Is it possible to be a feminist and still like “Sex and the City”?

// 16 April 2008

Alice Wignall ponders this question in The Guardian today.

For a show about women, it displays a singular obsession with men. As Miranda, the character most likely to consider herself a feminist, points out in one episode: “How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?”

Since the primary purpose of SATC is to explore what it was like for thirtysomething heterosexual single women negotiating sex and love in a late 20th-century urban setting, it would be hard to do that without mentioning men. But that makes it, at its heart, a protracted romantic comedy, and SATC suffers from being bound by the still-pretty-conventional constraints of the genre

Yep, I’d agree with that. Apart from Samantha, all of the women in SATC want to settle down with a rich man and make babies, with varying degrees of optimism ranging from Charlotte’s prissy fairytale attitude to Miranda’s world-weary cynicism. And by the time the show ended they were all coupled up – even Samantha had finally found someone she actually wanted to commit to. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with the way it all turned out, but it’s all very traditional stuff.

One of the more obvious criticisms of SATC from a feminist point of view is its lack of representation – all of the main characters are white, middle class, rich, well-educated and heterosexual. But are we expecting too much of it?

On one level, this is simply a piece of scene setting – it is a show about wealthy New Yorkers, not about all women everywhere. Kim Akass of Manchester Metropolitan University points out that because there are so few television programmes purely about women, “Sex and the City bears the burden of representation. No one expects The Sopranos to encompass the experience of all middle-aged Italian-American men.” The lack of drama in any other aspect of the women’s lives except their relationships – the fact that they don’t generally have to deal with issues arising from, for example, financial burdens or family ties – clears the field for their sex lives to become their first priority.

I hope that it’s possible to call oneself a feminist and still watch SATC, because I am going to admit, right here in feminist cyberspace, that I love it and can’t get enough of the repeats on Paramount Comedy. I will say however that I have never found it completely unproblematic.

In the anti-feminist corner we have:

  • The obsession with men’s money and status
  • The way that Brazilian bikini waxes are done without question
  • The fact that other than frowning over her laptop the heroine never really appears to do anything except buy shoes and go on dates with complete sleazeballs
  • The fact that the one character who has no interest in settling down is by far the weakest and least believable

    Battling it out in the pro-feminist corner we have:

  • The fact that all of the female characters seem to have A LOT of sex and enjoy it
  • The fact that they all have successful careers (even if Carrie’s doesn’t seem to involve much actual work)
  • The fact that they are strong characters and rarely afraid to air their opinions
  • The fact that you rarely hear them bemoaning their physical appearance
  • The fact that they all seem to be pretty comfortable with their bodies in general

    I’d say that it was pretty much a dead heat between the two, but that because some of the stuff on the pro-feminist side was so groundbreaking at the time, I’m erring on the side of approving of it.

    But what always bothered me the most about SATC, and what continues to confuse me even more now that I am a journalist myself, is how on earth Carrie paid for her Manolo habit by writing one newspaper column.

    It doesn’t stop me watching it though. Or wishing that I had her job.

  • Comments From You

    Innerbrat // Posted 16 April 2008 at 11:49 am

    Isn’t it possible to be a feminist and like – pretty much any work of fiction? There are lots of works I love because (among other things) they’re feminist friendly, but there are also one or two TV shows, for instance, that I enjoy despite the latent issues. (Like a certain show in which two white men go around saving women, and occasionally failing to save them from ghosts and demons and things).

    My point is – I think your question should be rephrased as “Is S&tC a feminist show?” which is a significantly different question.

    Feminist Avatar // Posted 16 April 2008 at 11:50 am

    That’s why you should watch Lipstick Jungle, if it ever makes it to uk tv. Rich, white career women, in a SATC style, but, while perhaps not having full feminist credentials, the show is about their high-flying careers, their angst over not having time for their children, their angst over being more successful than their husbands; the single one’s agnst over her partner being richer her than her and thus having more power. It’s like sex and the city but more complicated. And they have great shoes.

    It can never be truly feminist in the sense that these women are in situations where it is actually impossible to make truly feminist decisions- but there is also a sense in which if I was in that situation, I am not sure I would behave differently- so watching it from a feminist persective raises interesing questions about what it means to be feminist in the real world.

