When did it become cool to hate Sex and the City?
I’ve been wanting to write about SATC and Carrie Bradshaw specifically since last summer when Emily Nussbaum published a brilliant article in The New Yorker about the show’s place in the television pantheon and how the further we get away from it, the more it is called a guilty pleasure instead of groundbreaking. My initial response to that article was “FINALLY someone gets it.” I get very defensive of Sex and the City. I’ve gotten into fights in person and on the internet when people have dismissed the show as “not quality TV” or “not funny”. I don’t defend it just because I love it and have a strong emotional connection to it. I defend it because I recognize its place in television history. I defend it because of the groundwork it laid for other shows featuring strong and emotionally complex women. Without it, we wouldn’t have Girls, or The Mindy Project (Y’all Mindy Lahiri’s personal life is JUST as much of a mess as Carrie Bradshaw, yet there are no Buzzfeed articles outlining all the ways she is a crime against women), or even New Girl where Jess is just Carrie repackaged into someone “adorkable” because suddenly THAT is what’s more relatable.
Most of the SATC hate falls firmly on the shoulders of Carrie Bradshaw. In my research and episode fact-checking for this post, for every article praising her, there would be 20 variations of “Carrie Bradshaw is the Worst Character to have ever been on television” (Really? Worse than Karen Cartwright on Smash?) or “These are all the times I wanted to punch Carrie Bradshaw in the face” or “Carrie Bradshaw Lies”. It both angered and saddened me. Had I missed something? Had I been watching the show wrong the entire time? I embarked on a series rewatch (which I do every couple of years) and found that no, I wasn’t watching the show wrong. I think people look at CARRIE in the wrong way. So many of the aforementioned articles called out Carrie’s lifestyle as being terrible and that’s she’s a terrible person for women to model themselves after. Does Sex and the City ever advocate that you should live your life just like Carrie or that she is some sort of role model? No. Then why do people think they should live their life just like her? She’s a television character, people! And really…there is only one character I would advocate living your life like, and that’s Leslie Knope. Because even Queen Dana Scully has her emotional issues and is at the center of a global conspiracy.
When I watch Sex and the City, I don’t watch it to see how I should live my life. I didn’t move here at 22 thinking that my life was going to be Sex and the City (even though that was a common question at my 5-year high school reunion…is New York just like the show?). Am I a little bitter that my life isn’t strutting around Manhattan in designer shoes and going to all the hottest restaurants? Sure. But that’s because I’m poor, not because that’s what Carrie Bradshaw told me my life should be like. I watch Sex and the City for the characters and the stories they tell. I watch because I see four very complicated women just trying to figure their shit out against the glittery backdrop of a fairy-tale Manhattan. I watch because while I’m not trying to live my life like them, I see myself in them. I have found as I have gotten older that I EMPATHIZE with Carrie and her journey more and more. I have sat and watched episodes and have been wracked with feelings because I HAVE BEEN THERE. I’ve been in relationships that have made me a bit crazy and question everything I have valued about myself. I have had countless brunches and happy hours with my girlfriends over analyzing every detail of a conversation. I’ve had the late night phone calls with Sage (my Miranda) where I’ve needed her to both listen and to give me the hard truths I’m afraid to hear. So while I may not BE Carrie Bradshaw, I understand her. And that’s why I get protective of her when people hate on her. Because in a way, I feel like it’s hating on me.
Originally, this post was going to be called “In Defense of Carrie Bradshaw”. Over the course of struggling to write it (as those who follow me on Twitter know I have been trying to write this for a VERY LONG TIME), I found that I was coming at it from the wrong angle. Once I realized what the angle SHOULD be, the words came pouring out. Carrie Bradshaw doesn’t need my defense. She doesn’t defend herself to anyone and that’s what makes her so wonderful. What she DESERVES is my appreciation. Thus, I give my top 10 reasons for appreciating Carrie Bradshaw…
1) She falls on her face over and over again and GETS BACK UP.
