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Making Strides:
Manolo Blahniks and Postfemininity in Sex and the City

In the episode “What Goes Around Comes Around,” of the third season of Sex and the City, the character of Carrie Bradshaw takes “a wrong turn looking for the right shoes” and finds herself face to face with a mugger. After taking her Fendi bag, as if that wasn’t distressing enough, the assailant orders, “And your Manolo Blahniks.” Up until this point, Carrie has been upset, but compliant. This is too much, though. “No,” she begs, “Please sir, they’re my favorite pair.” As he runs off with Carrie’s things, she starts yelling for help, “Somebody stop him. He took my strappy sandals.” This encounter is telling on a number of levels, as it not only highlights Carrie’s love of shoes, specifically Manolos, but more significantly, demonstrates the status that Manolos have now reached in our popular culture, a status I would attribute in large part due to Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City. During its run, viewers and fashion journalists alike would tune in each week to see what the characters were wearing, and although the styles would evolve over the seasons, Carrie and her Manolos were a staple throughout. However important the role of fashion is, though, Sex and the City is first, and foremost, a postfeminist exploration of single women living in New York City. Well-received by critics and audiences alike, the show provides refreshing, positive alternatives to white, heteronormative models of monogamy and family. For many women, Prince Charming hasn’t come yet, and more importantly, they aren’t even sure if they want him to. Of course, no show is without its detractors, and many, aligning fashion with one of the more frivolous natures of femininity, pose the question, “How do you respect a television show that has its main character willingly spending $400 on a pair of shoes?” Or, more bluntly, “How feminist can a show really be when its main characters are teetering around on three-inch heels?” While it would be easy to dismiss what I term, “the Manolo factor,” to fetishism, masochism, or woman-as-slave-to-fashion, I instead argue for a more nuanced reading, one in which shoes, specifically those like Manolo Blahnik, serve as symbolic representations of postfeminine female independence. Using semiotics and postfeminine theory to analyze the episodes “The Good Fight,” “Ring a Ding Ding,” and “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” I will show how this motif is established and developed throughout the series, specifically through the main character, Carrie Bradshaw.

More than just its title suggests, Sex and the City is a television show about women – their friendships, their sex lives, and their experiences living in New York City. Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is the main protagonist of the show, the central character linking together her three, distinctive friends: Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones. Carrie, the aforementioned lover of Manolos and fashion, is a sex columnist for the fictional paper The New York Star. It is through the lens of her columns that each episode is shaped. A quirky mix of style and the-girl-next door, Carrie, through her honesty and imperfections, is the character with which audiences can most readily identify. Cynthia Nixon plays Miranda, a cynical attorney who asserts her independence as a woman almost to a fault, yet is ultimately able to reconcile that independence with motherhood and even marriage. Charlotte, in sharp contrast, is a hopeless romantic who believes in the fairy tale version of love. Played by Kristen Davis, Charlotte develops over the years to realize that fantasy rarely matches reality, and that appearances don’t count for nearly as much as substance. Rounding out the quartet is Kim Cattral’s sex-loving, PR executive, Samantha Jones. Slightly older, and certainly more promiscuous than her friends, Samantha is a self-proclaimed “tri-sexual”; she’ll try anything once.

Before we look at specific episodes, I want to situate Sex and the City within third wave, or postfeminist, discourse. In its representation of strong, independent single women, Sex and the City shows us the results of the feminist movement and women’s liberation. These are women who have sex freely; enjoy stable, rewarding careers; and have reinvented the notion of family with a focus on female friendship. As described above, these are very different women, yet each in her own way is an embodiment of feminism. Having entered adulthood well past the 1970s women’s lib movement, they are a reflection of an era of women who have been told they can be whomever they want to be. As Astrid Henry reminds us “with this focus on individualism, feminism becomes reduced to one issue: choice.” The concept of choice is a cornerstone of postfeminism, seen as both a well-deserved right and an easy to use scapegoat. Deprived of choice for centuries, American women were often forced into lives and situations that they did not want. In light of this fact, choice appears a very positive thing. However, postfeminism has often been criticized for this very concept. “Choice,” as the argument goes, is merely a convenient excuse to explain and justify any situation or behavior.

Perhaps, then, as Jane Gerhard notes, “a more useful model of understanding postfeminism, both historically and in the present, is to see it as a negotiation of antifeminist and feminist thought in and through popular representations of women.” Using this definition, I would like to examine postfeminist negotiations of independence and fashion. Beginning with independence, Ashley Nelson states that Sex and the City “makes a persuasive case for single life, but also for the need to expand notions of the family in ways that accommodate recent changes in women’s lives.” Although by the time the series ended both Charlotte and Miranda were married, throughout most of the series, the emphasis was on the singleness of the characters. While their independence was most obviously demonstrated by their lack of husbands, more subtly it was reinforced by their lack of traditional family. Parents were never seen, and only barely mentioned; their family was not of blood, but of friendship, one they created.