    Leigh Woosey // Posted 16 April 2008 at 11:51 am

    I got fed up of Desperate Housewives because of it’s conventionality on many of the points raised in the article. Mostly I got sick of the fact that the primary drama was about relationships, when really a housewife or person working from home would be confronted by financial issues. I remember writing a rather sweary and incoherent blog entry about it here:

    Lynne Miles // Posted 16 April 2008 at 12:18 pm

    I hear all the criticisms about shoes etc but I’ve always thought of it as a – well not feminist as such, but feminist friendly piece of TV. One thing you missed off your list of reasons why it *is* feminist is that the women in it didn’t really take any shit. There’s Carrie and her on-off bad relationship with Big, but by and large they didn’t settle for rubbish men, they didn’t compromise and if they were afraid of being old and single and alone (which, is the spectre always dangled in front of women who have the courage not to settle for mediocre relationships which don’t meet their needs) they didn’t give in to those fears. They left relationships which weren’t ultimately going to fulfil them and that, right there, is a pretty good message for girls everywhere.

    I also really liked the episode that had Miranda getting Chlamydia!

    Also – I don’t think there’s anything anti-feminist about the happy-ever-after. Most people want to live happy ever after and for most people (although by no means all) that means a happy relationship (or two). Most people do want companionship – particularly when they get older. Feminism isn’t about rejecting that ideal for those who want it, it’s about defending the right of people not to choose it, and trying to restructure it in a way which best meets our own needs as well as the needs of men.

    chem_fem // Posted 16 April 2008 at 12:27 pm

    I hate the idea that it isn’t possible for me to like something and still be feminist. It is up to me to label myself any which way I choose and I only undermine that label if I act in a way that impinges on the choices of other women. I even respect feminists that are privately ‘anti-abortion’ but would never act out in a way that restricted the choice of other women. That every action I do must be at odds with the patriarchy is as restrictive an ideology as the patriarchy itself.

    Feminism should be about critique, consciousness raising and supporting those who make alternative decisions. If after all the analysing of your options, you realise that the choice you wish to make is rooted in the patriarchy, but that it doesn’t harm other feminists, what is wrong with that choice if you are honest about why you are making it?

    Anyway that aside, I have always viewed SATC as thus:

    -They have lots of money because you can more easily have a faddy and interesting life, that fills 94 x 30 mins episodes, that are still interesting enough to hold the attention of a large amount of people for so long.

    -They want to be gritty by challenging some of the assumptions of sexism, but not so gritty that it is tasteless to have copious amount of jokes and loses the escapism that people will come back for.

    -The characters use men like some people would use drugs. They keep on chasing the high that you get when you are first in love only to get hit by some of the biggest come downs ever.

    -They show women laughing together, which is one of the biggest things the Hitchens-ster misses when he says that women are not funny. Women are at their most funny and laugh the most in each others company. Social cohesion between women is important in evolutionary theory, so the idea that women don’t need to attract men with humour is redundant.

    There are a few more but I’ve bored people enough and I have to get back to work :)

    Jane P // Posted 16 April 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Also in the pro-feminist corner, all the characters EAT. They eat pizza and ice-cream, they eat real food. They have appetites.

    Samara Ginsberg // Posted 16 April 2008 at 12:42 pm

    “I hate the idea that it isn’t possible for me to like something and still be feminist. It is up to me to label myself any which way I choose and I only undermine that label if I act in a way that impinges on the choices of other women. I even respect feminists that are privately ‘anti-abortion’ but would never act out in a way that restricted the choice of other women. That every action I do must be at odds with the patriarchy is as restrictive an ideology as the patriarchy itself.”

    I think this may be the comment of the century! I also take issue with the idea that feminism has to be all about complete subversion of tradition. As Lynne says, most people of both genders do wish to settle down eventually. I am a feminist and my biggest ambition in life is to be happily married.

    Mary Tracy9 // Posted 16 April 2008 at 1:34 pm

    I am a radical feminist AND I watch Sex and the City, but that doesn’t mean I won’t criticize it. Today, it’s this

    HOW ABOUT STOPPING WITH THE WHOLE “all of the women in SATC want to settle down with a rich man and make babies”

    ‘Cuz they don’t. Save for one. The other got pregnant accidentally and almost had an abortion. Carrie got engaged but called it off. And Samanthat really really doesn’t want either marriage or children. THAT’S NOT WANTING TO SETTLE DOWN AND MAKE BABIES.