This is what I love about Carrie Bradshaw: she is a MESS. She stays out all night drinking with her girlfriends and oversleeps for a photo shoot and then winds up on the cover of New York Magazine with the VERY hostile question-marked headline of “Single and Fabulous?”. She secretly follows her boyfriend to church only to drop a hymnal from the balcony in the middle of the service. She hosts a party to see her banner on a bus only to see that someone has drawn a dick in her mouth. She bumps into a hot guy and spills condoms from her purse. She slips and falls in Dior. She trips on her heels in a fashion show wearing nothing but a coat, a bra, and some crystal studded panties (“Oh my GOD, she’s fashion roadkill!”). But you know what? Carrie ALWAYS gets back up, brushes herself off, smiles a “Yeah, that just happened” smile and KEEPS GOING.
I think that same philosophy applies in her dating life. Love kicks the shit out of Carrie Bradshaw on a regular basis. She dates guys like the Politician who wants to pee on her (and then dumps her for writing a sex column) and the guy with the amazing family who just gets a little too excited when it comes to having sex and the jazz musician with ADD. She dates men who aren’t capable of handling the amount of woman that she is (BERGER) and men who are more interested in forcing her into a predetermined box in their life (THE RUSSIAN). She has the incredibly complex and painful relationships with Big and Aiden where her own choices hurt her and her partner as much as theirs did (don’t worry, I’ll get to her mistakes later). This track record would have broken lesser women. Not Carrie. She picks herself up after every bad date or soul-crushing relationship, has a few cocktails with her girls to ease the pain, and then puts herself back out there in her quest for love. She never gives up on finding great love. She always tries again. RESPECT.
2) Her Style
Carrie Bradshaw is a fashion icon. Sure some of the outfits Carrie wore were ridiculous (I’m looking at YOU the final outfit in the Season Three Finale) but she always OWNED whatever she wore. The clothes never wore her. She had a sense of style that was unique to her personality and she used her outfits as a way to express herself. She wasn’t a slave to trends, but defined them. She wore everything with confidence and strutted (“Do I strut?”) around Manhattan firmly believing she looked fabulous. I see her confidence now in Mindy Lahiri as she wears bright colors and clashing patterns with absolute glee (“What are you talking about? I look adorable. I look like Keira Knightley running errands.”). It’s a confidence we should all aspire to have, quite frankly.
3) She Lives Beyond Her Means
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “HOW can you say living beyond her means is one of Carrie’s best qualities, Kim?” This is not a post telling you that you should live your life like Carrie Bradshaw, it’s a post celebrating what makes her real and a character you can relate to. Who DOES live within their means? I certainly don’t. When I first moved to New York, I often lived on Ramen and Easy Mac so I could go see Rent every Sunday. Like Carrie and her issues of Vogue, I felt going to the theatre fed me more. I’ve had instances where I look at my bank account and wonder where my money went (and then I see all the Doctor Who art on my walls). If MY building were to suddenly go co-op, I would be screwed too because I choose to spend my money going to fan conventions and getting my picture taken with celebrities (NO REGRETS). I’ll probably NEVER be able to buy an apartment as long as I am at my current salary and live in New York…so my money is often spent on what makes me happy. Is that the wisest way to live? Maybe not, but for me, it’s the only way I know how. So I completely understand Carrie’s financial issues. I may not see my money in my closet or in my collection of Louboutins (I WISH) but I see it in the collection of convention lanyards hanging on my bathroom door.
Also everyone who gets snooty and yells at Carrie about her financial stupidity…show me YOUR massive pile of savings before you judge.
4) Her Love Affair With New York City
“When you are single in New York, there is no end to ways to fill your days. Museums, parks, theatres, concert halls, nightclubs and countless restaurants. But one of the most amazing things about living in New York is that any night, you can go…to Paris.”