Setting the characters up this way gives them both a sense of security and freedom. Security in the sense that they know there will always be someone there for them, and freedom in the sense that they are not bound by the traditional notions of family (i.e., husbands and children). An obvious result of this situation is sexual sovereignty. In looking at this freedom in relation to choice, the series explores the meaning of women’s sexual equality in the wake of the social and cultural achievements of second wave feminism. Modern women like Carrie and her friends, choosing to look sexy and flirt, are more innocent, stylistic, and “unrelated to the operations of social power and authority.” Women, as Gerhard discusses, can work, talk, and have sex “like men” while still maintaining all the privileges associated with being an attractive woman.

Here Gerhard neatly relates the three themes that I would like to discuss in relation to Sex and the City: postfemininity; independence; and fashion. As Gerhard states, and with which I agree, postfemininity allows women to choose the type of relationships they want, and in doing so, represent themselves in the ways they want, without there necessarily being implications of politics or power. Or, put more bluntly, women can have both brains and beauty. When issues of “social power or authority” do come up, as in the episode “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” it is most often the case that Carrie and her friends are seen resisting (as in this case, through fashion) ideological pressure, rather than succumbing to it. Before developing this theme more thoroughly, it is important to note, following Astrid Henry, “that while the program offers an important alternative to mainstream media images of female sexuality and sexual pleasure, its vision of empowerment is severely limited by the fact that all four of its protagonists are white, heterosexual, thin, conventionally attractive and, importantly, economically well off.”

Keeping this in mind, then, I would like to continue my discussion with awareness that this particular form of postfemininity is structured within the confines of cultural distinctions of race and class.

For the women of Sex and the City who enjoy privileges of race and class, matrimony no longer becomes an expectation, but an option. Without the binds of marriage and motherhood, women are free to act, dress, and consume, as they please. With its emphasis on fashion, Sex and the City’s “postfeminism is a manifestation of part of the spirit of capitalism being displaced to the intimate life” argues Stephanie Harzewski. As a result of this displacement, a heavy emphasis in Sex and the City is on fashion, particularly clothing, bags, and shoes. Since the goal of these women is not marriage, fashion becomes less about dressing for a man, and more about femininity as a masquerade. With each new outfit, bag, hat, or shoe, the characters can take on a new identity. Dressing for themselves, then, becomes an experiment in identity, an identity independent of a man. According to Harzewski, this model of “postcompulsory heterosexuality, in which women question romance and often remain single . . . marries into a new phase of capitalism, compulsory style, wherein men are discussed in terms of accessories and courtship in the idiom of business.” Aligning men with fashion, and reducing them to “accessories,” plays with the identification of the audience’s gaze and assumptions of “to-be-looked-at-ness.” If the power of the gaze is taken away from the man, then the power is transferred to the woman, who can choose what to do and wear for her own personal reasons.

In reading postfemininity and Sex in the City in terms of “gaze,” Jane Arthurs argues:


It assumes women in the audience are invited to share this male gaze to the extent that it is internalized in women’s narcissistic relation to their own bodies. This objectifies women’s bodies and renders them powerless. In a counter-argument, feminine cultures of consumerism and fashion have been considered as a source of pleasure and power that is potentially resistant to male control. Indeed they can offer women an alternative route to self-esteem and autonomy that overcomes the damaging division that second-wave feminism constructs between feminism and femininity.

Here Arthurs demonstrates how postfemininity offers an alternative reading to the classic argument put forth by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Rather than identify with male viewers in objectifying the female characters, or take narcissistic pleasure in their images, female viewers can regard the characters’ fashions as models of their individuality and markers of their independence and wealth. As Anna König phrases it, “Indeed, this attitude neatly exemplifies post-feminist thinking within contemporary academic discussion of fashion: dressing up equals fun, and fun equals empowerment.”

Therefore, Carrie and her friends, according to Helen Richards, “are the post-feminist, postmodern version of femininity, where economic, intellectual and sexual liberation has been achieved, thus allowing them to engage in a glamorous consumption of men and clothes.” More than this, though, fashion becomes integral to the story as it both defines the characters and symbolizes their autonomy. In this sense, states Arthurs, “the clothes and shoes become expressions of the different moods and personalities of embodied, empathetic characters in an authentic setting.” For Stella Bruzzi and Pamela Church, Carrie’s conspicuous consumption of designer clothes, her violent yoking together of clashing sartorial styles, and her fetishisation of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals not only define her personality but also illustrate how fashion becomes an essential component of the series as a whole.

