There’s something so frustratingly typical about Naomi Wolf’s Guardian article that names Carrie Bradshaw – a fictional character – the feminist icon of the decade. Somehow, it’s become easier to point to popular cultural moments as feminist wins than to tell the stories of actual activists and the real work being done.
Yes, Sex and the City was a cultural phenomenon. One that – as Wolf writes – centered female friendships and discussed sex unabashedly and without shame. No small feat to be sure.
But this is also the same series that told a story to its young viewers of women whose primary life concerns were men and shopping. A show with nary a person of color in sight (unless as backdrop or sassy assistants). A show that depicted a New York City of wealth, luxury and privilege – certainly not the city I knew and grew up in.
After all, it wasn’t equality or politics that SATC made popular (unless you count the episode where Carrie dates a political candidate who likes to be peed on) – it was Manolos.
Is this really what we want to call a feminist milestone?
I understand Wolf’s inclination to write the piece; I think pop culture is incredibly important and that writing about it can open up feminism to a more mainstream audience. And as Tracy at Broadsheet points out, Wolf is careful to write that Bradshaw “did as much to shift the culture around certain women’s issues as real-life feminist groundbreakers.” (Emphasis mine) But when we give more power to fictional characters whose contribution to feminist discourse is questionable at best, we do a disservice to to the real feminist heroes out there.
Now, as a writer who likes to actually get things published – I know how hard it is to pitch a profile to a large publication that names a grassroots organizer, national activist, or even a politician as the feminist icon of the decade (or whatever other important sounding title they’re looking for). Carrie Bradshaw is most definitely an easier sell.
But when the national conversation around the movement, particularly as it pertains to young people, is one that doesn’t seem to believe that feminism exists outside of old school organizations, SATC or frigging yogurt commercials - I believe we have a responsibility to to try and change the direction of that discourse, not to fan its flames.
So, in the spirit of recognizing the often under-appreciated contributions of activists, writers and organizers – leave your “feminist of the decade” in comments.
UPDATE: This trailer of the new SATC movie makes me feel even more strongly about how ugh it is to call the series a feminist milestone. The race and class analysis that could be done from these two minutes alone could fill a frigging journal.