Sex and the City: A revisiting


With the launch of the Sex and the City Movie DVD here in Australia and both Candace Bushnell and Patricia Field in town for the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Sex and the City has been on my mind lately. I got to thinking about the writing that I did for my thesis two years ago, and the way I was thinking about the show so critically and through a theoretical lens of third wave feminism. I wrote my thesis on the representations of third wave feminism present within the text, and focussed mainly on the attitudes and representations of love, marriage, fashion and the pursuit of beauty. I hadn’t thought about the show in that way since I finished my thesis, after a year of picking it apart I just wanted to enjoy it again. But today, I started flipping through my thesis and I thought perhaps some of you might enjoy seeing the show from a more analytical perspective, the way I saw it for so long, so I thought I would print an excerpt of my thesis here for you. It’s hard to pick just one bit, and you must remember that this excerpt is missing all the context and grounding in theory that were laid out in the previous chapters, but it should give you an idea about some of the bigger issues at work within the series. I hope you enjoy it!


chapter three:

fashion and beauty

Later that night I got to thinking about Narcissus, a man so consumed with his own image he drowned in it. Did he have no best friends to mirror back a healthier view of himself? And why is it, that we can see our friends perfectly but when it comes to ourselves, no matter how hard we look, do we ever see ourselves clearly?

                                                               Carrie Bradshaw (4/02 ‘The Real Me’).


The pursuit of beauty and a penchant for fashion have long been considered frivolous and trivial by the feminist agenda: the pursuits of unintelligible women who don’t know better, women abiding in their own submission – both social and sexual (Brydon 1998, 6). In the second wave, as discussed in chapter one, radical feminists burned their bras in protest of what they believed to be a socially constructed and consented form of subjugation and oppression thrust upon the unassuming female population. Yet, despite these radical efforts of the feminist anti-beauty rhetoric, the fashion and beauty industries have only continued to grow. Current feminist thinking has acknowledged this fact, suggesting that perhaps the continued allegiance of women to the fashion and beauty industries highlights an important re-organization of feminist politics.  In the emerging third wave of feminism; beauty, fashion, and the feminist politics that accompany these pursuits, have experienced a resurgence: an embracing of all things feminine for women, and by women. Can it still be assumed that wearing stilettos represents a woman’s submission to sexual objectification? The four women of Sex and the City – strong, independent, mature beings that actively pursue sex on their own terms – are converts to the stiletto revival, and do we view them as mindless and unknowing in doing so? This chapter will analyse these questions and other related issues such as consumerism in the feminist world, in order to gain an understanding of if and how fashion, shoes, and the pursuit of beauty are used within Sex and the City in service of a third wave feminist agenda, and further how the show uses fashion and beauty as representative of women reclaiming the right to partake in their own empowerment.

fashion is the fifth character

From the very beginnings of Sex and the City, discussion of the fashions within the series has been prevalent. From Fendi, to Prada, Jimmy Choo to Manolo Blahnik, these names have seeped into the present female – and even male – vernacular. From the humble beginnings of the show, designer labels were employed not simply to signify that the four women of Sex and the City were fashion savvy shoppers with disposable income, but also to paint each character with their own sense of style. Every week, the four women’s high fashions are emblematic of their own personal style and personalities. Miranda’s style is practical, corporate and understated; Charlotte’s is preppy, sweet and classic; Samantha’s is sexy, daring and chic; and finally Carrie’s, being the most diverse and changing of the four women, is everything from wistfully pretty to edgy and hip, from eclectic and personal to romantic and dreamy.

These widely varying fashions play an important role in character definition, functioning classically as stereotypes of characters, especially within the first few seasons (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 115). As Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church Gibson confirm, this is quite obviously a conscious decision by the show’s producers, writers and designers, to create stereotyped versions of women and feminism – the corporate woman, the sexy woman, the quirky romantic, and the preppie princess – in order to make these different forms of feminism definable and recognisable at first glance. Thus, Miranda is representative of corporate power ideals of feminism; Carrie with her quirks and whimsy can be seen as an emblem of one of the very first incarnations of feminism within the workplace – the writer; Samantha is representative of feminist sexual liberation; and Charlotte represents a return to old-fashioned values, for as Bruzzi and Church Gibson claim, she is everything Simone de Beauvior despised (Bruzzi & Church Gibson 2004, 120). The individualised fashions of the four female characters can also be viewed as emblematic of female choice within a highly dynamic and diverse fashion society; as Naomi Wolf claims, when a woman partakes in fashion, she partakes in choice; moreover she demands it (Wolf 2003, Internet). Such demand, coupled with the sheer plethora of choices available to women in the pursuit of fashion and beauty, serves to further provide women with an atmosphere conducive to personal freedom, something that can be considered feminist in nature and emblematic of the show’s attempts to negotiate the different forms of feminist politics.