The idea of a fetish becomes interesting when taken from the female perspective. Historically fetishisation has been linked with men, with the fetish being a symbol and/or part of the frightening or unattainable (female) whole. In objectifying the female body with a fetish, the man takes on a role of power. In a reversal of this role, the fetish acts as a substitute for the man. Hence, a designer stiletto shoe, Carrie’s trademark obsession, is different. It’s always there to be possessed, offering a fetish substitute for the satisfactions denied by men. For Arthurs, the autoeroticism legitimated by the narcissistic structure of the look in consumer culture offers the possibility of doing without men at all. This line of reasoning offers a theoretical model of shoes as a symbol of female independence. Taking this out of the realm of the theoretical, I will now discuss how the show supports this theory with textual evidence.

“The Good Fight,” episode thirteen of season four, marks the first time Carrie has ever allowed a man, her fiancé Aidan, to move into her apartment. The first scene immediately sets up Carrie’s anxiety about the situation. The camera pans Carrie’s apartment – Aidan’s boxes are everywhere, crowding the floor and leading straight to the door. The camera pans up from the floor to Carrie’s front door, and as Carrie attempts to enter, the door is prevented from opening all the way due to the boxes. As she struggles to enter, and attempts to ask what’s going on, Aidan, who is sitting by the door says, “Hey pop tart. Where ya been and whatcha been doing?” His innocent interrogation of Carrie is his loving way of greeting her, but it is also representative of the larger problem. Carrie is not only crowded by Aidan’s things, but she is crowded by Aidan, himself. She cannot get her body or words past him, without his inquiry of where she has been and what she has been doing.

As she answers Aidan’s question, the camera pans down her body, highlighting her struggle to squeeze past Aidan’s belongings in an attempt to enter the apartment. The camera pauses when it reaches Carrie’s feet. Clad in flip flops, an unusual and rare choice for her, she gets up on tiptoes and navigates her way in. This shot is significant as it uses synecdoche to visually show Aidan’s encroachment on Carrie’s freedom. Her feet, a representation of Carrie, and more significantly her independence, literally have to distort themselves in order to make room for Carrie among Aidan’s things. Further, Carrie is almost never seen in flats. This suggests that there is something unnatural about this situation, and it is no coincidence that she has to get on tiptoes, the position feet take when wearing heels, to navigate her space more comfortably.

Finally in the apartment, Aidan explains to Carrie that he has made himself “an area,” a space for his work papers and things. They continue to discuss the cramped situation, with Aidan attempting to assuage Carrie’s obvious angst, reminding her that the closing will take place soon on the apartment next door, and that they will then be able to expand. The premise behind the move is that Aidan has purchased Carrie’s apartment and the apartment next door, and that he will break down the walls between the apartments, making a larger home for the two of them. Of course, the tearing down of the walls of the apartments is symbolic of Aidan’s attempts at tearing down the walls of Carrie’s independence. As the conversation continues, and Carrie makes her way through the apartment, she relaxes, saying, “I mean, really, what’s the problem, right, it’s just boxes, right.” As the words leave her mouth, the camera zooms in on a bright, green plant on Carrie’s table. The camera focuses on the plant a second more, before the scene quickly jumps to Carrie at lunch with her friends, saying, “A plant. The man brought a living thing into my apartment. I don’t do plants; I kill everything I bring in there.” Although this exchange does not relate directly with the theme of shoes and independence, it is important in foreshadowing the next scene between Aidan and Carrie, as well as foreshadowing the relationship between Aidan and Carrie. If Carrie “kills” everything she brings into her apartment, this does not bode well for the fate of her relationship with Aidan.

As the episode progresses, Carrie meet up with Mrs. Cohen, the elderly neighbor from whom Aidan is buying the apartment next door. As Carrie slowly helps the woman down the stairs, Mrs. Cohen says, “Listen. You tell your boy that I’m not leaving for thirty days.” Carrie, obviously distressed by this new development, thinks to herself, “I didn’t think Mrs. Cohen could move any slower.” At this point there is a pause in the voiceover narration and the camera pans down to Mrs. Cohen’s feet. The scene ends focused on the feet of Mrs. Cohen, Miranda, and Carrie, with the voiceover continuing to say, “But, apparently, she could.” Although Mrs. Cohen is old, and walks with a cane, she is still walking. She asserts her right to stay in the apartment an additional thirty days, and this, juxtaposed with the images of the women’s feet, nicely continues the metaphor of independence.