    As for the characters being strong and not afraid to air their opinions? Yeah, strong like cottage cheese! I wouldn’t be afraid to air my opinions if ALL OF THEM CONDONED THE STATUS QUO.

    The show doesn’t criticize anything BECAUSE NOWADAYS IT’S NOT HIP TO CRITICIZE ANYTHING. Otherwise, us feminists would have a much easier life.

    Feministy // Posted 16 April 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I have always enjoyed SATC, and I think the thing I like the most is the representation of female friendship. To me, that is the theme which runs through the whole show – that whatever life throws at these women, they have this friendship which pulls them through. I agree with chem_fem – it is really good to see women laughing and being funny together on TV because we are so starved of that in general.

    All this is not to say that sometimes I find it difficult to watch, but I don’t feel like less of a feminist for watching it!

    Lindsey // Posted 16 April 2008 at 3:46 pm

    And not only that they have real friendships, but that they don’t stop seeing each other when they get into a relationship! So often in films and tv female characters’ friends are only there to be supportive during periods of man-hunting, relationship struggles, or total life meltdown. Women hanging out together without having a major crisis and just to enjoy each other’s company was pretty unusual (I think, please share examples if I am wrong).

    They may not have challenged the status quo in anyway, probably because as rich successful people the status quo wasn’t hurting them too much, but they weren’t afraid to judge each other. They didn’t have the shallow, fake passive aggressive friendships you often see, they were honest with each other. So many portrayals of women as catty, passive aggressive or just plain back-stabby often gives the impression that it is impossible for women to like each other at all, whereas SATC gave an iota of hope for female friendship.

    The thing that did bug me about the show was that despite being educated and highly successful women they were often incredibly shallow. Don’t get me wrong, all people have a shallow side to them (though some may not admit it) but when you get on to a serious topic of discussion you should be able to have a fairly indepth debate. The writers of the show tried to pretend that the women knew nothing about politics, which was borderline ridiculous. A lawyer and a PR agent particularly should be well ahead of current affairs. Admittedly they tackled some issues, like abortion and fertility, but I don’t think the characters were quite 3-D enough to express a full range of ideas and emotions around them. I guess that’s the danger of comedy.

    I think I would have appreciated Carrie’s articles more if they had been painted as pseudo-philosophical with an edge of sarcasm, rather than the pursuit of all truth and meaning in the universe too. It only encourages people to believe in cliches and not try a bit harder when it comes to expressing an original thought.

    Eleanor T // Posted 16 April 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Oh thank God for this debate! As a self-confessed, complete-box-set-owning SATC fan, I have frequently wrestled with this very question. And I still watch it and still love it and still want their wardrobes.

    And I’m still a feminist.

    Cruella // Posted 16 April 2008 at 7:36 pm

    I would go one further on think on this one and say IF you enjoy SATC then YOU ARE a feminist. Seriously if you can watch the amount of sex even Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda have without shouting “harlot” at the screen, then you support a level of sexual freedom for women that was won for you by the feminists of the past, that is under fire in much of the western world and that is a very long way off in most of the developing world. If you enjoy the exploits of Carrie and co with the menfolk of New York, there’s a pretty good chance you don’t support sewing up little girl’s vaginas to keep them pure for their husbands. That’s one of the injustices against women that I’m fighting too… Welcome.

    If you’re not horrified by the idea of women having jobs, living alone, talking about sex, drinking alcohol, having children out of wedlock, experimenting with lesbianism, owning vibrators and all the other stuff they do, then you are a feminist. And I welcome your support in protecting women’s rights in the west and campaigning for them elsewhere in the world.

    And I don’t think feminists can’t have a Brazilian if they want. People always want to fit in with the society they live in. I mean I wear make-up, shave some of my bits, wash and condition my hair, use whitening toothpaste and I drink Diet Cole too. I do think that in an ideal world there would be a lot less pressure on women to do all these things but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to do them anyway. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. Being a feminist means I know I have the right to chose to do these things or not, not the obligation not to.

