Television history has presented us with a number of prominent characters that adhered to a wide array of feminist varieties: from Mary Tyler Moore and Maude Findlay to Julia Sugarbaker and Murphy brown to Liz Lemon and Olivia Benson. Some are blatant in their feminist beliefs, while others take a more subtle approach, letting their feminist ideals be known through their actions rather than brash pronouncements. One show that has been long-considered a beacon of feminism for millennials, and one that introduced a lot of us to the concept and its practical application is Sex and the City.
A while back I wrote an article questioning the authenticity of Sex and the City‘s status as a “feminist” program, where I pointed out that Samantha was really the only one of the main characters who I considered to be a feminist. Often it’s Miranda who gets that distinction, but I’ve always felt that, while her character was certainly a feminist, the way in which her character was written didn’t always present that feminism as being a positive facet of her life, highlighted primarily by the fact that she was portrayed as being an overbearing harpy who couldn’t land a man (seemingly the ultimate goal in the world of Sex and the City). Samantha, on the other hand, openly tended to veer away from relationships and scoffed at the enormous emotional role her friends let men play in their lives.
What Samantha is most known for is obviously her unabashed sexual prowess. What made her unique from my perspective is that while the promiscuity of a Blanche Devereaux-type, for example, was chalked up to inner insecurities on several occassions, Samantha wasn’t presented as the archetypal lascivious female; that is, one who is openly sexual, but still emotionally frail on the inside. Rarely have female characters been written in such a way that they’re presented as human beings who enjoy sex and just happen to be women without there being emotion intertwined with their physicality. Obversely, if sexually fluid female characters aren’t put in the ’emotionally stunted’ category, they’re painted as obtuse floozies seemingly incapable of having any emotional depth.
Samantha Jones was neither of those. While she’s noted for her egalitarian approach to sex, aside from that, she also had a highly successful career that she earned through her own tenacity and hard work, predominately healthy romantic relationships with a variety of men (and a woman at one point), a flourishing social life, and she refused to adhere to or accept sexist or ageist standards. Add to that the fact she endured breast cancer and two abortions, and it’s clear she by no means functioned as a one-dimensional, stereotypical, or depthless character.
Miranda, the token feminist of the show, once referred to Samantha as a “dime-store Camille Paglia,” but I would argue that it was Samantha all along, not Miranda, who was the real feminist of Sex and the City. Miranda talked a big game, but it was Samantha who proactively worked towards the equalization of the sexes and societal gender roles in practice.