This metaphor carries over to the next scene. Cutting from the shot of Mrs. Cohen’s feet, the next shot is Carrie’s heeled foot trying to squeeze into the apartment. Similar to the first scene of the episode, Carrie’s struggle coincides with Aidan saying, “Hey gal. What’s up? Where you been and what do you know?” Again, Aidan’s good natured questioning is in contrast to Carrie’s displeasure at being unable to enter the apartment.

After Carrie delivers Mrs. Cohen’s message to Aidan, he too expresses his displeasure at their current living situation. Thrilled that she is not alone in this, Carrie and Aidan embrace over their shared misery. This is short lived, though, as Aidan suggests that a remedy for the problem would be for Carrie to clean her closet to make room for him. With this suggestion, the camera zooms in on Carrie’s panic-stricken face. A nondiegetic gong sounds in the background, further highlighting Carrie’s distress at this situation. Moving in is one thing, but messing with Carrie’s closet is entirely another.

The scene cuts from Carrie’s panicked look to Aidan’s feet coming down a stepladder. The casual look of Aidan’s black Converse sneakers not only serves to highlight the difference between his shoes and the shoes of Carrie that he is taking down from the closet, but highlights the bigger differences between the two of them. The camera pans up from his feet, revealing Aidan struggling with a tower of shoe boxes. As he makes his way down, a shoe falls, and Carrie screams out “careful.” She is, of course, referring to the safety of the shoes, not of her boyfriend, as is made clear by the looks on both her and Aidan’s faces.

The next scene that takes place is the pivotal scene of the episode. One of the longest continuous scenes in the entire series’ history, it uses Carrie’s love and obsession regarding shoes to highlight the differences between her and Aidan, and to represent how Aidan and his lifestyle are a threat to Carrie and her independence. Carrie begins by explaining to Aidan, “Listen to me. I have laid out clean towels on the floor of the bathroom. Gently, place the shoes and boxes on them.” Aidan, although he looks less than pleased, does as he is instructed. Aidan is the quintessential “good guy.” He loves Carrie, not in spite of her quirks, but because of them.

While he is dutifully doing what he is told, Carrie picks up the shoe Aidan had dropped, and says, “Oh wow, I forgot I had these. Things are looking up.” She then takes off the shoes she is wearing and tries on the fallen one. Aidan, meanwhile, asks, “How many pairs of shoes does one person need?” Carrie responds, “That is not the way to get out of this alive.” For Carrie, shoes are a matter of life and death. Aidan leaves the bathroom, going back to Carrie and the closet. As he comes toward her, Carrie kisses the shoe she is holding. While this gesture is quick and seems off-hand, it actually says a lot for the scene. By kissing the shoe, and not Aidan, Carrie is showing her love for the object and not the man. However, as she quickly puts the shoe down, it is also symbolic of her kissing the shoe goodbye, and the lifestyle it represents.

The conversation between Carrie and Aidan turns away from the shoes on to the topic of Carrie’s clothes. Aidan wants Carrie to get rid of some of her clothing to make room for his things. Carrie is reluctant to do this and the two begin to bicker over an outfit. Aidan walks past Carrie and she thinks, “That’s when I realized I was holding onto a Roberto Cavalli outfit and throwing away my relationship.” Struck by the poignancy of this, Carrie concedes and puts the outfit in a bag to throw away.

Immediately after doing this, she walks toward the bathroom. As she gets closer, the look on her face becomes increasingly anxious, and the camera quickly cuts from Carrie’s face to Pete, Aidan’s dog, lying on the bathroom floor, chewing on one of Carrie’s strappy heeled shoes. Carrie becomes visibly upset and starts screaming, her voice escalating as the camera zooms in on the dog’s mouth, with the shoe in it visibly marked as a Manolo Blahnik. As the camera cuts back and forth between Carrie’s anguish and the dog’s continual chewing, Aidan rushes into the room. He scares away the dog, and Carrie, near tears, says, “Don’t show it to me, don’t even show it to me. That better not be the pair I think.” Aidan picks up the shoe, as Carrie looks at it and yells, “Oh, God damn it.” Savvy viewers will recognize that this is a shoe that Carrie wore in the first episode of season three. This not only establishes history, but lends credibility to the scene. Carrie’s sadness quickly turns to anger and she snatches the shoe from Aidan, telling him, “That dog owes me $380.” Aidan, slightly exasperated, but trying not to show anger, responds, “Fine.” Carrie, still upset, replies, “You can’t buy it. It’s circa 1996.”