    Anne Onne // Posted 16 April 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Personally, I think it’s pretty much impossible to be feminst and totally ignore the whole of the world going on around you, including entertainment. Yes, most of the media is sexist in that it either presents us with stereotypes of women, or even flat out insults them. whilst I believe each individual item (series, book whatever) is up for discussion, it would have to be something very heinous to completely negate someone’s feminist credentials. We feminists are human – we have guilty pleasures, and that’s OK. We don’t need to give up everything in the world to prove we’re feminists, it’s enough that we critique everything, that we cannot turn off our feminist viewpoint. If you hate something because of the misogyny, or notice and point out misogyny when you see it, good on you. If you enjoy programs (whatever they be) which are not overtly feminist, it doesn’t make you less of a feminist. Taking part in society, and trying to shape the media into being more feminist through discussion and feedback is more useful to feminism than flat out ignoring it (though it’s your right to not watch any TV/read any books that are non feminist or whatever. )

    I’m not a Sex And The City fan, myself. But I don’t think it’d be 100% anti-feminist. If the characters have any depth or realism, then that’s a good thing for the portrayal of women. That and showing that women do have a sex drive, which is still a needed message.

    I’m an anime fan, personally, and whilst I’m the first to admit if any programme of any sort I like has sexist parts, I also like to focus on the good parts, too. Bringing attention to good female character design is as important as critiquing the bad.

    So watch whatever you like, and call yourself a feminist. If you can critique the sexism, you’re not ignoring it. :)

    Andie Berryman // Posted 16 April 2008 at 11:35 pm

    SATC introduced the `rabbit` to the world.Being single i bought one just today and argued (to myself) the marxist feminist view,why is is considered sexy and liberating for a woman to buy a sex toy but sad and desperate for a man to buy a blow up doll?

    Anna // Posted 17 April 2008 at 12:56 am

    I’m sure it would be considered equally tragic were you to go and buy yourself an inflatable male..

    Lindsey // Posted 17 April 2008 at 9:14 am


    I think you are right that sex toys for men is a kind of ignored area. Some of the men I know own ‘fleshlights’ bought for each other as a joke but I’m pretty certain they use them. I’m guessing this would be more the equivalent of vibrator for men than a sex doll and a lot easier to use too (though possibly harder to clean!).

    Carol // Posted 17 April 2008 at 10:52 am

    I wouldn’t question someone’s feminist credentials for the entertainment they enjoy. One woman can find a programme empowering that another woman finds boring or depressing.

    I was never into SATC, but not for feminist reasons. It was just all a bit too glossy, celebratory of consumerism, and middle class for my taste. I much preferred Bad Girls that was showing around the same time. It also had its faults, but I liked the range of woman characters, plus the diversity of class etc – tho sometimes the portrayals of working class characters & stories, weren’t that great.

    And, I also watch some pretty appalling unfeminist programmes too.

    Samara Ginsberg // Posted 17 April 2008 at 10:57 am

    I think that the massive proliferation of sex toys for women is basically due to the idea that women can’t get themselves off without assistance (although of course, some can’t). It’s common knowledge that men masturbate, that they have been doing it for millions of years and that in most cases they are very good at it. Female masturbation is regarded as a bit more difficult and complex. Perhaps it is, I don’t know. I’ve certainly never had a problem with it myself! It doesn’t really matter anyway as thanks to the idea that we can’t get ourselves off without phallic bits of plastic with prongs attached, we have lots of fun toys to play with. Thanks patriarchy!

    And yes, I have wondered that about the fleshlight before. It doesn’t really bear thinking about. Perhaps it opens up for cleaning?

    Lindsey // Posted 17 April 2008 at 11:12 am

    I think the end unscrews for easy cleaning, I just can’t picture the guys who use them having wetwipes handy.

    I suppose also you get the stereotype of ‘women like things that buzz, men watch porn’ Perhaps there needs to be an extensive survey into the mastabatory habits of the nation so we can dispell a few myths…

    orlando // Posted 17 April 2008 at 11:44 am

    I think Mary Tracy has made a point we shouldn’t shy away from, which is just how supportive of the status quo these characters always were. I mean, Carrie is all down with anal sex but has a meltdown about a fart? Are they actually about what they want from sex, or just about presenting an image of what men want?