The four female characters can be viewed as partaking in the practice of Girlie feminism outlined in chapter one: a re-claiming of ownership over feminine practices and adornments. Embracing fashion and feminine practices, they do so with open minds and in the pursuit of nothing more than their own empowerment. They partake in fashion not to serve the patriarchal tyranny portrayed by the second wave and as recounted by Scott, but perhaps to be ironic, to be sexy, or to be whimsical. Girlie feminism suggests that women in general be allowed to re-claim their femininity and to do so with an open and educated mind: women should no longer mindlessly comply with outdated misogynistic ideals of fashion, they should choose their fashions for their own empowerment and at the same time, understand that it is their right to do so.

a woman’s right to shoes

There are countless examples of the use of fashion within the series as an expression and symbol of empowerment; many of these examples come from the use of the stiletto shoe as a catalyst for feminism within the series. The image and symbol of the high-heeled shoe is a constant presence within the series on an episodic basis and their utilisation is highly emblematic of third wave feminism. Carrie and the girls don’t wear Manolo Blahnik’s because they feel that they make them more attractive to men, they wear them not only because they are attractive and desirable to themselves, but also because the act of wearing them makes them feel powerful and strong. This is evidenced in many instances throughout the seasons of the show; one such example is visible in season three’s ‘Attack of the 5’10” Woman’ (3/03). In this episode, Carrie feels nervous about running in to Big’s new wife at a ‘women in the arts function’, and so decides a new pair of Manolos will be just the thing to help give her the confidence to face the woman she feels threatened by. Carrie’s feelings of inferiority and rivalry towards Natasha are easily viewed as childish, immature and irrational, yet in her new shoes, Carrie is empowered to face Natasha not only because the five inch heels are literally high enough to put them face to face, but because the act of wearing them in itself makes her feel powerful and strong. Carrie’s insecurities are quashed by the empowerment she draws from her new shoes, and no matter how superficial her empowerment may be, no person should begrudge her, or anyone, for drawing empowerment from any source they deem necessary and possible. In this sense, Carrie can be seen as drawing power from what was once a symbol of female oppression, her shoes, in a manner Baumgardner and Richards liken to “gay men in Chelsea calling each other ‘queer’ or black men and women using the term ‘nigga’” (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 137). For these authors, Girlie is an attempt to re-cultivate the meaning of such feminine adornments, something that is exemplified in Carrie’s use of shoes.

Yet a further example of the use of shoes within the series comes in season six’s ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ (6/09). In this episode, Carrie’s favourite pair of Manolos go missing from a baby shower at which the host had asked guests to remove their shoes and leave them in the foyer of the apartment. When Keira, the host of the party, denies that it’s her fault the shoes went missing and refuses to pay for Carrie’s “extravagant lifestyle” Carrie surmises that after she has bought this woman a wedding present, an engagement present, three baby presents and paid for a trip out of town to attend her wedding, she has spent over “twenty three hundred dollars celebrating her choices, and she shames me for spending a lousy four hundred and eighty five bucks on myself?” (6/09). In this instance, the symbol of the stiletto is used to represent a lifestyle choice, that of choosing an independent and single lifestyle, of being a financially self-reliant, fashion-conscious woman who won’t settle for anything less than the best in all spheres of life. After dissecting the situation and venting her feelings with the girls, Carrie decides that her life, although “filled with shoes and not children,” is no less relevant and worthy than Keira’s, and therefore, perhaps Keira should help to celebrate her choices for once; she calls Keira and leaves a message on her machine stating “I wanted to let you know that I’m getting married – to myself. Oh, and I’m registered at Manolo Blahnik” (6/09). As the episode closes and Carrie struts the streets of New York in her brand new shoes, her “very first wedding present,” the elegant silver stilettos are symbolic of her independence, empowerment, and self-worth (6/09).