I visited New York for the very first time 20 years ago (well, the first time I remember anyway. My parents brought me to New York for the FIRST time when I was a year old). It felt like coming home for the first time. I knew, even at 15, that I would live here one day. I moved here in October 2001 (all by myself, knowing NO ONE) and never looked back. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you must have a certain temperament to make New York City your home. You have to love it with every fiber of your being even when you want to kill tourists on a daily basis. This city kicks my ass on a regular basis, but the sheer amount of LIFE in the city also sustains me. There are times that my parents ask me why I don’t leave New York (usually when I bemoan the fact that I will never be able to afford to buy a place) and I look at them dumbfounded. Leaving New York isn’t an option for me and it was never an option for Carrie (jaunt to Paris with the horrible Russian aside) no matter how horrible her finances got. If Big is the Chrysler Building, Carrie Bradshaw is the Empire State Building. You can’t have New York without it and you can’t have New York without her. It’s always been said that New York was the 5th leading lady on the show and it’s true. It’s one of the (MANY) issues with the second movie. You don’t take Carrie out of New York. It is the true OTP of the show, even above her friendships with the ladies.
My New York Existence may not be on the same glamorous level that Carrie’s is (it is only on occasion), but I fall in love with the Candy Colored Version of the City we see through her eyes every time I watch an episode of Sex and the City. And then I remember I live here. And I smile. It’s the hardest, most complicated, and most amazing relationship of my adult life. I wouldn’t change a thing.
“If Louis was right, and you only get one great love, New York may just be mine…and I can’t have nobody talking shit about my boyfriend.”
5) She’s the glue that holds her group of friends together
Everyone has a person in their group of friends that they consider the glue, the very reason a circle of friends even exists. For me, that’s my friend Angel. We call her the Samantha of our group for other reasons, but Angel has the wonderful Carrie-like ability to bring people together. I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve answered the “Oh, how do you know X?” with “I know X through Angel.” She’s the reason Sage and I became KimAndSage and for that I am eternally grateful. It’s an incredibly special quality and it’s one Carrie has in spades. You can’t tell me that two women as different as Samantha and Charlotte would have become friends without Carrie Bradshaw bringing them together in the first place. Carrie is responsible for the four-way Soulmate-dom of these ladies and don’t you forget it.
The new Carrie Bradshaw, Mindy Lahiri (seriously, the parallels are astounding), is right about the best friend tier with these four women. Objectively, we can watch the show and say that Miranda is Carrie’s BEST best friend. But if you were to walk up to Carrie Bradshaw on the street and as her who her best friend was, she would say “Miranda Hobbes, Samantha Jones, and Charlotte York-Goldenblatt.” She wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. She would never think to rank them. All three of them are her best friend for different reasons. Charlotte is her best friend who she goes to when she wants to be excessively girly and gush about boys and love. Samantha is the best friend she goes to so she can confess her sins in a judgement-free zone (it’s no coincidence that Sam is the first one Carrie tells the affair about and Sam’s reaction is something Sage will get to when she writes her In Appreciation of Samantha Jones post). Miranda is the best friend that she goes to for honesty, tough love, and cupcakes.
What’s so amazing about this group of friends is that you never feel any sense of competition between them for the title of “Best Friend It can be an easy trap that groups of women can fall into and you never see that in these friendships. Carrie, the lynchpin, never ranks one more important than the other. Their love is unconditional through marriages, affairs, infertility, cancer, and funky spunk. Soul mates. We should all be so lucky.
Big: Look, I need your advice. You three know her better than anyone, you’re the loves of her life. And a guy’s just lucky to come in fourth.
6) She Doesn’t Make Any Apologies For Her Life Choices.