Carrie continues to be upset, and at this point Aidan leaves the bathroom in disgust, saying, “It’s a dog. What’s he supposed to do with all your shit lying around here?” Carrie, her anger rising, counters Aidan by saying, “My shit wouldn’t be lying around if we weren’t making room because your shit is lying around.” This, of course, is what is really at stake between the two. Carrie’s attachment to her clothing and shoes is really an attachment to her single life. Pete, chewing on her Manolo, represents Aidan’s attempt to share Carrie’s apartment, and more importantly, a piece of her life. The fight escalates between the two, culminating with Carrie walking out and Aidan kicking a pile of her shoe boxes.

As the episode progresses, the two eventually make up. However, the last scene of the episode has Carrie leaving the apartment, wearing the contested Roberto Cavalli outfit she was supposed to throw out. Instead, in her hand she holds the plant that Aidan brought to the apartment which is now dead. The voiceover narration concludes, “As our thirty days wore on, Aidan and I miraculously managed to not kill each other. But, as I predicted, the plant was not so lucky.” As the audience hears this, the visual is of Carrie walking down the steps of her apartment, in heels. She stops to drop the plant into a nearby garbage can and continues down the steps. The episode closes with the image of Carrie happily strolling down the street, alone. The contrast between the outfit and plant highlights the struggle between single Carrie and relationship Carrie, with single Carrie appearing to win. This will be confirmed two episodes later, when unable to overcome their differences, Aidan and Carrie call off their engagement.

The next episode I wish to analyze takes place immediately after the breakup of Carrie and Aidan. The episode begins with Carrie’s voiceover saying, “A girl in pigtails once said, ‘There’s no place like home.’” This sets up one of the themes of the episode, the concept of “home.” Carrie, whose hair is in pigtails at the beginning of the episode, sets herself up in comparison to Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, highlighting her desire, like Dorothy’s, to return to a sense of home, to safety. For Carrie, this thought occurs as Aidan is leaving, moving out his final things from her apartment. In losing Aidan, she has lost her emotional home, her sense of security. As she soon finds out, she is also about to lose her literal home. Aidan is giving her thirty days to decide if she wants to buy her apartment from him, or vacate.

Discussing this with her friends, Carrie declares, “Vacate? I’m homeless. I’ll be a bag lady. A Fendi bag lady, but a bag lady.” Here Carrie highlights her problem that will be the theme throughout the rest of the episode. Carrie has invested all her money in fashion, so while she may have a magnificent wardrobe, she’ll have no place for it because she has no money, no savings, to put a down payment on her apartment.

As the discussion moves away from Carrie’s apartment problems, she tells her friends that she gave Aidan back the engagement ring, “It was the right thing to do,” and asks Charlotte if she ever thought about giving her engagement ring back to her estranged husband. Charlotte replies, “No, I love that ring.” Carrie continues to speak, but the camera stays focused on Charlotte’s confused expression, as the viewer infers she is mentally questioning her decision to keep her ring.

From this, the scene quickly cuts to Charlotte at a jewelry store getting her engagement ring appraised and learning about different options for resetting the stone. Deciding to leave the ring as is, she exits the store, telling the clerk, “I just don’t think I’m ready for this.” This action is important in setting up a dichotomy between the characters Charlotte and Carrie and will also figure heavily in with the plot as the episode progresses.

The juxtaposition of these two characters continues in the next few scenes, as Carrie is deemed an “undesirable” candidate for a bank loan, and Charlotte has difficulty finding a job. After we see Charlotte hanging up the phone, having failed to obtain a position at an art gallery, Carrie’s voiceover narration states, “Meanwhile, a woman with far fewer financial worries was also contemplating her worth.” Charlotte takes her engagement ring out, putting it on her finger and admiring it, with the voiceover continuing, “Charlotte knew the ring didn’t mean as much now that she was no longer with Trey, but on that particularly low Thursday, she put on her 2.71 carat diamond and wandered around her 2.71 carat Park Avenue apartment.” The scene concludes with Charlotte aimlessly walking around her apartment, finally pausing again to stare at the ring on her finger. Here, the comparison between Carrie and Charlotte expands to show how Charlotte received her apartment in her separation agreement with her husband, whereas Carrie has to pay for hers. Charlotte, wandering around looking aimlessly at her ring, reflects her unease at her situation and confusion over what to do now that she is no longer married. While Carrie’s dilemma is financial, and in that sense more urgent, Charlotte’s problems are emotionally as heavy and equal to Carrie’s.