In her article ‘Sex and the City: A Visible Flaneuse for the Postmodern Era?’ (2003), Helen Richards further proposes that Carrie’s footwear is highly indicative of her role as a postmodern flaneuse. An historical figure originally belonging to the male gender, the flaneur was a figure of modernity that wandered the streets of Paris, observing, noting and watching its inhabitants, a sort of early journalistic figure (Richards 2003, 149). Richards notes that Carrie, who spends at least three scenes per episode walking, is the modern, female form of this figure, an insight also alluded to by Barbara Creed (Creed 2003, 52). Richards further notes that the flaneur was the “possessor of the gaze, objectifying the inhabitants of the city, noting their activities and appearance for his own enjoyment” (Richards 2003, 150). Carrie’s role within the series is certainly similar; hers are the eyes through which we see the world of Sex and the City, they are her judgements and descriptions of people, places and events that the audience bears witness to, and she is constantly roaming the city, researching, shopping, thinking. As Richards notes, there have been many critics of the idea of a female flaneur. Janet Wilson and Griselda Pollock for example suggest that the concept is implausible because the sphere of the modern city, and the right to look, was not a female privilege but in fact belonged entirely to men (Richards 2003, 151).

Carrie’s affinity with walking further serves to highlight her shoes of choice, stilettos, which are often shot in close up and constantly referred to, as in ‘Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys’ (1/04). “I decided to walk to clear my head. So I walked forty eight blocks in four hundred dollar shoes.” The stiletto can be viewed as a symbol of empowerment when identified with its highly phallic connotations: the metal-cored spike of a stiletto is both a symbol and a weapon with every step. Furthermore, the act of wearing stilettos can potentially be painful, dangerous and deforming (Brydon 1998, 9). In the 1950’s the stiletto was representative of sexual freedom, defiance and decadence; it was a potent symbol of life outside the domestic sphere (Brydon 1998, 7). Girlie feminism and the reclaiming of feminine practices by women as empowering has ensured that the dim view of stilettos held by radial feminists of the second wave has been redefined, within Sex and the City we are experiencing a throwback to the original meaning of the stiletto. Stilettos are now synonymous with the empowerment of the wearer (Young 2002, Internet), as it appears they once were. As evidenced in the analysis of the above scenes, the women of Sex and the City can be seen as drawing empowerment from their stilettos, performing tasks from business, to sex, masturbation to walking the dog in the high priced, high-heeled masterpieces, without any hint of feminine passivity (Young 2002, Internet). The representation of shoes and stilettos within Sex and the City echoes the notions of Girlie feminism discussed by Baumgardner & Richards – re-claiming the right to wear stilettos and knowing how, because of feminism, to use them to their own advantage (Baumgardner & Richards 2000, 126-166).

In this sense, and bearing in mind Wilson and Pollock’s belief that the flaneuse is an impossibility because the right to see and be seen within the city belonged only to men, Carrie’s shoes can be viewed not only as her equipment for walking the streets and for observing the world of the city of New York, but as a powerful phallic symbol of assertion, with every step, of her right to see, and to be seen within the space of the city.

cover girl

As I discussed earlier, the topic of beautification and the pursuit of beauty has long been a point of contention amongst feminists. However, the newly emerging third wave appears to have embraced the practices of beauty under the doctrine of Girlie feminism. Likewise with fashion, Girlie embraces beautification as a form of feminist empowerment. A woman can be a powerful company leader and wear lipstick at the same time; these things are not a contradiction. In fact, the act of wearing the lipstick can enhance the sense of empowerment. There are numerous examples within Sex and the City which adhere to this principle, demonstrating that Sex and the City can be viewed as a definitive example of a third wave feminist television text.

