Two TV shows both set in New York City, both focusing on four women and their lives, both progressive of their portrayal of women, and both produced by HBO. One was hugely popular and successful during its time, and the other is gathering its own reputation and following. So which one is better?
Sex and the City (SatC) first ran from 1998 to 2004, with six seasons and later two movies. (We do not need to mention the movie sequel. It’s unanimously agreed that it was terrible.)
What was great about SatC was that it was about modern women. Women who were independent, who could support themselves, who had power, who were confident. These types of representations through the four leading ladies were not common on TV, and especially not in the entire principal cast.
SatC broke a lot of taboos by talking about subjects that weren’t mentioned often on TV, mainly revolving around sexual issues, like sexually transmitted infections. For a lot of women, this is how they learnt about their own body, because it had previously been deemed socially unacceptable to talk about such matters. The matter of fact and sometimes comedic way these “forbidden” topics were dealt with allowed women a new way to view themselves.
However, SatC received a lot of criticisms as well as acclaim, and large portions were from feminists.
The main problem listed, and which I agree with, is that all the major storylines revolve around women and their search for boyfriends/husbands. For instance, Samantha, the biggest supporter of sex without emotion, ends up paired with a guy. Miranda even acknowledges it when she asks, “How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?”
In fact, the six seasons could be summarised as Carrie waiting for Big to realise the sweet deal he has. Instead, he acts like a jerk for the majority of the time and then they get married. Oh wait, he first gets cold feet and ditches their wedding.
Then they get married.
Personally, I also found it hard to relate to and superficial at times. All they seem to care for is men and fashion, which I know doesn’t represent my, or other girls’, priorities.
In the first episode of Girls, Shoshanna (one of the four main girls) has a giant SatC poster on her wall that she points out. She also matches up each of her friends and herself with the corresponding characters from SatC. Girls is aware of their similarities. They want the audience to realise that as well. In many ways, Girls is SatC, just ten years later.
Like SatC, Girls is portraying a new type of woman than what is currently on TV. Conversely, where SatC depicts women as successful and fashionable, Girls shows women who are relatable. Struggling to get a job, struggling to pay the bills, struggling to find their own place in the world. The women in Girls aren’t thinner than a stripper’s pole, or have the same amount of make up on as a stripper. When we look at them, we see ourselves.
The majority of women today aren’t counting their collection of Louis Vuitton handbags, but are more concerned with what is the smallest tip you can possibly leave behind without being rude, because you need that money for your fare home.
Sex and the City is what we wish we were. Girls is what we are.
That’s not to say there aren’t any problems with Girls. Disapproval of Girls, though, has largely come from its lack of diversity. Here again are four white, heterosexual, educated and privileged women. It focuses on girls, but only a very small, exact group of them. It isn’t representative of a majority, but is targeted towards a specific audience to enjoy.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which one is better. What’s important is that there are more shows like these, with the focus on women and real issues relating to women, because the biggest criticism of both is that it isn’t ‘representative.’ This is only said because there are so few shows that are about women, so they unfairly get burdened with having to speak for all women, no matter if they’re gay, straight, black or white. Not only is this impossible and ridiculous, TV shows about men never get held up to the same scrutiny.
Hopefully the success of these two TV shows will make producers and big TV executives realise that a show with an all-female cast is an advantage, and not a weakness.
Listen to similar discussions related to pop culture on the podcast Memoirs of a Fangirl.