I must confess I never really understood the appeal of Sex and the City. As era defining as it supposedly was, to me it always seemed like a representation of hollow consumerism rather than sexual liberation. This could be perhaps because I was too young for initial wave of interest (I was seven when the series first aired in 1997) and by the time I became properly culturally aware their once ground breaking attitude to sex had filtered down into the mainstream somewhat.
However, I wouldn’t say I was a ‘Miranda’ or a ‘Samantha’ or any of the other nineties caricatures the shows created for glossy women’s magazines across the globe to pigeon hole ad nauseam. These were four privileged women living a highly unrealistic life in a version of New York City that is an anathema to millions. It was part of a wave of ‘feminist’ TV shows that hit the American airwaves in the late nineties, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena the Warrior Princess and Charmed, with an emphasis on strong female leads.
Now fifteen years have passed and a new generation of women are tuning into Girls- a new comedy drama about- you guessed it- four young women trying to love, success and happiness in New York City. However, instead of pushing the narrative of strong and self-assured young women this bunch of twenty somethings are neurotic, naive and make incredibly bad choices.
This has lead to criticism of the show as ‘unfeminist’. They see female characters that are not acting very empowered and say that this sort of show should not be so applauded 40 years after the sexual revolution. However, this criticism is based on a very narrow definition of what feminism really is.
Putting aside the lack of racial diversity in one of the most multicultural cities on the planet, Girls portrays a more human, realistic type of feminist that acknowledges that the pressures of being financial and emotionally insecure in your early twenties. These women make mistakes. They do stupid things. They let men take advantage of them and do not have the courage to stand up for themselves at work.
The feminist paradigm of an independent woman is impossible to live up to. The problem with modern feminist ideology is that in certain ways it has become an intellectualised dogma that tells women how to behave. You shouldn’t enter into casual relationships, you shouldn’t give up your career to have children, you can’t have mostly male friends, you shouldn’t even do things just to make your boyfriend happy once in awhile and mostly importantly; you can’t make mistakes.
These are not the smart and savvy thirty year olds of Sex and City. They are supposedly the ‘prequel’ detailing the trial and error that women go through to get there. As a 22 year old feminist and unpaid intern, I find their experiences much easier to relate to.
Most importantly, no matter whether their actions are ‘empowered’ or not, they do whatever the hell they like. They are selfish, sometimes arrogant and even occasionally mean. To me that is what real feminism is about; being able to do whatever you like, whenever you like and be treated the same way as a man. That is all. It does not have to be any more complicated than that.
I am sick of the binary depiction of women on television as either ‘empowered and strong’ or ‘weak and stupid’ when men are lauded for the playing the full spectrum of human nature. We criticise the pigeon holing of women into ‘wife and girlfriend’ roles but when we do finally see three dimensional and flawed characters on screen they are criticised for not living up to an impossible ideal of feminist perfection.
The nature of love, life and financial concerns means that most women will live a life of compromise and Girls is the first TV show aimed at women to properly reflect this.
Feminism is an intellectual ideal that is impossible to live up to in real life. The nature of love, life and financial concerns means that most women will live a life of compromise and Girls is the first TV show aimed at women to properly reflect this.
It is instead perhaps ‘post-feminist’. It is saying that is OK to feel like it’s impossible to live up to patriarchal notions of femininity and equally not to live up to feminist ideals. It does not make you a bad woman, or a bad feminist; just a human being.
Girls has made feminism relatable for a new generation that have been turned off the overwhelmingly white, middle income, middle class attitudes of the movement’s mainstream. We are coming of age in a world of exploitation in working lives and massive pressure to conform to beauty and behavioural norms. It is our right to mess up, start again and choose our own experimental path.
After all, all adventurous women do.
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