One such example is evident in seasons three’s ‘Sex and Another City’(3/14). In this episode, the girls head to L.A so Carrie can meet with executives about turning her column in to a film. After a week in L.A, Carrie decides she needs a bikini wax and makes an appointment with the ‘waxer to the stars’, a stony-faced Russian woman named Alicia. Carrie is shocked and appalled when she unexpectedly receives a Brazilian wax from Alicia, exclaiming to the girls later, “I got mugged! She took everything I got!” (3/14). Although Carrie is initially upset and uncomfortable with her newly waxed bikini line describing herself as “one of those firkin’ hairless dogs!” (3/14), she later displays confidence and empowerment that she otherwise wouldn’t have exhibited without her Brazilian wax, more aggressively and actively pursuing sex as she states; “standing in the South American’s living room, my Brazilian made me kiss him” (3/14). Typically, the fact that a woman would subject herself to the pain of a Brazilian wax would be seen as a clear act of sexually objectifying oneself for the pleasure of the man, as Miranda puts it “L.A men are too lazy to go hunting for anything” (3/14). However in this episode, Carrie’s Brazilian was initially unplanned, and therefore not a conscious act of objectification; furthermore, it awakens within Carrie an aggressive sexuality empowering her to pursue sex in a way typified as masculine, and further suggesting that perhaps such practices could be viewed as offering empowerment to the female, instead of simply sexual gratification to the male.

Another such example of the pursuit of beauty being an empowering act to women is recognisable in season two’s ‘The Freak Show’ (2/03). During this episode, Samantha considers plastic surgery, only to be told by the doctor that she needs work all over her body. As he draws the red Texta colour lines over her skin suggesting where he would cut, tuck, sew and stretch, Samantha is shocked and appalled by her reflection in the mirror. The whole experience teaches her that there is nothing wrong with her body, and that the red-marked, circus-inspired image staring back at her in the doctor’s office was not something she desired at all. In this instance, the source of empowerment is reversed; Samantha finds her empowerment not through the act of excessive plastic surgery, but through the rejection of it. This example suggests an underlying message; that the pursuit of beauty can push women too far, and that some of the practices of beautification available today such as plastic surgery are drastic and un-natural. It further highlights that Girlie feminism’s embrace of feminine practices of beautification, is not without reasonable limits. What Samantha learns, and what the audience can garner from this example, is that sometimes the most empowering thing can be to reject societal pressures, and be happy with who you are. This ideal is clearly embedded within Baumgardner & Richards definition of Girlie Feminism (2000, 134), as the concept of reclaiming feminine practices such as beautification is not aimed at changing the woman, but at helping her to achieve self-empowerment and self-expression.

Another example of the pursuit of beauty as an empowering act for women is evident in season two’s ‘The Caste System’ (2/10). While receiving pedicures, the girls discuss the problem with Miranda and Steve’s relationship, which centres on the fact that Steve feels uncomfortable with Miranda earning more money than he does. In this example, the practice of beautification provides an open forum for the women to discuss issues in their lives (just as the act of shopping does, something that I will talk about in further detail later in this chapter). This scene also brings up interesting issues in relation to race and class, as Charlotte insightfully states, “you’re trying to pretend that we live in a classless society, and we don’t” motioning towards the four Asian women currently pampering the lead characters’ feet (2/10).

Nancy Etcoff argues that the pursuit of beauty can be viewed as a unifying pursuit for women across classes and cultures in her book Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty (2000). Etcoff states “racism and class snobbery are reflected in images of beauty, although beauty itself is indifferent to race and thrives on diversity” (Etcoff 2000, 5). She further claims that beauty is an inescapable part of universal culture, taking on many different forms throughout the world, and though practices may vary the intent is always the same. “We allow that violence is done to the body among ‘primitive’ cultures or that it was done by ancient societies, but we are yet to realise that beauty brings out the primitive in every person” (Etcoff 2000, 5). This notion is further echoed by Linda Scott who states, “from a cross cultural perspective, the [second wave] feminist notion of ‘natural’ grooming is a perverse fiction. What is natural for human beings is artifice” (Scott 2005, 12). In this manner, the pursuit of beauty is a practice that can unite women across cultures, class and race. It is a practice that has been observed and undertaken for centuries, regardless of class or culture. This is a notion one can recognise within Sex and the City, with the practice of beautification uniting the four lead characters and further providing a forum for them to discuss their problems.