    And women on TV shows always eat enthusiastically, they just stay unreasonably thin in spite of it (Gilmore Girls, Will & Grace anyone?).

    Outside the scope of the show itself, I know, but it also perturbed me right off the way SJP, in all her publicity, was so desperately insistent on the fact that she is really a nice girl, not like Carrie: doesn’t curse, never slept around, doesn’t dress sexy, ooh no, but isn’t wonderful being given all those clothes? Grrr…

    Seph // Posted 17 April 2008 at 11:53 am

    Not a fan of SATC or any show that features anorexic airheads talking about shoes.

    But I don’t think you have to only watch feminist-friendly shows to be feminist, my faveourite movie only has 1 female character who serves more as a plot point than as an actual character, I don’t think this makes me any less a feminist than anyone else.

    Samara Ginsberg // Posted 17 April 2008 at 2:11 pm

    “SJP, in all her publicity, was so desperately insistent on the fact that she is really a nice girl, not like Carrie: doesn’t curse, never slept around, doesn’t dress sexy, ooh no, but isn’t wonderful being given all those clothes”

    I think it’s Carrie’s cursing, promiscuity and outrageous outfits that make her such a likeable character. I wish I could be more like her sometimes.

    chem_fem // Posted 17 April 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Meh! Aren’t we all a bit shallow at times? Some could accuse us of intellectual snobbery instead of fashion snobbery.

    I don’t remember the show being all about giving the guys what they want either, they make plenty of their own demands. Carrie was also mercilessly teased by Mr Big over that fart so it’s hardly surprising she over reacted. In fact, according to the BBC the show Californication was made in retaliation to what was perceived as the ‘anti-male’ spirit of the show. Personally I think it wasn’t anti-male at all – just four women trying to figure out what they were willing to put up with and what they weren’t.

    They most definitely do criticise the status quo, just not so much that it turns most of it’s target audience off. Shows only get funded if they are popular, so while we want some non-conformity, it has to come at a level that keeps people tuning in.

    I object to the idea that they are unreasonably thin though. Some folk are naturally thin some are naturally big, to say that being one or the other is unreasonable is unfair. Feminism to me is about accepting the way we all look, because if we criticise people for being thin we just create the opposite of ‘fat oppression’ and oppress skinny people.

    Zenobia // Posted 17 April 2008 at 4:38 pm

    anorexic airheads

    Um. Could we not use the term ‘anorexic’ as an insult please?

    Cruella // Posted 17 April 2008 at 8:27 pm

    Yeah I think – and this sort-of re-iterates my earlier point – that we run the risk of saying “Society pressurises women to be super-thin, dressed in designer clothes, waxed and plucked, baby-crazy and submissive in relationships so feminists MUST be the opposite”. But feminism itself should not pressure women to be more generously proportioned, cheaply-dressed, hirsute, childless and dominant in relationships. Feminism is about taking the pressure off women – not putting them under even more stress by pressuring them to be a bunch of other things at the same time.

    BareNakedLady // Posted 18 April 2008 at 11:50 am

    IIRC, there is an episode in which Samantha ponders the purpose of her Brazilian, and tries going au natural at her boyfriend’s request. She doesn’t like it, gets all itchy, and comes to the (in my opinion) rather fab conclusion that she’s a busy woman who doesn’t have time for him to be beating around her bush. That’s a score for the feminist waxer if ever I heard it.

    Samara Ginsberg // Posted 18 April 2008 at 12:22 pm

    I have not seen that episode, it sounds like a good one!

    When I wrote about the waxing, I was thinking of an episode I saw a few days ago in which Carrie says something like, “I can’t sleep with him yet because I need to get some waxing done first, so that he is not disgusted by the fact that I have HAIR”

    Speaking as a woman of a rather hirsute persuasion, I am very, very glad that it is considered normal for women to remove most of their bush. Basic physiology means that female pubic hair can really get in the way of practical stuff, whatever your aesthetic preferences happen to be. I massively embrace the option NOT to go au naturel. But I also massively object to the idea that bush removal has become almost as de rigueur as shaving one’s legs. It’s something I’ve watched happen over the last few years as I’ve grown up – when I first started waxing my bikini line about 10 years ago, it was something you did to remove the bits that would sprout out of the sides of your bikini in summer, not a year-round grooming thing that you felt pressurised into doing. It’s the obligation I don’t like, particularly when applied to a part of your anatomy hardly anyone is ever going to see anyway. And men seem to expect it from their sexual partners these days, which just totally sucks.

