There's an article in today's Guardian asking Can a feminist really love Sex and the City? The short answer: yes. A woman's pop cultural affections often have very little to do with her belief system. But the other question implicit in this article would be "Is Carrie Bradshaw a proper feminist icon?" That question is more difficult to answer. One passage, where author Alice Wignall is making the argument against Bradshaw's feminist status, stood out to me: "[The] central relationship is clearly problematic. Mr Big is arrogant, egocentric and apparently unable to see a good thing when she is standing in front of him in four-inch heels. Carrie's own inability to wake up and realise what a terrible cliche she is dating renders her, at best, pretty dumb and, at worst, passive and weak." In some ways, Carrie's "problematic" love for a terminally egotistical man makes her very similar to a lot of the women in the feminist pantheon, specifically Simone de Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath, and Rebecca West.
Beauvoir had a famously open relationship with Sartre, but, as Lisa Appignanesi pointed out in the Guardian, Sartre was the one who insisted on sleeping with other people, and Beauvoir was the one who went along with it. According to Appignanesi, "In this lifelong relationship of supposed equals, he, it turned out, was far more equal than she was. It was he who engaged in countless affairs, to which she responded on only a few occasions with longer-lasting passions of her own. Between the lines of her fiction and what are in effect six volumes of autobiography, it is also evident that De Beauvoir suffered deeply from jealousy."
Sylvia Plath famously killed herself after fellow poet, husband Ted Hughes, left her for another woman. Plath had a history of mental illness and one prior suicide attempt, but her obsession with Ted and his betrayal arguably hastened her demise. Although she pursued her own career with vibrant ambition, she still typed his manuscripts for him.
Rebecca West was a 20-year-old, up and coming critic and journalist when she met H.G. Wells. They began a passionate love affair that would last a decade. What's the problem with that? Wells already had a wife, and several children. When West became pregnant out of wedlock with Wells' baby (a big deal when it happened in 1913), she decided to keep the child. According to the book, after she told Wells she would bear their child, An Affair To Remember: The Greatest Love Stories of All Time, "Most of the adjustments were made by Rebecca. She moved from rented house to rented house. She had nothing but Wells — from time to time — and her writing." Most of the time, Wells remained at home with his wife.
The moral of this story is, many great feminists were not so "feminist" in their love lives, and no one can be a shining example of any -ism 24/7. (The verdict is still out on whether or not Carrie's a "feminist" considering the entirety of her "self" is constructed around her love life. Her shoes remain fantastic, though.)
Can A Feminist Really Love Sex And The City? [Guardian]
'Our Relationship Was The Greatest Achievement Of My Life' [Guardian]
An Affair To Remember: The Greatest Love Stories of All Time [Google Books]