The next scene with Carrie shows her shoe shopping with Miranda. As she longingly wanders the store, lingering over the shoes, she laments, “Oh, this is torture. Why are you doing this to me? I can’t buy shoes.” Highlighting her obsession, she picks out four pairs of shoes to try on, but tells the salesman, “Under no circumstances am I to buy these. I’m just trying them on for fun.” Although she claims it is “just for fun,” which for Carrie, shoes are, it is also obvious that Carrie’s love of shoes is something more serious. If there is any doubt to this, her subsequent conversation makes it clear.

As the two sit down to wait for their shoes to try on, Carrie tells Miranda how the bank called her an unattractive loan candidate. She asks Miranda, “Where did all my money go? I know I made some.” As she is saying this, she is examining yet another high heel. Miranda, talking the shoe from Carrie, asks, “Uh, at four hundred bucks a pop, how many of them do you have? 50?” Carrie makes a face of indignation, saying, “Come on.” The camera cuts back to Miranda, who counters, “A hundred? The camera, with a counter shot back on Carrie, shows she is unashamed, as she asks, “Would that be wrong?” Miranda, who it is important to note, never judges in this scene, hands the shoe back to Carrie, stating, “One hundred time four hundred, there’s your down payment.” Carrie takes the shoe, and replies “Well, that’s only $4,000.” To which Miranda explains, “No, it’s $40,000.” At this, Carrie is shocked. The camera focuses in on her wide-eyed expression of surprise. She inhales sharply and says, “I spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live. I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes.” Here, Carrie is faced with the very real implications of her shopping, a shopping that may not be wrong in its existence, but in this instance proves detrimental in its excess. Carrie is also forced to examine, for the first time, the very real consequences of the choices she has made in her life, which include not only shoe shopping, but breaking up with Aidan.

Deciding she must take some sort of action, the next scene cuts to Carrie apartment hunting. The scene opens from the point of view of inside of a closet, with the real estate agent, then Carrie, coming into view. It is a small, reach-in closet, with a few bent hangers hanging from the bar. Before Carrie speaks, or is even seen, it is known that she will hate it. It is tiny, cramped, and dismal, much like, we are to suspect, the apartment is. It is important that this is the first thing we see in the scene, as the closet is the first thing that Carrie would look at in an apartment. She steps up to it, and asks, “That’s a closet? Where do the shoes go?” The real estate agent responds, “You get one of those racks that hang on the door.” Carrie walks away, muttering, “I’ll hang myself on the door if I have to live here.” Her dislike of the closet, and ultimately the apartment, speaks to her situation as a whole. To move, to leave the apartment she loves, would be more than a loss of a space, but the loss of a certain lifestyle, one in which she is in control of her decisions and choices. The small apartment, with its small closet, represents her being forced into something that she does not want. Without the literal space for her clothing and shoes, there is little room for the metaphorical space for her personality and independence.

With seemingly nowhere else to turn, Carrie goes to her ex-boyfriend, Big, for help. The scene begins with Carrie as a vision in white, as she enters Big’s office in a white Channel suite, with a white bag, and matching gloves. Her outfit symbolizes her purity and innocence when it comes to money, but also is a nice contrast given Carrie’s situation, considering it is Channel and probably cost at least two month’s rent. Carrie does not go to Big asking for money, but rather for help in acquiring money. The scene ends with Big saying, “Simple. I’ll tell you how to get the money.”

The next shot cuts to Carrie out to dinner with her friends, telling them, “Big offered me the money for my down payment.” As the girls weigh in on whether she should accept it or not, Miranda strongly advises Carrie against it, explaining, “When a man gives you money, you give him control.” She and Samantha, instead, offer to give Carrie the money. Shocked that they would have it, Carrie asks, “What, does no one else shoe shop?” For Carrie, it is unbelievable to think that someone would be able to save up that amount of money. Given the characters’ careers, though, it is not out of the realm of possibility. Ultimately, she decides to accept none of their money (including Big’s), preferring to figure it out on her own.

Throughout the scene, there is visible tension between Carrie and Charlotte. Charlotte, uncomfortable talking about money, avoids Carrie’s glances and looks away as the others talk. To verbalize her discomfort, she sips her drink loudly and attempts to change the subject of discussion. Her behavior contrasts that of Samantha and Miranda. Miranda’s position is particularly important, as she likens money with control. However, she only sees this existing between men and women. She is more than happy to loan her friend the money, as there would be no strings attached, which would not be the case if Carrie accepted the money from Big.