    Nichi // Posted 18 April 2008 at 2:09 pm

    If you want to watch a program about women with sex, comedy, more complex characters and serious issues explored in a more sophisticated and searching way, try the L Word, the American series about a community of gay women.

    I identify myself as a heterosexual woman, and am in a long-term relationship with a man, but I identify with the lesbian characters of the L Word and the way subjects such as race, class, divorce, sex addiction, commitment issues and cancer are explored (even though it can be highly dramatic) far more than I do with regards to SATC.

    That I find a series where men are not the centripetal force much more compelling makes for an interesting comment on the representation of heterosexual women on screen.

    Amy // Posted 18 April 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Regarding the comment: “That every action I do must be at odds with the patriarchy is as restrictive an ideology as the patriarchy itself”; why is this “the comment of the century”? Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this just defending the right to be a hypocrite? Being a feminist isn’t about adhering to a rule book about what women are and aren’t allowed to do, right enough, but if you believe in the basic principles of feminism (which is by definition, anti-patriarchal) then surely, consequently, behaviour will follow attitude – every action you do *will* necessarily be either at odds with patriarchy or neutral/irrelevant to it.

    I call myself a feminist; if I found myself indulging in something fundamentally patriarchal, for example laughing at a sexist joke, or allowing myself to feel pressured into waxing my bush (as opposed to waxing it because I personally wanted to), or buying The Sun etc etc, I would have to think about whether I was *really* a feminist.

    As far as SATC goes, I find some of it brilliant, I find other parts of it depressing. That the characters are sexually free is clear (although, why does this sexual freedom have to be described by them as having sex ‘like a man’?) but it does in the main reinforce stereotypes and remain fairly uncritical of the status quo.

    I think a lot of us like SATC because it’s a compromise, and we can ‘forgive’ its transgressions because precious few sitcoms have focused on women… But no feminist could truly sit back, relax and enjoy all of it, in my opinion.

    And The L Word is *loads* better.

    chem_fem // Posted 18 April 2008 at 5:09 pm

    “Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this just defending the right to be a hypocrite? Being a feminist isn’t about adhering to a rule book about what women are and aren’t allowed to do, right enough, but if you believe in the basic principles of feminism (which is by definition, anti-patriarchal) then surely, consequently, behaviour will follow attitude – every action you do *will* necessarily be either at odds with patriarchy or neutral/irrelevant to it.”

    No, I don’t feel it is. I feel that shaming women who, regardless of where patriarchy stands on the issue, go through life doing what they want (as long as it doesn’t harm the equal rights of others) is un-feminist.

    I understand why changing your name on marriage is a choice that is routed in patriachy, but surely telling a woman what she should do with her name at any point in her life is to strengthen the patriarchal assumption that what a woman does is of any business of anyone else. It is the role of feminism here to criticise the practice and then leave a woman to choose what she wants to do with that knowledge in mind.

    Exactly the same principle should apply to all acts like whether to have a leg wax, wear make-up or get cosmetic surgery. I don’t want to shame every woman who chooses to do it anyway though.

    I do stand against those who make choices that are ‘anti’ feminists though, including those who want to remove a woman’s right to: abortion, protection from violence, confidence, have sex as little or as often as they want, refuse consent to sex.

    These people are working actively against the aims of feminism. I don’t consider a woman who gets a boob job (while not ideal) to be preventing feminism enriching the lives of others though.

    BareNakedLady // Posted 18 April 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Amy said:

    Regarding the comment: “That every action I do must be at odds with the patriarchy is as restrictive an ideology as the patriarchy itself”; why is this “the comment of the century”? Please correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this just defending the right to be a hypocrite? Being a feminist isn’t about adhering to a rule book about what women are and aren’t allowed to do, right enough, but if you believe in the basic principles of feminism (which is by definition, anti-patriarchal) then surely, consequently, behaviour will follow attitude – every action you do *will* necessarily be either at odds with patriarchy or neutral/irrelevant to it.

