Being Miranda Hobbes: Why Women Really Love Sex And The City

Features
by Alyssa Rosenberg
July 23, 2013 2:00 PM
9 Comments
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In her fantastic reclamation of the much-maligned HBO sitcom Sex and the City as part of television's golden age, New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum argues this week that Carrie Bradshaw deserves more credit than she's previously been granted for being a pioneering member of what’s the now male-dominated fraternity of anti-heroes. In particular, she calls out the moment when the show did what so many dramas would do years later, and challenges our sense of complicity with the main character. "Carrie fell under the thrall of Mr. Big, the sexy, emotionally withholding forty-three-year-old financier played by Chris Noth," she writes. "From then on, pleasurable as Sex and the City remained, it also felt designed to push back at its audience's wish for identification, triggering as much anxiety as relief. It switched the romantic comedy's primal scene, from 'Me, too!' to 'Am I like her?'"

But much of the revisionism that Sex and the City's undergone in the decade and a half since its debut--aided, to be fair, by its second, truly awful movie--has elided that complex relationship between the show's viewers and its characters. Instead of understanding that being a Sex and the City fan was often about seeing your worst fears for yourself and your romantic life portrayed on screen, and being reassured that you could survive and grow beyond them, the show's critics have convinced us that we need, as Nussbaum put it, "to downgrade the show to a 'guilty pleasure,' to mock its puns, to get into self-flagellating conversations about those blinkered and blinged-out movies."

If you express sympathy for Tony Soprano, the titular character of David Chase's pioneering drama, whoever you're speaking to will understand that you're experiencing Boomer ennui, maybe even that you're anxious about your kids and aging parents. No one will mistake that affinity for a desire to shoot your best friend on a boat, or to strangle a federal collaborator while taking your daughter on a college tour. If you identify with Jimmy McNulty, the roguish Irish-American detective from The Wire, your interlocutors will understand that you admire his swagger, sympathy, and way with words, not that you have any particular wish to develop a drinking problem and torpedo your career in a spectacular fashion. And if you covet Don Draper's suits and the best parts of his professional relationship with Peggy Olson, no one's going to go digging through your background, suddenly suspicious that you made up your identity to get out of a war zone. But compare yourself to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, or Miranda, and the nuances disappear. To want to be like one of the characters on Sex and the City is to be equally addicted to shoes and toxic love affairs, to be a pathetic, aging slut, a nutty, marriage-obsessed WASP, or a bitch.

The idea that affinity for Sex and the City marks you as misguided, materialistic, or at the very least, extremely naive, is so well-established that it's become a common cultural trope in and of itself among both the show's aficionados and detractors.

In the pilot episode of HBO's Girls, Shoshanna, a young New York University student, breathlessly tells her cousin "You're definitely a Carrie, with like, some Samantha aspects, and Charlotte hair. That's like a really good combination. I think I'm definitely a Carrie at heart, but sometimes ... sometimes Samantha kind of comes out. And then, when I'm at school, I definitely try to put on my Miranda hat."  And in Aaron Sorkin's drama The Newsroom, about the staff of a cable news program, the show signaled that Maggie, a young staffer on the show, was better for Jim, a senior producer, than Lisa, Maggie’s best friend and roommate, who Jim was currently dating, by having her deliver an anti-Sex and the City tirade at a bus doing a Sex and the City tour of New York. "I'm the typical single woman in New York City. I don't wear heels to work because the typical woman's job doesn't exclusively involve gallery openings," she hollered at him.

Girls creator Lena Dunham has been outspoken about her love for Sex and the City, while Sorkin, who continued his crusade against the show in his second season, seems to have some particular hang-up about it. But in both shows, the message is relatively clear. Girls mistake Sex and the City for real life. Grown women know better.

But if that's true, what are we to make of Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), the character least-addressed by the critique of Sex and the City as fluffy, materialistic and profoundly un-self-aware -- and the one most embraced by the Sex and the City fans of my acquaintance.

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9 Comments

  • Therese Shechter | August 1, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    When I watched those first SATC episodes way back when, they were a revelation. No one had ever talked that way about female sexuality on television before, and I'm still grateful to them for helping usher in those kinds of feminist conversations about desire and sexual agency.

    My favorite character was always Miranda. She took some abuse, by the characters in the series and by extension I think by the writers. But she grounded the show by speaking the truth many friends and I were really feeling, as Alyssa's quotes reveal.

  • zibbyz | July 31, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    Folks don't want to be Miranda bec her situation is too much like real life instead of a fairy tale. However, like the author, I would rather take her life lessons than the others. And the denigration of Sex and the City is not unexpected, given the leeway that men's movies enjoy (Hung Over 1, 2 or 3, anyone?).

  • mensagens para celular | July 25, 2013 1:33 AMReply

    What's with all the anti Sopranos rants in the endure week? If it's because Sex in the City is a appearance that explores changeable leads over males again that's affectionate of arbitrary because Sex in the City was created by a man and almost bisected the episodes accounting by men, while Sopranos, which gets abuse nowadays because TV is the cultural acme apropos feminism I guess, had a woman advance biographer on macho centered show.Mensagens Para Celular

  • kzo | July 23, 2013 10:19 PMReply

    Miranda has one of my favorite lines ever (about Halloween costumes): "the only two choices for women: witch or sexy kitten."

  • Krystal | July 23, 2013 7:24 PMReply

    What a beautiful, well-written article that shows me I should have never overlooked this character like so many do. I think it's because consciously identifying with the fear of intimacy and fear that we lack the worth to have a secure, healthy relationship are the fears most threatening in the entirety of this show.

  • Freddie deBoer | July 23, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    I'm with those who find criticism of the show unfair and deeply sexist while also thinking it's filled with bad writing, terrible jokes, and cartoonish characters.

  • Milly | July 23, 2013 5:13 PMReply

    I think it became vogue among young women to kick Sex in the City in the tits, just because it's still a thing for young women to kick the last generation in the tits. See the hatred for Madonna. It seems like there is a period of cultural rejection high visibility women must go through in their late forties and fifties. Then it comes around like it did for Stevie Nicks and Cher and even Gloria Steinem.

    Sex in the City was a fantasy of being able to afford things, have sex at every week as a single person, with no ex husbands or parents really, but it also showed the "pie in the face" moments. To showcase single women's lives is still a marvel, and even more so over the age of 27. And to have childless women who are not ashamed is a marvel.

    We don't have enough of different stories about women of different ages and lifestyles other than appropriately sexy and interesting to a frat boy. Entourage didn't get the criticism that the men "didn't represent me." But when you get one successful show about women, there's a pileup of "that doesn't represent me." Girls must represent all young women.

    That said, Newsroom is a terrible show for women characters. The women on a Sorkin show have an extra gene birth defect. They would stare at scissors for hours not knowing how to operate them. They have flipper feet, tripping over things all the time, and would be beached seals if not for Trademark Dude. Sorkin's paper women are adorkably stupid, simmering vengeful without power, and never get old or vary from a certain size. They are never in a position of real power over a man, no matter how many years they put into a profession. It's like a boy's view of women as doodles in his paper notebook.

  • amn;oair | July 23, 2013 2:24 PMReply

    What's with all the anti Sopranos rants in the last week? If it's because Sex in the City is a show that explores female leads over males then that's kind of unfair considering Sex in the City was created by a man and roughly half the episodes written by men, while Sopranos, which gets flak nowadays because TV is the cultural zenith concerning feminism I guess, had a woman lead writer on male centered show.

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