The next day, thinking about her situation, Carrie decides to confront Charlotte about her behavior at the restaurant. In Charlotte’s apartment, the women position themselves on opposite sides of a table. This separates the women, highlighting their opposing views regarding the situation. After listening to Carrie’s accusations and complaints, Charlotte takes a second to absorb it all, almost as if she is swallowing anger. She then calmly proceeds to say, “Carrie, I love you. But it is not my job to fix your finances. You’re a 35-year old woman. You need to learn to stand on your own.” As she is saying this, she is moving her hands to emphasize her point. In doing this, it becomes apparent to Carrie, and the viewer, that Charlotte is wearing her engagement ring. Carrie, noticing, questions Charlotte, circling the table, as if in an attack. Charlotte goes around to the other side of the table, so that each woman’s position is reversed. Standing where Charlotte stood, Carrie questions why Charlotte is wearing the engagement ring, saying, “And you’re telling me to be more independent.” They continue to argue, with Carrie finally saying, “You’re right, it’s your ring, it’s your business. I just got all worked up on the walk over here.” Charlotte is surprised Carrie would walk all that way, to which Carrie states, “I took a $5 cab ride seven blocks.” Pointing downward, she continues, “These shoes pinch my feet, but I love them. I am in a financial cul-de-sac, but I’m going to take the bus.” With that she leaves Charlotte’s apartment.

This scene is the culmination of the opposition between the two women that has been building for the entire episode. The table works nicely in the scene, separating the women, and allowing them to move around it, changing the positions of accuser and accused. Ultimately, Carrie realizes the futility in the fight, and however insensitive Charlotte might have been, it is not her responsibility to fix Carrie’s problems. As they both come to realize in the scene, they each have some steps to take regarding maturity and independence. For Carrie, it is coming to terms with walking on her own two feet, however painful that might be. For Charlotte, letting go of her engagement ring means letting go of being Mrs. Trey MacDougal, a representation and image of the perfect life she worked so hard to create. One, of course, that lacked any substance below the sparkle.

Later, over lunch, Carrie again apologizes to Charlotte, who admits that Carrie was right. Both women admit that they are scared for their future. After Carrie announces, “We’re alone again,” Charlotte reaches down in her bag and pulls out the box containing her engagement ring. In a touching display of female friendship, Charlotte presents Carrie with the ring, similar to the way a lover would in an engagement. From here on, the scene reads as a type of proposal and marriage between friends. Instead of asking Carrie to marry her, Charlotte asks her to take the ring for her down payment. Carrie initially refuses, but Charlotte persists. Carrie looks at the ring, then the camera focuses on her face, showing how overwhelmed and touched she is by her friend’s gesture. Making sure Charlotte understands that this would be a loan, she says, “I’ll pay you back. You know that, right.” Like in a wedding ceremony, Charlotte replies, “I do,” and taking Carrie’s hands, continues, “It’s okay, I trust you. Will you take the ring?” The camera cuts from Charlotte’s beaming face, eyes nearly welling with tears, to Carrie, who, with a loving and grateful expression, replies, “I will.”

The next, and final, scene of the episode is back at Carrie’s apartment. The camera focuses in on the hole in the wall where Aidan had started construction between the two apartments. In the background is a handyman, telling Carrie he will have the hole fixed by tomorrow. Carrie, sitting happily and assured at her desk, begins to think, “It wasn’t quite as easy as clicking my Manolo Blahniks three times, but it was worth it. I was home.” The camera focuses in on the purchase contract on Carrie’s desk as Carrie signs her name, signifying her independence. This ties in nicely with The Wizard of Oz reference, with the twist being, that for Carrie, the ruby red slippers that bring her home, to safety, are her beloved Manolo Blahniks. Although the episode took great pains to equate Carrie’s apartment situation with her indulgence in shoes, ultimately the episode reaffirms her choices. While it wasn’t quite as easy as just clicking her heels, for Carrie, “it [the shoes, the apartment, the lifestyle] was worth it.”

Jumping forward to season six, we see that the motif of shoes as a symbol for female independence has not only carried over to the show’s last season, but it has developed more fully, encompassing third wave feminism’s ideal of a woman’s right to choose. Episode nine, “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” begins with Carrie commenting on the connection between singleness and consumption. The opening scene begins with a shot of a busy New York street, with cars and people everywhere. The camera focuses in on Carrie in the crowd, then quickly zooms down to her feet, clad in heels, lingers for a moment, then pans up to Carrie’s face. Once again, Carrie is associated with movement, walking, with her heels being her favorite mode of transportation. In her arms are various shopping bags, and a bouquet of flowers. As the camera rests on Carrie, her voiceover states, “The single New Yorker’s weekend is all about buying: the latest Vogue, fresh cut flowers, and gifts for previously single New Yorkers.”

This statement is followed by shots of Carrie, presumably week after week, at various stores buying various items for previously single New Yorkers’ engagements, weddings, and babies. The last shot of the scene is her buying a baby gift, which jumps to the next scene, with Carrie and said gift in an elevator, along with friend Stanford Blatch, on the way to celebrate the birth of a friend’s new baby.