    Yes feminism in general is anti-patriarchal, but that is not the same as saying that ‘the individual feminist’ and ‘the patriarchy’ must necessarily be opposed on every single point, is it? Using chem_fem’s example of abortion, does a feminist need to believe in a woman’s right to choose purely because that is the anti-patriarchal viewpoint? Is she not allowed to be personally anti-abortion, eg for religious or scientific reasons, and still call herself a feminist?

    Even if you think that is the case, is that not just proving that in fact feminism *is* a restrictive ideology, because you are restricting it to the basic anti-patriarchal principles?

    Felicity Candy // Posted 18 April 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I totally agree with BareNakedLady. I’ve always known men and women are equal, and know i’m a feminist. However, whilst I believe other women have the right to have an abortion, I personally disagree with it. I just know the wider picture is bigger, but I have the right to believe what I want. And though I enjoy being an intellectual, I also like less heavy things, like make up, fantastic fashion and sometimes, enjoying the affections of the opposite sex. None of the above stop me from being a feminist and believing men and women are intrinsically equal

    Lynne Miles // Posted 18 April 2008 at 9:51 pm

    I totally love the L-word, but I think there have been some rumblings in the gay community along similar lines – they’re all impossibly glamorous, either rich or infeasibly well-housed and dressed for a supposedly low income etc etc. And that it’s caving to social pressure to make lesbians sex-ay for the masses, conforming to beauty stereotypes etc. I mean, I still love it for the glamour and the sex scenes, but it’s not without its critics.

    Amy // Posted 19 April 2008 at 11:15 am

    To my critics ;o) –

    I think people have misinterpreted what I said! I’m not into telling women what to do, far from it. I’m saying that if you believe a certain thing, you will act accordingly. It is an individual perogative, so in that sense, an individual feminist, if she is a feminist, will act at odds with patriarchy because of her beliefs. She won’t necessarily tell other women what to do, but in her personal choices, she will be anti-patriarchal.

    I tried to make the distinction about waxing, etc because a woman *wants* to and because she is feeling *compelled* to. The first is an action neutral to patriarchy, the second is in cahoots with it. I personally shave my armpits because I like my deodorant to go on smoothly – but if I shaved them because I felt ugly and not matching up to a female ideal, well that would be unfeminist.

    As for abortion, I’m not sure what the “scientific reasons” for abortion could be (I can’t think of any so please enlighten me!) but as for religious reasons, well this may be an unpopular view but I think it’s pretty much impossible to be a member of one of the major religions and also be a feminist. I’d be interested to know what people think (I’m sure many disagree!) but I’m of the same mind as Ayaan Hirsi Ali (‘The Caged Virgin’ is a fantastic and enlightening book). Perhaps all feminists should be atheists. Just a thought…

    chem_fem // Posted 19 April 2008 at 1:26 pm

    As a fellow atheist who has trouble understanding the attraction of religion I can’t really answer that question. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but i have trouble understanding why a feminist would want to be part of an institution that has much misogyny in it’s roots.

    As for the waxing, I’m torn. I think that feminists should be eliminating unachievable beauty standards as a norm that all women must conform to for the sake of their self-worth. But I think that we are human and it is a lot to expect every woman to resist something which is just one of quite a few pressures that we all feel every day (some sexist and others not).

    I think that if feminism was successful at achieving all its aims one day, what I would like to see is a whole diverse range of ‘norms’. That each woman could wax, not wax or very occasionally wax according to her own whims, rather than have the patriarchal norm replaced with its polar opposite.

    I guess in short, to me, feminism has personal freedom at it’s goal, and some of those freedoms are patriarchal by history.That just because feminism is at odds with with the patriarchy, doesn’t mean that it can’t recognise that choices that conform to the patriarchy aren’t all inherently bad. In fact maybe some patriarchal choices would actually work well out side of a patriarchal system.

    Say porn was not part of an industry that wielded a lot of money and power at the expense of others, but rather people just enjoying erotic pictures of one another in a respectful and equal way. It isn’t really the pictures that are wrong, rather the whole dynamic around them.

