Let me just say, I’m not a huge “Sex and the City” fan. Sure, I probably watched every episode of all six seasons during several hour-long marathons in high school. And, despite how awful the trailer looks (Abu Dhabi, for real?), I’m sure I will end up seeing the movie sequel. But the many criticisms the show has received over the years—about pretty much everything? I agree. And I’m not particularly interested in discussing for the millionth time how feminist or not feminist enough or downright anti-feminist SATC is.
But I’ve got to say I had some problems with this Broadsheet article by Elissa Strauss about what she sees as the female “friendship fairytale” in the SATC franchise. Strauss argues that the most unrealistic aspect of the ridiculously unrealistic show is the idea of friends as “soul mates.” She writes, “For me, these unimpeachable, everlasting friendships have become just another implausible expectation, and one that I can’t live up to.”
I haven’t seen much response to the piece in the feminist blogosphere apart from a few lady Twitters saying, “Yes! Agreed!” and others countering “No! I’ve got a posse!” Of course, it’s easy for a conversation about something as personal as friendships to become unproductively individual, and I realize that my reaction to Strauss’ article risks amounting to nothing more than an ego-centric claim: “But I do feel like my lady friends are soul mates.” But where I do agree with Strauss is on the point that there could be more thoughtful, public dialogue about friendships.
However, in characterizing the “unimpeachable, everlasting” friendships of SATC, I think Strauss is conflating two possible ways they are “idealized.” Her main argument seems to be that these bonds are unrealistic because they are unaffected by external pressures and realities; they are “seemingly impenetrable to real-life factors like work, family, time, money, partners or the lack thereof.” Yet, she also implies the friendships themselves are too perfect—too uncomplicated by the resentments, jealousies, and disappointments of real human relationships.
I’ll grant the former, but I’m not so sure about the latter. I think, in fact, the best thing about the show is that it takes female friendship seriously enough not to flatten it into something that is so sugary and easy it rings completely false. Though we never doubt the SATC ladies will be there for each other in the end, they have their fair share of problems, tears, and anger. In a show that is painfully superficial in almost every way, the friendships are one of the few things that actually aren’t all that superficial. Which is not to say that the SATC women themselves aren’t superficial. They are. And insufferably narcissistic too. And it’s not to say that I don’t see any problems with the way the SATC friendships are portrayed. For one, it would be nice if these successful career women spent their brunch dates talking less about men and sex (though who doesn’t love those conversations too?) and more about their jobs, ambitions, politics, maybe even feminism. That would be cool—and also more true to life, in my experience. But even if we sometimes hate them, they do seem to love each other—in a real, un-idealized way.
And despite Strauss’ references to the gals of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Lipstick Jungle” (which I watched for a season, with my lady friends in fact, but I think we might have been the only ones tuning in), I guess I don’t think we’ve come so far from a history of women’s friendships being ignored or disparaged that I’m willing to start complaining about going too far in the opposite direction. The dominant cultural messages girls and women still get—particularly from sitcoms and romantic comedies—tell us to hate each other, to compete for male attention, to bring each other down, to shame other women for being sluts, etc, etc. We still expect women’s friendships to take a backseat to romantic relationships; the “catfight” is still the comedic sketch of choice for women; and it still provokes feminist love letters when TV shows star adult women characters with lady friends they seem to really care about.
I’m a bit more sympathetic to Strauss’ other point—that in the real-world it’s hard to maintain long-term friendships (let alone with the same tight-knit group of women) as geography, jobs, new interests, partners, kids tend to get in the way. Certainly, my posse in college wasn’t made up of the same ladies as my posse in high school. And now that I’m an adult in NYC, key members of my brunch crew are detained by little hiccups like the fact that they live in Portland, OR and Washington, DC. Which really sucks and is only partly ameliorated by the wonderful, new friendships that inevitably begin. And perhaps when my friends and I start settling down with serious partners and maybe having babies, I might have a similarly jaded view of the everlasting bond of female friendship.
Except, I plan to work pretty hard to make sure that’s not the case. Because while cross-country moves and evolving interests might be inevitable, I think many of the forces that make holding on to friendships difficult are not. And among the most insidious is a lack of imagination. Imagination to envision and create alternatives to a culture that prioritizes romantic love and familial ties over friendship. (A culture supported, incidentally, by SATC, which—for all its talk of lady friend soul mates—is ultimately about the relentless pursuit of Mr. Right.) Call me the idealistic 24-year-old that I am, but when it comes to friendship, I’d like to see more idealism rather than less.
What do you think? How have your lady friendships influenced you and your feminism? What makes maintaining friendships difficult and how do you do it?