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How Sex And The City Shaped A Generation

10 Min Read
Culture

The first time I saw Sarah Jessica Parker sauntering across a New York City sidewalk in a tulle ballerina skirt, I was starstruck. It was something about the bounce in her step, the quirkiness of her outfit, and her fierce challenge of convention that spoke to me— and actually influenced my future choices. After inhaling season after season on an epic weekend binge, I knew two things:


1. I had to move to New York and 2. I wanted to be a writer. The show also chipped away at the dating process that had been instilled in me— meet a man, go steady, get married, procreate. I suddenly felt that it was OK, and even enviable, to find yourself single in your thirties. In many ways, Sex and The City took the pressure off, and reminded me to worry about me.

In the years after SATC, the themes covered in the show are now commonplace. Women are getting married later than ever (on average at age 27), earning more than ever (despite there still being a gender gap, which is a different article), and the female movement is raging intensely. For those young Gen Xs/mature millennials (pick your poison) like me, the impact made by our favorite show was a deep one. Even if it's maybe problematic these days... Thanks to an imperfect set of protagonists, provocative fashions, and relatable story lines inspired by the actual lives of female writers, women my age have been free to seek satisfaction through self development, careers and friendships, rather than relationships alone.

Dressing The Part

SATC gave women a chance to openly express what they were going through and what they were thinking," says the show's illustrious fashion designer, Patricia Field, who famously paid only $5 for that opening credits tulle skirt. “It was liberating to achieve this. It was a show that put women on the center stage."

Field, the recipient of an Emmy (and no less than five additional nominations for multiple SATC episodes) and a number of Costume Designers Guild Awards for her work on the series, told SWAAY she did her best to use the distinctive personalities of the four main characters to imbue the series with a focus on the self.

“I wanted to communicate the idea that women can discover their own originality in the way they dress themselves," says Field. “Women identified with the four individual characters, and tended to pick up iconic cues from their styles. I continued to present edited ideas, always focusing on the character identity."

The show's focus on individualism was perhaps best illustrated through the protagonists themselves, each living a life so directional and differentiated that one could discern personality traits even from an outfit choice or apartment decor. When asked to describe the look of each main character in one word, Field laughs: “Not sure I can really stick to just one word, [but here goes:] Carrie - eclectic and original; Samantha - sexy and outspoken; Charlotte - the girl men take home to mother (7 words, haha); and Miranda - assertive." Bottom line, there was always a style, and a character, to relate to.

“As costume designer I like to look forward to look ahead. I think the SATC girls illustrated [what was happening in New York City fashion] in the most perfect way." -Patricia Field

Why We Love These Women

Fashion aside, the show's main characters were also intrinsically vulnerable. The character arcs were such that through the course of an episode we would see one of them on the highest of highs (say, a chance meeting with a handsome stranger) only to fall back to earth by the end of it (when you realize he's a compulsive book thief). Through the humor we learned to laugh at the absurdities of life and through Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte's imperfections, we learned to embrace our own.

Carrie, who asks a total of 92 questions throughout the series, is perhaps the one who draws us in the most. Covering everything from religion to social status to motherhood, these open-ended thought-starters echoed our own experiences and helped us prepare for what was to come.

"The monologues invite you in," says internet personality, Dan Clay, AKA Carrie Dragshaw, highlighting that the many questions of the series further make the show take hold. "They anchor in Carrie's specific experience, but quickly shift to the language of "we" and "some girls." They ask a lot of questions that force the audience to shake their heads. They rarely make statements, but end with 'maybes...' and force you to agree to complete the thought; they demand involvement. It requires your perspective. And your perspective might change through the years, so the episodes, in a way, do too."

Clay, who by day works in strategy and innovation consulting for financial firms, says he stumbled upon his Carrie Bradshaw moonlighting side gig after dressing as her for Halloween one year. "I posted a picture of my costume on Instagram, with no aspirations of Insta-fame, just expecting to make a few friends smile," says Clay, who has built a cult following of more than 70K through his head-turning side-by-side Carrie photos. "Somehow, someway, the picture went 'viral,' was reposted by a few Sex and the City fan sites, and a lot of people said really really nice things (including SJP!) [The account] seemed like a delightful way for me to push a little positivity into the world."

They are these four complicated characters grounded in simple archetypes: The cynical careerist, the unfiltered libertine, the in-love-with-love prude, and the fabulous romantic. You can reduce it all to, "Are you a Carrie / Charlotte / Miranda / Samantha?" That simplicity is huge to draw you in. - Dan Clay

Even 15 years after the show went off the air, Carrie and her posse are still capturing the imaginations of Gen Xers and Millennials alike. Instagram accounts like @everyoutfitonSATC and @sexandthecity_newyork entertain millions of women with modern day musings on the show's iconic fashion statements and little known factoids, while others like Clay focus on recreation. To nail each photo, Clay enlists a trusted group of friends who help him style and shoot his uncanny images, as a homage to the emotional impact he says was given to him by the series.

Sex and the City Was More Than Just A Show

“I was in the closet during the original airing of Sex and the City," Clay tells SWAAY. "Because the show is so glittery and fashion-based and classically feminine, I never really allowed myself to like it. So when I did come around to it, simply the act of enjoying Sex and the City felt like a minor expression of self-love. It also reminded me to focus as much on my friends as I do on my love life."