    Seph // Posted 19 April 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Apologies about the whole ‘anorexic’ comment, sorry to anyone I upset.

    As someone who doesn’t watch SATC (I channel-flicked across the odd episode when it was on channel 4) all I ever seem to hear about it is “look how skinny Sarah Jessica Parker is, and all teh pretty clothes!!!!” even in a documentary I saw the main description of her character was “a clothes horse”

    Felicity Candy // Posted 19 April 2008 at 1:53 pm

    To Amy,

    I don’t think i’m criticising you, merely showing a different opinion. In any group, including feminism, diversity of opinion is vital, don’t you think?

    Amy // Posted 19 April 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I think you’re absolutely right Felicity, my comment about “my critics” was tongue-in-cheek. I think all opinions should be brought to the table and debated… I’m enjoying having my thoughts provoked!

    chem_fem, I agree with you about the diverse range of norms… it would be interesting to see, if this was the case, what women would choose to do.

    As for personal freedoms and patriarchy – I feel that if certain personal freedoms / social policies would work well outside of a patriarchal context, then they probably aren’t really patriarchal as such. They are probably just humanist. That they arose in a patriarchal system is just coincidence. I don’t feel that because we live (and have lived for many centuries) in a patriarchy, *everything* that happens is therefore patriarchal, i.e. in the interest of keeping men in power, pertaining to male dominance etc. Like the abolition of slavery… it happened in a male-dominated country but you couldn’t say the event itself was patriarchal.

    If I may disentangle myself from my semantic web though and completely change the subject, coming back to SATC, I forgot to mention the other day my major gripe with the programme – the fact that all four women seem to have no trouble at all having orgasms during sex with their various partners. In one episode Samantha complains that she can’t come, but her ‘difficulty’ only lasts a day or so. The rest of the time (I’m sure there are a couple of exceptions) they seem to all be flushed and “oh OH OH!!”ing whenever they are being penetrated. It is completely unrealistic: 70% of women can’t orgasm from penetrative sex, so if SATC were being true to life then 3 out of the 4 characters would be this way. They would need manual ‘help’, vibes, more oral, etc. For a programme that professes to be about real women and real sex, it seems remarkably out of touch and porno-influenced at times. Like when Charlotte enthuses to her prissy, frigid pony club mates: “Doncha ever just wanna be pounded hard?!” Suggesting that either you get pounded hard, or you’re a prude – and moreover, being pounded hard is the most pleasurable thing one can get from a sexual encounter. It seems a shame that they couldn’t have had at least *one* of the characters be unable to come from sex alone, and have them *talking* about this as though it’s normal, which of course it is. It would have made me (and a few of my female friends!) much happier. And if you’re wondering why this is relevant, then you’ve probably never been at the receiving end of a man’s bewildered and crestfallen face when confronted with the inability of his dick’s presence in your perfectly normal vagina to make you scream the place down… :o/

    chem_fem // Posted 20 April 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Really interesting comment Amy.

    Completely agree with the orgasm thing. This seems to be a media wide issue and is the same in TV, Film books etc.

    I was disappointed when I read the Womens Room, that when the main character meets her new boyfriend at university after her divorce, she easily has orgasm after orgasm. For some that may be so, but I often have to work hard for mine.

    Imogen // Posted 21 April 2008 at 10:37 am

    Good discussion.

    I wanted to add to it briefly to say I am a feminist and a Christian. And yes, there are clashes and it’s not always comfortable having sets of beliefs that clash–or having to choose which set matters more. I find large sections of the Bible completely unedifying because of the misogyny (quite apart from the violence and supposedly God-sanctioned genocide).

    But, really, I don’t have much choice. It’s not a question of whether I *want* to be part of an institution with misogynistic roots. Just as I wouldn’t know how to stop being a feminist (even if I wanted to, which I don’t) I wouldn’t know how to stop being a Christian (even if I wanted to, which I don’t). Beliefs–religious or otherwise–aren’t things I can turn off just because they’re not comfortable.

    Have Your say

    To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

    Sign in to the F-Word

    Further Reading

    Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

    Write for us!

    Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

    • The F-Word on Twitter
    • The F-Word on Facebook
    • Our XML Feeds