Friday, April 25, 2008

Media Analysis

Kathleen McFadden
WMST 2000
25 April 2008
Finding the Perfect Balance:
Sex and the City’s Feminist Portrayal of Motherhood
Throughout the course of Women’s Studies, a key issue of discussion has been motherhood. There is a traditional debate on whether women belong at home with the children, tending to everyday housekeeping, or in the work force making a living alongside men. For a while it was unimaginable that a “good mother” could do both. From this perception, situation comedy shows emerged throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s that highlighted the feminine mystique and commitment to their families (Kutulas 15). The mothers in these shows were portrayed as loving women content with staying home to cook, clean, and tend to the children when they arrived home from school. As times have changed however, so have women’s roles. Women have gained much more power in society and with that, their roles as mothers have changed. This is portrayed clearly in the show Sex and the City by the character Miranda. Miranda depicts a working mother and the stress she experiences. In doing so, the program addresses many themes of feminism. Two characters in the cast of the show, Charlotte and Samantha, represent the social thoughts on motherhood vs. working, which was seen throughout the Second Wave Feminist Movement. In this paper, I will show that although many people say it can not be done, Miranda, over a period of time, portrays that there is such a thing as balance between the social binary of women being stay at home mothers or being successful in the workforce, and that it is a continual learning experience.
Throughout time, women have more than not been viewed as good caretakers, put on earth to bear and rear children. According to Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels,
“Woman over the past years have been dealing with the stereotypical idea that, women are, by genetic composition, nurturing and maternal, love all children, and prefer motherhood to anything, especially work, so should be the main ones responsible for raising the kids” (139).

It is almost as if being a mother was idolized and put on a pedestal at one point, as something glorious, natural, and instinctive. Because of this “theory” many women chose to stay at home, believing that raising and taking care of their family was the most important task in life.
It was not until more recent times, growing most between the 1960s and 1980s that women were actually seen in the workforce on a normal basis (Witwer 184). In 2004, women made up forty-six percent of the U.S. labor force. Although women are seen in the work place more in modern times, they still struggle to maintain their jobs, and make enough money (187). According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2005, the average man with Bachelor’s Degree made around $76,462 annually, while a woman with the same degree made only $50, 483. What is even more shocking is that in 2005, a man with a Doctorates Degree brought in a total of $116,617, while a woman only earned $83,208 that same year. A problem that many working women run into while working and making enough money is a leave for pregnancy. Studies show that starting in 1981 however, the trend for pregnancy paid benefits in the work place began (Witwer 184). However, the desire to be a good mother, and the expectations of society on how to carry out this task, hold many women back from ever returning to their careers, and instead making home-keeper their new job. Because of these society norms, when a working woman gets pregnant, she often feels as though she is left with a choice, which is so clearly depicted in the HBO series, Sex and the City.
In Season Four of Sex and the City, the red-haired witty character Miranda reveals to her three best friends over lunch that she is pregnant. What shocked audiences however, was that the young woman was pregnant out of wedlock. Not only that, but she was not even dating her child’s father at the time. This alone is what much of society is against, and what some Feminists are trying to change. Conversation around the breakfast table arises about an abortion. According to an S&F online article, this conversation in Episode 59 in Season Four was a bold move for producers, seeing as that in 1992 “… Vice President Dan Quayle reprimanded the sitcom character Murphy Brown for having a child out of wedlock” (Akass 1). It was also groundbreaking for Feminists. At this point Miranda is faced with the choice. Already, she poses as the less confident, over analyzing, and somewhat pessimistic member of the quartet. To complicate her predicament even more, Miranda had a very prestigious job working as an attorney in New York City. To juggle being pregnant and having a child would not really seem appealing to someone in this situation for many reasons.
Statistics show that most women conform to the same areas of the work force including service, sales, and secretarial jobs (Witwer 181). On the other hand, only sixteen percent of law firm partners in the United States are women (“2007 Best Law…”). In a workplace that is dominated by males, Miranda had managed to become part of this elite group of women partners, and not allow her Harvard education go to waste. Because of her lifestyle (a large apartment, single friends, nights on the town, and a fabulous job), Miranda is faced with a serious choice that is constantly brought up by two of her best friends who represent both feminist views on motherhood.
The writers of the show undoubtedly knew what they were doing by putting Charlotte’s character into the group. By portraying her as a woman whose main goal in life was marriage and children and constantly talking about it, she makes Miranda’s choice that much harder when she learns of her pregnancy (Tropp 863). Charlotte some what gives Miranda an ultimatum: Either have the baby, quit work, and stay at home, or do not have it (which really was not an option in her eyes) and keep working (864). With this plot line Judy Kutulas comments:
Baby-yearning plots emphasize the implicit
Backlash threat; pursue your career at your own risk if you are female
Because the day will come when you will want children and everything
Else you have achieved will pale by comparison (26).

