Monday, December 28, 2009

Naomi Wolf on Carrie Bradshaw

Naomi Wolf writes in the Guardian that Carrie Bradshaw is a feminist icon who did ' as much to shift the culture around certain women's issues as real-life feminist groundbreakers'.

I'm not so sure.

Yes, it was radical that a series be based around four female friends rather than a couple.

Carrie had a column writing about herself - what would now most likely be a blog - not the higher level of art in our culture. She wrote about her relationships in New York - I can't recall her interest in any greater social or political issues. Writing about oneself means you do no research. Your world is very small. Strangely, there was never any mention of the people around her getting upset that they were used in her column. We know that this is what happens in real life. People who writers write about feel betrayed when their lives are made public (Helen Garner and, Lionel Shriver spring to mind.) There are issues there.

Also, there was no way Carrie could afford to live in NY and wear what she does from her earnings writing a weekly column. She didn't seem to have any other options for earning money. A menial job would have been beneath her. She had no qualifications. At least her friends had professions and some job security. She couldn't afford to buy her apartment because she had spent all her money on shoes, remember? And she couldn't cook for herself at all. She ended up with a wealthy man who looked after her - otherwise she would be on a pension in her old age. Not a very accomplished person. She could dress, write, quip, be a friend and a lover. That's about it.

Wolf says Carrie was a writer in NY in the tradition of F Scott Fitzgerald or JD Salinger or Philip Roth. Certainly, her writing is not on that level. I would argue she is the inheritor of Dorothy Parker's and Mae West's legacy - women I much admire. Their work is in a different category though, from those named by Wolf.

'Carrie, for better or worse, was our first pop-culture philosopher', Wolf says. That's a big call. I'm not so sure.

Wolf says of Samantha 'when Samantha first says frankly that she likes to have sex without emotion, to "fuck like a man", it was bitingly fresh for women to speak these aphorisms out loud, in public, and in fabulous heels.'

Women were 'fucking like men' ie, having casual sex for the sake of it with no expectations, before her. Again, see Mae West. In my twenties and thirties I knew plenty of women who engaged in casual sex without expectations. Women would accept an offer, or initiate the offer, and enjoy the deed and then go back to their office/thesis/studio and get to work without another thought. And that's all well and good, especially when you value your independence end freedom, and aren't looking to be in a relationship. You can do it discreetly. It is nobody's else's business. But it does raise other issues. It means you never know if a person is really interested in you, or if the man in question is simply accepting the opportunities presented to him, (and fair enough). It also means that you clock up the partners - three one night stands a year for ten years equals thirty partners. Women are still discreet about proclaiming a number of partners. Most women would still think thirty over a lifetime is something to be judged harshly.

It is nobody's business who or how many partners you have sex with - that's why we have the title Ms. As I said in my letter to the Herald re Susan Boyle being called a virgin, it is a little more complicated. 'Would a man be called a virgin? Does being a virgin suggest she can't sing? Or shouldn't be on TV? If she was the opposite, what word would you use? Until recently, it was expected that unmarried women be virgins. It was respected. Is it now shameful? If someone isn't a virgin and isn't married, does that suggest that person knows real love and is cherished, or could it mean they have been abused or disappointed?'

And Wolf says, 'Did not thousands of young women eager to explore their sexuality, but scared of being labeled sluts by their peers, breathe a sigh of relief or even liberation watching Samantha down another tequila, unrepentantly ogle the sex god at the end of the bar, and get richer and more beautiful with age, with no STDs or furies pursuing her?'

Ok, there area few problems here. Someone, somewhere is getting hurt. If sex were not serious, we would let children do it. Sex is serious. Sure, it can be fun, but while people have other emotions and investments mixed up in it - the expectation of monogamy in marriage, for instance, and while it can transfer serious diseases, then there is the need for some caution and responsibility. I once had a very liberal flatmate. The morning after she brought home a man whose footsteps I did not recognise we talked. She said she didn't have sex with him - she passed out. From what I heard, he had sex with her. Not behaviour which is safe, responsible or fun.

The statement is unrealistic in another way. Samantha is aging. Will we still celebrate her at the bar ogling men when she is 80? Do her friends really celebrate her behaviour? Or do they love her in spite of it?

Now we see women and girls presenting themselves as overtly sexual, even though they may not be having sex. They may not even be having fun. They think it is empowering. It could be that embracing raunch culture is simply demeaning.

If we find men talking about women as sexual objects to be demeaning, then it isn't behaviour we want women to copy. Don't we want both genders to be treated with respect?

So, whilst I can appreciate the characterisations of Carrie and Samantha, and I enjoy the show, I certainly don't want my daughters to grow up to be like them. They're pretty shallow. Wolf didn't mention her expectations for her own daughter.

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