However the more pressing issue highlighted within this scene, is one of the key criticisms of feminism. It is often claimed that feminism in its early incarnations was a relatively white and affluent association (Jowett 2005, 4); (Wolf 1993, xvii); (Karlyn 2006, 60). Conceived as a movement to fight for women’s equality, marginalised groups such as women of colour and women of lower classes often felt abandoned by essentially white academic feminists. The third wave was largely born out of this perceived lack of second wave feminism to truly speak for ‘women’ as a collective group, attempting to present through its newer ideals and philosophies, a more individualised view of feminism able to cater to many more women than the second wave appeared to. In this sense, although representing different stereotyped views of feminism through its four lead characters, Sex and the City admittedly still fails to capture this ideal of the third wave as a more inclusive feminism, representing only white middle-class women in its lead characters, and therefore highlighting the extent to which the second wave still informs the text. Joanne Hollows and Rachel Moseley note that this failure is a common characteristic of popular third wave feminist cultural products, which often represent the third wave selectively, and further reinforce omissions of the second wave (Hollows & Moseley 2006, 11), Although the work of Etcoff and Scott may highlight the ability of the practices of beautification to unite women across class and culture, Sex and the City still serves to prove Hollows and Moseley’s generalisation of selective representation within third wave feminist texts. 

change of a dress

There are multiple examples within the show whereby clothes and fashion are also used as symbols of empowerment, enabling the women to wield their femininity, pursuing and engaging in their own self-fulfilment. One such example comes in season three’s ‘Frenemies’ (3/16) wherein Charlotte is frustrated by Trey’s inability to see her as a complete and whole being, with sexual desires and needs. “Trey sees you as his virginal wife and not as his sexual plaything…you’re not going to get anywhere until you change how he sees you” Samantha tells Charlotte, and insists that she try to change his views (3/16). Through shopping for the right lingerie, Charlotte feels empowered to force Trey to see her for who she really is, a real person, instead of the Madonna that he believes or simply wants her to be. The right lingerie allows Charlotte to express herself completely, to really express the sexual being that she is, something she hasn’t felt able to do on her own, and moreover, allows Trey to see his wife completely for the first time.  In this way, the act of wearing lingerie is a feminist act aligned with the concepts of Girlie feminism – re-claiming the right to feminine practices and signifiers, and knowing how to use them to one’s advantage – as it is used to represent Charlotte as her true self, a sexual being.

In ‘The Real Me’ (4/02), Carrie is asked to be a ‘real’ model in a charity fashion show which teams media figures with fashion models. At first she is unsure, not believing that she could possibly walk the runway with real models, the figures she has worshiped her whole life. She is swayed when she hears that the designers were allowed to pick the celebrities they wanted and Dolce & Gabbana picked her, furthermore, she would be allowed to keep the clothes. At a fitting at the studio of her fashion icons, D&G, she meets high fashion photographer turned ‘behind the scenes’ photographer Paul, who she later praises for his 90’s high fashion work, gushing “when I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I would buy Vogue instead of dinner. I just felt it fed me more” (4/02). Paul tells Carrie that he used to do “all that high fashion shit, but the behind the scenes stuff I’m doing now is so much better, more real” to which Carrie replies, “Real. Ick” (4/02). Later, when D&G change Carrie’s outfit minutes before her turn on the catwalk, she is shocked and uneasy about wearing their new choice, sequined underwear and an open blue satin trench coat. Samantha assures her that she looks fabulous, that she could be a real model. But when mid-strut down the runway Carrie falls flat on her face, leaving Heidi Klum to breezily step over her like “fashion road kill,” she feels anything but model fantastic (4/02). From the beginnings of this episode, we can easily read Carrie’s worship of all things high fashion as un-feminist, unintelligible and flighty. However in the final moments of the episode, when she peels herself off the runway and continues to strut in her sequined underwear, simply because “when real people fall down in life, they get right back up” (4/02), what is revealed is the show’s belief that the clothes don’t make the person. High fashion couture may make a woman feel sexy, confident, strong, and feminine, but really those things don’t come from the clothes at all. The clothes may help facilitate them, but those things come from within a real person. This notion is an element clearly evident within third wave feminism and within Girlie feminism. Girlie promotes the use of clothes, shoes, and feminie adornments for many reasons: to be ironic, to be pretty, to make women feel good, to inspire empowerment; but it does not presume that the use of these feminine adornments will change women, they must do that for themselves. 