It is ironic that right as Miranda finds out she is pregnant, Charlotte reveals that she, on the other hand, has fertility issues, and in fact may not be able to have children of her own. This revelation makes Miranda’s decision that much harder, because unlike her best friend, she does not want to be pregnant, but is scared she may never have the chance again. Most women are well aware of the fact that after turning thirty five, if pregnant, they are considered to be in a high risk pregnancy (Wallace). Miranda is aware that her opportunities to conceive again are slimming with each day, making her really ponder over the issue.
Quite on the opposite side are the feelings of Samantha. She, unlike Charlotte, is completely content with her promiscuous ways, and in fact has no interest in children. She is dominating and comfortable in her ways. Samantha is so convinced that children are not the answer to what is missing in life that she throws herself a “I Don’t Have a Baby Shower;” dismissing the biological discourse as well as the saying of the “have-it-all” discourse (Tropp 864). She is perfectly fine with only her friends and occasional sexual partners, and does not want to give up her luxury lifestyle. According to Laura Tropp, “Samantha is the hardest for Miranda to communicate and bond with because of her thoughts on the whole situation.” (864)
These contrasting viewpoints on motherhood leave Miranda with a choice at hand. Does she keep the baby or have the abortion? Does she “give up her life” as society tells her she will have to, or keep everything the same? It is through this that the viewer sees Miranda neither fully reject motherhood, nor fully embrace it (Tropp 865). Because of the societal beliefs that a woman can not manage both a child and a job, this raises confusion in her life-changing decision. She realizes that the expectations of motherhood and of herself to be a good mother and a good attorney, would be hard for her to balance; However, because of her worries that she will never again have an opportunity to conceive, Miranda decides not to abort the child, but at the same time refuses to give up her professional career.
Her pregnancy throughout the Season is not idolized or romantic in the least, which contradicts Charlotte’s views on motherhood. The writers de-romanticize it by showing the character in real-life situations that occur during pregnancy, instead of making her glowing and happy (Tropp 867). The program is showing a “realistic view of motherhood,” which undoubtedly addresses the feminist issue of de-romanticizing motherhood. Furthermore the program attributes to theories of third-wave feminism on single parenting. Miranda refuses Steve’s first proposal, and learns to be a mother on her own. The viewer sees her grow into a good hard-working mother, who has managed some how to juggle all her worries and stresses she accumulates in the last three seasons.
According to Laura Tropp, Miranda is the balance between the two opposite viewpoints on motherhood. She states that, “Sex and the City does not assign any one feminist perspective on the subject of motherhood but uses its characters to reflect differing viewpoints.” Through out this course I have learned that feminism is about a woman making her own choice and not following what society expects of her. In the first article we read in class entitled “What is Women’s Studies?” it states, “Feminism is continually developing a more multicultural and inclusive perspective, reflecting the lives of women of all races, ethnic groups, and classes” (12). After acquiring knowledge on the Third-Wave Feminist Movement, I believe that Miranda displays many of the Third Wave qualities. She disregards society’s beliefs and expectations and tackles motherhood and her career in her own unique way. I believe that because the show Sex and the City illustrates both viewpoints of feminist and motherhood and finds the medium that so many women look for in today’s society, Miranda is a unique character that embodies Feminism to its fullest, and displays that a woman does not have to choose but can instead do it all.

Works Cited

"2007 Best Law Firms for Women." Working Mother. 2008. Working Mother Media Inc.
22 Apr. 2008 .

Akass, Kim. “Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water: Miranda and the Myth of Maternal Instinct on Sex and the City”. The Scholar and Feminist Online. Ed. Lisa Johnson. The Barnard Center for Research on Women. 10 November 2007. <>

Bravo, Ellen, Gloria S. Anna, and Linda Meric. "An Overview of Women and Work."
Women Images and Realities. McGraw Hill: Higher Education. 180-184.

Douglas, Susan J. and Michaels, Meredith W. The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of
Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Kutulas, Judy. ‘‘‘Do I Look Like a Chick?’: Men, Women, and
Babies on Sitcom Maternity Stories.’’ American Studies 39.2 (1998):
15, 26.

Tropp, Laura. “Faking a Sonogram : Representations of Motherhood and Sex and the City”. The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 39, No. 5 (2006) 861 – 877.

“Two-Thirds of Women Now Work During Their First Pregnancy; Half Return to Work
Within One Year.” M. Witwer Family Planning Perspectives. 1990. Guttmacher Institute.

Wallace, Olivia. "What is High Risk Pregnancy." Pregnancy ETC. 2005. 21 Apr. 2008

"What is Women's Studies?" Women Images and Realities. McGraw Hill Higher
Education. 8-13.

No comments: