Thank goodness I’m not a millennial. They can’t even watch “Sex and the City” and simply appreciate a witty ode to female friendship. No, instead binge-watching repeats of a Clinton- and Bush-era show must prompt an accounting of which characters are good feminists, as in Marie Claire’s recent article, “Charlotte York is Anti-Feminist, and We’ve Outgrown Her.”
Of course, I’m likely not the intended audience for this article, as according to The Washington Post, I’m “certainly not” a feminist. I believe in equality between the sexes, and that I am the product of my choices, including the choice to prioritize my children over my career at this stage in my life. I also choose not to identify as a feminist because I find litmus tests off-putting.
All four central characters on “Sex and the City” would have identified as feminists during the show’s run, a key component of fairly evaluating characters from other eras. However, Marie Claire rejects that assessment. Writer Leah Thomas’ disdain for Charlotte York, a character she deems “cringe-worthy,” is striking: “[Charlotte] is dependent, helpless, and an avid slut-shamer.” I beg to differ.
Charlotte York Is A Self-Determining Woman
First, Charlotte lives independently and supports herself financially while she’s single, which is not true for all millennials. In May, Pew reported: “As of 2016, 15% of 25- to 35-year-old millennials were living in their parents’ home. This is 5 percentage points higher than the share of Generation Xers who lived in their parents’ home in 2000 when they were the same age (10%).” Charlotte is also not dependent in an emotional sense; she has mutually supportive friendships with the show’s three other leading ladies (and her wedding planner), in between her pursuit of a healthy marriage.
Second, there’s no better example of Charlotte’s refusal to be the victim of her circumstances than her response to her fertility challenges. For Charlotte, who yearns to be a mother, that includes daily hormone injections (which first husband Trey resents) and researching adoption (which Trey’s mother vehemently opposes).
Finally, Charlotte is overwhelmingly supportive of her friends and their romantic choices. If Charlotte were indeed a slut-shamer, it’s hard to believe Samantha would spend so much time with her.
Let’s also note that Charlotte and Samantha represent fundamentally different ideas about sex and relationships. In the context of the show, Charlotte embodies the traditional life script of marriage and family life. By contrast, Samantha represents Cosmo’s dream woman. She enjoys sex like a man (even though she seems squeamish about that at the series’ start and has been brokenhearted) and eschews motherhood. Samantha’s clearly entitled to live as she pleases, but then, if feminism is about expanding all women’s choices, so are the other ladies.
Charlotte Is Happier than Miranda Is
I wouldn’t have advised Charlotte to quit her art gallery job with motherhood still so far off. However, every couple is entitled to run their household as they wish. Money is clearly no issue, and perhaps Trey’s a man who’s happiest when his wife stays home. (Lest this sound dated, many millennial men notably share this view.)
Marie Claire’s Charlotte critique continues:
Today, most women are not ‘Charlottes,’ but rather ‘Mirandas’—liberated, career-driven females who, while desiring romantic relationships, have not built their life goals around them. Among millennials, Charlotte has replaced Miranda as the most loathed character, as Miranda’s once ‘annoying’ qualities of independence, intelligence, and—for lack of a better word—ballsy-ness somehow look much more admirable.
Charlotte is now the most loathed character? I always found Charlotte rather likable. Beyond being beautiful on the outside, she’s educated, stylish, cultured, and kind. I admired her sunny optimism and persistence in pursuing her dreams. She’s professionally successful but also embraces her life beyond work. Charlotte spent much of the series’ run in the cesspool of Manhattan’s dating scene. Yet, like the college woman caught in her campus’ hook-up culture and wishing there were more romance, Charlotte keeps her eyes on her personal prize: marriage and family life.
Miranda, on the other hand, I associate with perpetual misery. Sure, she’s a Harvard Law graduate who makes partner at her law firm — before the Great Recession made that insanely difficult — but her career success never really fulfills her. The best thing to happen to her is her accidental pregnancy. While we watch her struggle to balance work and motherhood, baby Brady finally introduces Miranda to true joy.
Charlotte’s Relationship Wisdom Is Valuable
Miranda also personifies so many of the life lessons I absorbed in college, lessons that came to seem counterproductive over time. For example, while no first-world woman needs a man, she may very well want one in her life, and she shouldn’t apologize for that.
So, while Marie Claire may not like Charlotte saying “‘everyone needs a man’” during some unnamed episode, I don’t hear that as a reactionary comment. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of human nature. Humans crave connection. We all need somebody, and for this group of women, that somebody is likely to be a man.
As for Charlotte’s advice to Miranda about holding off on buying a condo lest it create tension with a beau who can’t yet afford to buy, there’s wisdom there too. If one or both parties own at the outset, it could become a hurdle, even if it’s a surmountable one. I’d advise all couples to move into their own new (to them), shared space, lest one party feel like “their” space is being invaded.
Finally, I don’t recall Charlotte saying “females should change for their partners ‘because we are more adaptable.’” But I absolutely believe long-term relationships, like marriage, are only sustainable if both sides are willing to make compromises. That includes women with high-flying careers.
Charlotte’s comments may not be fashionable or even considered feminist in 2017, but she’s a source of some timeless relationship wisdom. And “Sex and the City” wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without her.