to market, to market

Actively engaging in and pursuing fashion can only mean one thing: shopping. These two concepts are emphatically entwined in our culture. The act of shopping can be viewed as a potentially feminist activity where women come together to discuss their problems, engage in active problem solving, counsel and console each other, and garner personal style, self confidence and a sense of community. However, society and feminists alike have long viewed the act of shopping as actively engaging in the evils of global consumerism, as a mindless compliance with the capitalist regime, and perhaps as a product of the doctrine that ‘free choice’ of goods equals freedom in the free world (Nava 1992, 162). As John Jervis states in his study of modern culture Exploring the Modern, the concept and act of consumerism is “a celebration of excess, an indulgence in waste” (Jervis 1998, 91), but it is yet, nonetheless, “a crucial aspect of modern social and cultural life” (Jervis 1998, 93). Cultural studies theorist Mica Nava further suggests that cultural forms such as consumerism “have the power…to indoctrinate and manipulate men and women into social conformity and subordination” (Nava 1992, 162). To be a participant in consumerism is to fall prey to the “conspiratorial messages designed to inhibit true consciousness” (Nava 1992, 165). This negative view of consumerism has been the dominant discourse for feminists of the past, as evidenced in Scott’s recounting of the radical second wave’s embrace of clothing untouched by capitalist machinery (Scott 2005, 289). If one was to apply these theories to the representations present within Sex and the City, the conclusion could easily be reached that, yes, the women of Sex and the City are complicit victims of a consumerist society.

Yet recently, a new view of consumerism has begun to emerge, one that seems more representative of the theories and practices of third wave feminism. Theorists have come to consider the ways in which the status and power of women have been enhanced and furthered by the nature of consumer society. As Mica Nava puts it, “consumption…has offered women new areas of authority and expertise, new sources of income, a new sense of consumer rights and…a heightened awareness of entitlement outside the sphere of consumption” (Nava 1992, 166)

Naomi Wolf, a famous early third waver, has similarly embraced such a view, performing something of a political feminist turnaround. In her 1990 publication The Beauty Myth, Wolf actively spoke of the myth of beauty and its use as a currency system determined by politics to “keep[s] male dominance intact” (Wolf 1990, 3). However she now actively and vehemently defends the rights of women to shop, thus partaking in the pursuit of fashion and beauty, and hence presumably defending the rights of women to likewise partake in these practises. In one article she passionately states: “anti-consumerism is misogyny. To hate shopping and all of its representations is to hate women” (Wolf 2003, Internet), and further supports the view of shopping as providing a safe, community environment for women when she claims that although shopping can take all day and may not yield any purchases, “It yields something else. It yields sorority, or sisterhood – a true sorority, not restricted to the blond and wealthy” (Wolf 2003, Internet). Jervis also supports this theory when he writes that shopping is one of the only areas “where women [can] have a legitimate presence” (Jervis 1998, 95), being “the most widely visible sign of female emancipation in the modern city” (Barth quoted in Jervis, 1998, 95).  Helen Richards offers further support in her article on the flaneuse when she states that “the department store [is] a public place where women [are] free to wander aimlessly, to look at people and the latest fashion, without the prospect of being labeled loose women” (Richards 2003, 151), thus, Richards sees the department store as a safe haven for women, somewhere where they can do what they please uninhibited by judgment and free to partake in feminine pleasures. These new theories and ways of analyzing the relationship between feminism and consumerism suggest a re-organization of feminist politics within the third wave, and perhaps signal a shift of the third wave itself towards new ideals and theories beyond what we already know. This sense of sorority, friendship, warmth and safety provided by shopping and discussed by these theorists, is a constant presence within Sex and the City.

There are numerous examples in evidence of the use of shopping within the series as a self-affirming activity, such as in season six’s ‘Let There be Light’ (6/13) when Carrie discusses the idea of “taking a lover” whilst shopping for perfume with the girls. Or season four’s ‘I Heart NY’ (4/18), when Carrie helps Samantha project her feelings about her fear of intimacy and of having her heart broken by Richard while shopping for shoes. A further example comes in season three’s closing episode, ‘Cock a Doodle Doo!’ when while shopping at Carrie’s favourite thrift store, “right there next to the two for five dollar bin, Miranda and [Carrie have their] first big fight” (3/18). After telling Miranda that she is busy Saturday because she is meeting Big for lunch, Miranda informs Carrie that she will not support her if she chooses to get back together with Big crying “wake up Carrie, how many more times are you going to go through this? He is bad for you. Every time you get near him you turn in to this pathetic, needy, insecure victim” (3/18). Carrie is hurt and upset that Miranda would be so judgemental of her choices exclaiming, “everybody isn’t as tough as you Miranda, some of us make mistakes” to which Miranda turns and walks out of the store without replying (3/18).