Many of the Carrie-hate articles claim that she had zero character growth over the course of the series. Are they watching the same show I am? I saw massive character growth between seasons one and two and it just went on from there. Season One Carrie, especially in her relationship with Big, was incredibly insecure and was constantly trying to be the girl she thought he wanted her to be (“I know it’s not the fucking fart. I think I’m in love with him…and I’m terrified that’s he’s gonna leave me because I’m not perfect.”). By season two, it was about Carrie realizing what he wasn’t offering her (I dare you to find someone who wouldn’t have reacted the way she did about Paris) and refusing to not be a “simple girl” for a guy’s sake. She quit apologizing for herself and for what she wanted from him. Carrie walks away from Big in both the season one and two finales and the difference in the way she does it is astounding. In season one, she is begging him to tell her that she’s the one and when he can’t do it, he drives away, leaving her wiping away tears on the sidewalk. In season two, she meets him after his engagement party in front of the Plaza and asks him why it wasn’t her. “It just got so hard,” he replies. “And she’s…” Carrie smiles, because she KNOWS the end of that sentence. “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell,” she says, stroking his cheek. “I don’t get it,” Big replies and you SEE everything click on Carrie’s face. “And you never did.” It’s one of THE defining moments of the series, when she walks away from him. It’s defining because of the iconic image of Big in the suit standing watching Carrie in that fierce white dress and wild blonde curls walking away from him. But it’s also a defining moment for Carrie as a character because she stopped apologizing for being “difficult”. It was the moment where she truly found her strength.
Carrie’s confidence grew post-Season Two and spread to other areas of her life. She didn’t allow Berger to make her feel guilty about her success and she called him out on it when she did. But the crowning moment for me is when she has her Manolos stolen at a baby shower and her smug married friend makes her feel guilty about being angry and wanting them replaced.
Kyra: I’m sorry, I just think that’s crazy to spend that much money on shoes.
Carrie: You know how much Manolos are. You used to wear Manolos.
Kyra: Sure. Before I had a real life. But Chuck and I have responsibilities now. Kids, houses. 485. Like, wow.
Carrie: I have a real life.
Kyra: No offense Carrie but I really don’t think we should have to pay for your extravagant life style. I mean it was your choice to buy shoes that expensive.
Carrie: Yes, but, it wasn’t my choice to take them off.
I LOVE how Carrie stands up for herself here. She acknowledges that yes, it is her choice to spend $485 on shoes. But she also refuses to let Kyra judge her for that or make her feel bad about. Carrie is not responsible to anyone but herself and she doesn’t let anyone make her feel bad about how she chooses to live her life. Like I said earlier, I may not spend my money on extravagant shoes. But I *DID* spend an ungodly amount of my money to get my picture taken with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson at Comic-Con last year…and to me it was worth every penny because it made me happy, just like Carrie’s shoes make her happy. Deal with it. No apologies.
7) She DIDN’T marry Aiden.
Despite appearances, this is NOT a statement on where I stand in the Big vs. Aiden debate. Believe me, that will come later. What this IS a statement on is the fact that it took guts for Carrie to walk away from a guy who seemed SO perfect on paper…yet wasn’t the right one. Should Carrie have even accepted Aiden’s proposal in the first place? Probably not. But what else do you do when the man you love (and I will never dispute the fact that Carrie DID love him) adorably kneels down in the middle of the street while walking the dog and pulls out a SPECTACULAR (thank you, Samantha) diamond ring? You say yes. I don’t believe for a second that Carrie was malicious in accepting his proposal…she wasn’t thinking “Oh I am going to say yes but I have NO intention of marrying him, I just want to wear a good piece of jewelry!” when she said yes.
Did she handle the realization that she didn’t want to marry Aiden in the best way possible? No. But show me someone who CAN handle a situation like that without hurting the other person. She stumbled her way through it in a very human fashion as she kept telling herself that she loved Aiden and this was what she had claimed to always want. She tried telling him that it was moving too fast for her and that she wanted to take a step back. What it came down to ultimately is that Carrie and Aiden were in different places. Aiden WANTED to be married…the fact that he was married with a baby just over a year after the break-up with Carrie is evidence of that fact. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that. But it wasn’t what Carrie wanted. So she did the incredibly hard thing and walked away. It took a lot of guts for Carrie to finally admit that she didn’t want to be married and yes, she hurt Aiden deeply by coming to that realization. But she saved them BOTH a lot of hurt in the long run and you have to admire her courage in saying no. I know I do.
