, who does not fall easily, is burned. Instead of yelling at the source she decides to do something outrageous. She prints hundreds of flyers branding Richard Wright as a cheater and a liar and the spreads them like wild fire all throughout his neighborhood. Samantha is stopped by a woman police officer that lets her know that she cannot tape up the flyers. The police officer quickly changes her mind once Samantha tells her that Richard cheated on her. Two hysterical women who have been heart broken are not the best combination for a man who did wrong.

I've been dating since I'm fifteen. I'm exhausted! Where the hell is he?!?!
Sex and the City may have the pretense that women can be single and happy but the fact of the matter remains, if the four female characters were so happy, why are they in constant search of Mr. Right? In one episode, the girls head to Staten Island to see the firemen calendar candidates, and Miranda ponders the reason why firemen are so cute, even when theyre not cute, theyre cute. Carrie decides it is the hero thing that makes the boys so cute. Charlotte blurts out,

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 Its because all women want is to be rescued, and thus introduces the audience to the white night fantasy. In the series finale, Carrie is lonely in Paris. She is looking for love and nothing is right between her and the Russian artist with whom she moved to Paris. After a tiny squabble, Carrie tells her Russian boyfriend that the love she is looking for is not with him and that she is leaving. In a country that speaks a different language, after breaking up with her boyfriend and trying to find a different room so she can take refuge in, her great love, Mr. Big appears in the Parisian hotel. He has come to rescue her from Paris and bring her back to New York and back to him. With words that every girl is programmed to want to hear, I love you. Youre the one. Carrie quickly falls into the arms of her once tumultuous love that suddenly became a better man. Two men rescue Charlotte. Trey rescues her from his mother during a divorce settlement. Just as Charlotte was about to fold to his mothers whim, the divorce attorney receives a fax from Trey stating the Charlotte was a wonderful wife and to give her what she wants. The divorce attorney also rescues her. He turns out to be her one true love and rescues her from a life a sure misery and dating for her own happily ever after. Miranda, ever the cynical one when it comes to love, is rescued by her husband, Steve. He rescues her from her workaholic self. He teaches her how to love not only him but also his mother. He rescues her from her cynicism and leads her to compassion. After a recovery from breast cancer, Samantha is also rescued by her white knight, Smith Jared. He stays by her side through her cheating on him and breast cancer. He even shaves his head to support her while she is going through chemotherapy. He rescues her from bed hopping, which she could not possibly be happy about doing in the first place, and shows her that good guys do exist and he is worth the monogamy. He flies back all night from the Middle

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602 East just to tell her he loves her. With tears in her eyes she states that he is the greatest man she has ever known.

Sex and the City postscript


Although Sex and the City tries to broadcast itself as a feminist revolution series, it is nothing but another fairy tale that gets shoved down female adolescents throats. By using the feminist method of criticism, it is concluded that the HBO series Sex and the City, reinforces negative stereotypes of women by introducing the prince charming theory. Even Samantha, the closest character in the series to a feminist, ends up with her prince charming in the series finale. The series also sustains these negative stereotypes by focusing on fashion and beauty. The women in this series suffer heartache all to find a man but they do not just go through pain from heartbreak. The four women experience pain in order to look good and keep up with fashion trends as well, whether it is from squished toes or empty pocketbooks. Finally, the series supports negative stereotypes about women by showing them as overemotional and hysterical. The implications of this series could be detrimental to young adult females if they do not take it at face value and treat the series as a source of entertainment with, perhaps, the occasional feminist ideology. Because of the series faade of women being sexy, single and successful, women in real life might take this as true female independence. Independence, however, is not to sit in ones apartment waiting for a man. To the series credit, it does do a fantastic job of introducing long held stereotypes about women and how difficult it is for single women to be taken seriously at times. Yet, it is not enough. Although there may be positive implications, the negative implications reflected throughout the series tend to exceed the positive.

Stevie Danielle Chapman July 27, 2010 MPC 602

Reference List
Foss, S. K. (2009). Rhetorical criticism: Exploration and practice (4th ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. King, M.P. (Producer). (1998) Sex and the City [Television Series]. Beverly Hills: Darren Star Productions. Star, D. (Producer). & King, M.P. (Director). (2008). Sex and the City [Motion picture]. United States: New Line Cinema. Star, D. (Producer). & King, M.P. (Director). (2010). Sex and the City 2 [Motion picture]. United States: New Line Cinema.