Another example is identifiable in season four’s ‘My Motherboard, My Self’ (4/08) when Samantha, distraught, openly discusses her fear that she has lost her orgasm while shopping for flowers for Miranda’s mother’s funeral. It may seem absurd for Samantha to be worried about the fact that she couldn’t climax when Miranda’s mother has just died, but for Samantha, this problem is genuinely her worst fear realised and when Charlotte comments that she “read an article about a woman who was having Orgasms round the clock and then BOOM, Orgasms stopped – for good,” Samantha replies shaken and anxiously “that’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me” (4/08).

All of these examples provide evidence that shopping is used within Sex and the City as a true feminist forum, a catalyst for women to talk about their deepest emotions and troubles. It provides a forum for friendship to grow and to challenge itself and a place where women can feel safe and free to openly discuss their hopes and fears, to foster their relationships, to comfort and confront – a feminist space where women share in the sorority of femininity; and not an evil capitalist fraternity only valuing the currency of money. In this sense, it is clearly evident that the representations of shopping within Sex and the City are highly reminiscent of recent theoretical receptions of shopping as a feminist space and activity.

From the examples provided within this chapter, it is evident that the third wave feminist practices of Girlie feminism are embedded within the text of Sex and the City. Clothing, shoes, shopping and the pursuit of beauty are all used within the series as forms of feminist empowerment, ways for the women to express and articulate their feminism, and to feel empowered in doing so. From these examples and the numerous others present within the text, one can ascertain that Sex and the City is a prime example of third wave feminist opinions on the nature of fashion and beauty in current society.



Baumgardner, J. & Richards, A. 2000, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, 1st edn, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York

Bruzzi, S. & Church Gibson, P. 2004, ‘‘Fashion is the fifth character’: fashion, costume and character in Sex and the City’, in K. Akass & J. McCabe (eds), Reading Sex and the City, I.B Tauris & Co. Ltd., New York, pp. 115-129.

Brydon, A. 1998, ‘Sensible Shoes’, in A. Brydon & S. Niessen (eds), Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body, Berg, Oxford, pp. 1-15

Creed, B. 2003, ‘Television & Taboo: The limits of Sex and the City’, in, Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, N.S.W, pp. 43-57.

Etcoff, N.L. 2000, Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Anchor Books, New York.

Hollows, J. & Moseley, R. 2006, Feminism in Popular Culture, Berg, Oxford.

Jervis, J. 1998, Exploring the Modern: Patterns of Western Culture and Civilization, Blackwell Publishers Inc., Massachusetts.

Jowett, L. 2005, Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown.

Karlyn, K.R. 2006, ‘Feminism in the Classroom: Teaching Towards the Third Wave’, in J. Hollows & R. Moseley (eds), Feminism in Popular Culture, Berg, Oxford, pp. 57-75.

Nava, M. 1992, Changing Cultures: Feminism, Youth and Consumerism, Sage Publications, London.

Richards, H. 2003, ‘Sex and the City: A Visible Flaneuse for the Postmodern Era?’ Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 147-157.

Scott, L.M. 2005, Fresh Lipstick: Redressing Fashion and Feminism, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Wolf, N. 1990, The Beauty Myth, Chatto & Windus, London.

Wolf, N. 1993, Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How it Will Change the 21st Century, 1st edn, Random House, New York.

Wolf, N. 2003, ‘Anti-Consumerism Equals Anti-Womanism’, The Exile, 18/9/2003, <>, 12 June 2006

Young, E. 2002, ‘High Strollers’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21/6/2002, <>, 19 June 2006.


Episodes Cited

1/04, ‘Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys’, 1998, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

2/03, ‘The Freak Show’, 1999, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

2/10, ‘The Caste System’, 1999, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

3/03, ‘Attack of the 5’10” Woman’, 2000, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

3/14, ‘Sex and Another City’, 2000, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

3/16, ‘Frenemies’, 2000, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

3/18, ‘Cock a Doodle Doo!’, 2000, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

4/02, ‘The Real Me’, 2001, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

4/08, ‘My Motherboard, My Self’, 2001, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

4/18, ‘I heart NY’, 2002, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

6/09, ‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’, 2003, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.

6/13, ‘Let There be Light’, 2004, Sex and the City, HBO Network, USA.



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