8) She ALWAYS shows up.
Whether it’s birthdays, engagement parties, weddings, baby showers, or purse parties Carrie Bradshaw ALWAYS shows up to something she’s been invited to. She’s the girl you call when you need a plus one to a last-minute party or a restaurant opening or a Sunday brunch or just for cocktails when you’ve had a hard day. She’ll be there. She’ll go with you to a dating seminar. She’ll be your yoga partner and your goddess workout buddy. She’ll even go with you to a sex workshop when you want to learn how to be better in bed after your date falls asleep on you (and laugh at you when the guy jizzes on your face from all the tantra, but really, who wouldn’t?).
CARRIE BRADSHAW WILL BE THERE. How awesome is that?
9) She makes mistakes and she pays the price for them.
Carrie makes mistakes. Disastrous ones that have terrible consequences. You know what I am talking about. It’s the number one reason every single “Carrie Bradshaw is a horrible person” article lists at number one: She had an affair with her married ex-boyfriend while she was with a “perfect” guy.
The arc of Carrie’s affair is an incredibly difficult one to watch and I APPLAUD Sex and the City for being bold enough to take the protagonist to such a horrible place. Up until this point, Sex and the City had been a frothy and fun show but the affair arc grounded it and made it real. People cheat all the time, for various reasons that are impossible to fathom. I think what turns people off about this storyline is BECAUSE it is so real and we watch someone we’ve invested in and rooted for for two and a half seasons make bad choices and spiral out of control. The audience may have hated her, but no more than Carrie hated HERSELF. I think it was incredibly important that we saw Carrie’s emotional torment even as she continued the affair. There was such a disconnect between her head and her heart and she had no idea how to get out of it easily. I think it made her incredibly human.
Miranda: What do you want?
Carrie: I want everyone to get out of this without getting hurt.
Miranda: That’s realistic.
Carrie: Why not? You’ve heard stories about affairs where people realize how great their other relationship is and end it without anyone being the wiser.
Miranda: I don’t watch “Lifetime Television For Women”.
Of course, we know what happens. As Miranda wisely states, there is no way of ending it without someone getting hurt. Despite her protestations to her friends about ending it, the affair went on until someone got physically hurt. Natasha catches Carrie in the apartment and falls down the stairs chasing her out. Carrie ends the affair (“We’re so over…we need a new word for over.”). She confesses to Aiden, who (understandably) breaks up with her. Carrie’s affair has ramifications even into when she and Aidan reconcile as he unfairly continues to punish her for it (which honestly, my feelings on THAT will be in a different post). She pays the price. But she also doesn’t let it define her forever.
10) She’s not afraid to lose her SHIT.
An unhinged Carrie is my favorite Carrie. SJP walks the perfect line between a little crazy and 100% done with this conversation when she plays Carrie’s rants and it’s a joy to watch. She says the things most people are afraid to say when they have had it up to HERE with a guy, whether it’s a tipsy rant to Big about him not telling her about Paris or losing her mind on Berger’s friends when she runs into them post being dumped via Post-It. She’s not afraid to do some truth-telling, even if it does mean she has to leave the club as soon as she’s done telling someone off. It’s like when Meg Ryan says in You’ve Got Mail that she always thinks of the best insults after the fact. Not Carrie Bradshaw. She knows just how to insult a guy right when she wants to and it’s a glorious thing to behold.
I can’t even count the times I’ve wanted to yell “YOU’RE SO BUSY!!” when someone has bumped into me on the street and just kept walking without saying anything. The struggle is real.
In conclusion, I appreciate Carrie for her complexities. She’s not perfect, by any means. But she’s real and that’s why I love her and that’s why I appreciate her even more every time I do a rewatch. Up next in our Sex and the City series, Sage is going to tell you all the wonderful things about Miranda Hobbes. Until then, share your thoughtful discussion in the comments. Haters to the left.