For Clay, who admits he watches episodes "the way an MFA student analyzes Eugene O'Neill," one of the biggest draws towards the Carrie Bradshaw persona is the fact that in many ways she is an anti-hero, and her mistakes make us say "Same." Among Clay's most cringe-worthy Carrie blunders is the moment Carrie interrupts Natasha's lunch to apologize for her affair with Big. "She is so so self-centered in this interaction, she even steals Natasha's water," says Clay. "It's uncomfortable, but it's what makes Carrie not just relatable but interesting."

"Sure, she has some great things to say about friendship, and self-love, and embracing imperfection, and moving on, but she has a lot of very human flaws: the neediness, the self-centeredness," says Clay. "She's not always a great friend, she's certainly not always a great girlfriend, and in a sometimes uncomfortable way that causes you to question your connection to her. That, to me, is what makes her a fascinating character. She's wrestling with love's biggest questions, and not always responding in an admirable way. Human flaws in fabulous shoes."

The Power Of Sex And The City

So, on a larger scale, how far does Carrie's reach actually go? According to Antonia Hall, MA., psychologist, relationship expert and author of the Sexy Little Guide books and The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life, Carrie, like That Girl's Marlo Thomas, Murphy Brown's Candice Bergen (also a Sex and The City star) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show's eponymous main character, effectively pushes boundaries via an honest relationship with the viewer. Although none of these game-changing protagonists were perfect, they served as personifications of safe space, and we sympathized enough to come back to them by the end of each episode.

“One show can definitely have an impact on a generation," says Hall, naming The Mary Tyler Moore Show as revolutionary when it came out in 1970, as it showcased a woman in the workplace, and addressed issues like abortion and birth control pills.

"More women entering the workplace saw Mary as a role model, envying her cozy apartment and vibrant friendships," wrote Hope Reese in The Atlantic. "The show moved away from the domestic sphere, featuring a woman in an office."

Thanks to Mary, womankind would never be the same. And thanks to Carrie, the torch was passed on.

My favorite moments in Sex and the City are when the characters express their independence, and demonstrate that you can be perfectly happy and fulfilled even when you're single. (When Samantha says, 'I love you. But I love me more.') - Dan Clay

A compelling protagonist is not the only thing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Sex And The City have in common. Perhaps the most notable commonality is the fact that there were actual women behind the scenes crafting episodes based on their personal experiences. For MTM's part, 25 of the show's 75 writers were women (a progressive ratio at the time), while at Sex And The City, a rotating team of writers (comprised heavily of women) interpreted Candice Bushnell's best-selling tome via the lens of their own lives.

"There were so many subjects explored that really hit home, many of them still so relevant," says Jasmine Lobe, the writer who "inherited" Carrie's column AKA Bushnell's sex column at The Observer which she called "The J-Spot." "The column and the show certainly impacted my life in a very big way. It was quite intimidating at first, so I really had to make it my own."

Lobe, who worked as an actor before stepping into Carrie's proverbial Manolos, says that although she was was hesitant to talk about sex and dating on the record, she eventually found the process cathartic, and empowering. "[The show] paved the way for writers like me to explore sex, relationships and social satire without it being taboo," says Lobe. "I was able to take more chances because of it. And while it is never easy to write about one's own sex life publicly, it was more of a personal challenge for me than societal. My readers are receptive and often very supportive so that made it easier to really put myself out there, and in part, that's because of Candace Bushnell and also Lena Dunham."Covering topics that range from matchmaking to egg donation to dating while feminist, Lobe is dedicated to using her voice to bring important issues to light, and facilitate conversation among women. And, while there may be some conflicting views on whether bedding 94 men in a 94-episode series is egregious or empowering, for Lobe, an avid crusader for women's rights, open dialogue about sex frees women, and ultimately uplifts them.

I think overall [the show] helped the women's movement because when women come together, that's a powerful thing," she says. "That's how great change is made. Look at what's happening right now with the sexual harassment stories. It's women banding together, and speaking their truth that's creating such waves. These harassment stories have shown how very toxic patriarchy can be. Although it's a painful moment in history, I think ultimately, we will all be so much healthier for it, as men and women come together in more loving and empowered ways.

Each of the women was trying to find fulfillment in life and the bedroom in their own ways, which is very relatable - Antonia Hall

Would the Women's Movement have charged on without Ms. Bradshaw? Yes. But, we cannot deny that Carrie and her three soulmates helped push once unacceptable conversation topics out of the shadows and into the forefront. Thanks to episodes that explored modern life from the lens of a woman's satisfaction with it, the world saw that women more than passive images of sexuality. Instead, we seek lives that fulfill us on a deep level, and we embrace the ability to condemn or walk way from anything that displeases us. When I look back on my college-age decision to follow in the footsteps of the fashionable columnist, I can't help but wonder: "Is there a little Carrie in all of us?"

This piece was originally published on December 3, 2017.

Business

Taking My Own Advice: How I Learned To Let Go Of The Things That Are Out Of My Control

It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.


One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."

The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.

What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.

How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.

As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.

I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.

So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.

I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.

Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.

It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.

We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.

In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.

We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.

I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!

And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.

During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.

It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.