After the success of Candice Bushnell’s newspaper column of the same name, the comedy drama ‘Sex and the City’ aired on June 6th 1998. The six seasons climaxed on February 15th and 22nd 2004 with the episodes titled: ‘American girl in Paris, Part 1&2’ with 10.6 million viewers, making the happy ending the highest rated episode of the series. In the six years that ‘Sex and the City’ was on screen, it had accomplished more than any other television text preceding it to push back the boundaries governing televisions representation of sex and the exploration of female sexuality and female friendships. Woman now have a language with which to talk about their experiences and their friendships. It’s almost given them permission to have female friendships that are more important than anything else. It has given respectability to something that previously was just gossip-something less than conversation.
The show focused on columnist Carrie Bradshaw and her three girlfriends: sexually voracious Samantha Jones, hopeless romantic Charlotte York and cynically minded Miranda Hobbs. The vivacious series followed the lives of these thirty-something women in their modern way of finding Mr Right with their frank open discussions about romance and sexuality. The story lines tackled socially relevant issues such as sexually transmitted diseases, safe sex and promiscuity. As the show highlights the empowerment of women, changing roles and the expectations of the 1990’s, ‘Sex and the city’ has made a mark on pop-culture, feminism and contemporary women’s method of dating.
“The female characters from Sex and the City can be seen as Third Wave feminist icons who do not apologize for their sexual relationships and adventures.” (www.feminism.suite101.com)
However, ‘Sex and the city’ has also caused a stir between feminists and non-feminists for being degrading to women and almost pornographic. The protagonists have been described as “unruly women”: “We see some of the feminist potential and the ambivalence of the carnivalesque unruly women played out in provocative language and active sexual desire.”
An article in the guardian entitled “Sex and the City raises hot topics” asked the question: “When does art stop and pornography begin?” (Kemp, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk)
This argument of women and their sexual role in pornography and how far can the artist/writer go has been going on long before the 21st century. These boundaries were explored by Jane Austen in the 19th century and as far back as the 17th century when the infamous writer, philosopher, The Marquis De Sade wrote immoral, pornographic and depraved books such as: Justine, Juliette, Philosophy in the bedroom and many more.
“Sex and the City declared it’s preoccupation with the politics of women’s choice(s)” (Jermyn, 2009; 4)
Although the show was about Carrie and her single girlfriends, the subplot that kept fans tuning in was the love story between Carrie and Mr Big. The pair meet in Season one, episode one. The chemistry on screen between the actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris North was so explosive, it was as if the characters where drawn together by fate. Throughout the series the pair engage in an on-again, off-again relationship. Big is unable to commit to Carrie but she is unable to disconnect herself from him. Their love is like no other and he is the only one who gets her and allows her to be herself, which is so important for the modern woman. Despite being very modern, there is defiantly something romantic and classic about Carrie. Carrie does smoke and she does drink cocktails, but she’s actually old-fashioned. If she wasn’t old fashioned she wouldn’t be on this endless search.
Surly then, this endless search means that Carrie Bradshaw is more than an over-paid, designer wearing, promiscuous hussy? Perhaps she is traditional lady trying to find herself in her romantic quest like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre? Perhaps Carrie and Mr Big have the same affinity as Catherine and Heathcliff? Perhaps Mr Big’s needs to prove his worth like Mr Darcy did? Perhaps Carrie is a modern day embodiment of Jane’s Austen’s Elizabeth in search of her Mr Darcy?
Does 21st Century television portray women’s search for Mr Right any differently to 19th Century literature? And if so, should we be Jane Austen Women or Sex and the City women to find Mr Right?