Upon arriving at the party, Carrie and Stanford are told they will have to remove their shoes, as the hosts “Kyra and Chuck don’t like outside dirt coming in. The twins are always picking things up off the floor.” Looking at a pile of shoes haphazardly strewn in the corner, Carrie is obviously distressed. Indignant, she lifts her arms to display what she’s wearing and says, “But this is an outfit.” Unimpressed, the hostess’ sister replies, “Uh huh. They’d really appreciate it,” and walks away. This exchange demonstrates the differences between Carrie’s world and the world of the party which she has just entered. Children, not outfits, take precedence, and taking away Carrie’s shoes, in this case a pair of new Manolos, is a way of stripping her of her independence and identity in this strange new world.

Slipping out of her shoes, the camera pauses for a moment on the Manolos. They are silver and shiny, and set apart from the other dull, dark shoes in the pile. They are standing at attention, while the others are piled together at odd angles, and the name Manolo Blahnik is clearly visible. They, like Carrie, stand apart from the crowd. Entering the party, Carrie’s voiceover informs the viewer, “Our hostess, Kyra Bronson, had made a name for herself in the early ‘90s taking pictures of anorexic actresses on beds at the Chelsea Hotel.” The camera zooms in on Kyra, played by real-life reformed party girl Tatum O’Neil, mingling with a posh crowd, grabbing two martinis, and heading over to Carrie and Stanford. As Kyra reaches the two, Carrie’s voiceover concludes, “Now, she took pictures of fat babies in buckets.” As Carrie thinks this, the camera frames Kyra, Carrie, and Stanford standing in front of a table filled with pastel wrapped baby gifts and a giant portrait of a baby in a bucket. The contrasting images of the crowd and the baby picture, with Kyra walking away from the crowd into the shot with the baby picture, provides a visual narrative of the shift in Kyra’s life. She has left the life of parties, where she originally knew Carrie, and has instead moved to a world of domesticity.

As she prepares to leave the party, Carrie approaches the pile of shoes, less now, but still all boring brown and black, and discovers her shoes are missing. Kyra, coming over to the shoes, says, “God, Carrie, I’m sorry. I just can’t imagine where your shoes went. You know, Jennifer was wearing sandals. Perhaps she took yours by mistake.” Her attitude while saying this is very nonchalant and off-hand. Carrie, taking the situation much more seriously, replies, “Well, actually they weren’t sandals, they were Manolos.” Shrugging her shoulders, Kyra’s only response is, “I’m sure they’ll turn up. I can loan you some shoes to go home in.” As Kyra exits the shot to get Carrie some shoes, the camera focuses on an exchange of glances between Stanford and Carrie, with Carrie visibly aggravated and annoyed by the situation and Kyra’s lack of understanding or concern.

The camera cuts to the next scene, which is of Carrie’s feet, clad in white tennis shoes. We only see the feet and the bottom half of Carrie’s legs, which are covered in brown and tan patterned leggings, with a grass green skirt just coming past the knee. A more flamboyant representation of Carrie’s fashion style, it is made to look even more ridiculous when paired with the sneakers, and represents another contrast between Kyra and Carrie’s lifestyles. As the camera pans up Carrie, resting on her bemused expression, she thinks, “They say you shouldn’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes. I made it six blocks.” Playing off this cliché, it is apparent that Carrie, clad in her fashionable, if not eccentric outfit, is uncomfortable and resistant to a lifestyle of boring and pedestrian tennis shoes.

From Carrie standing in the street, the scene cuts to the four friends in a restaurant where Carrie’s voiceover informs the viewers, “The next day over dessert, I was still not over the fact that my shoes had deserted me.” Although this is a funny play on words, it also likens shoes to men, the idea of a woman being deserted by a lover, which for Carrie, is a shoe. Describing the situation to her friends, Carrie bemoans the fact that, “These were new Manolos. I hadn’t even done a full lap around the party. And you know I don’t play favorites with my shoes, but these were very special.” The fact that Carrie is upset that she “hadn’t even done a full lap around the party,” shows that she wants to be looked at, and the idea of not playing favorites with her shoes likens them to children. Here Carrie is playing with conventional stereotypes, turning them around to her advantage. Instead of being victim of the gaze, she actively courts it. She wants to be looked at and admired. For many women, their beloved possessions, the things they could never play favorites with, is their children. For Carrie, it is her shoes. They are not only stand-ins for men, but for children, the whole heteronormative lifestyle supposedly coveted by women.

As the characters continue discussing the situation, the comparison between shoes and children is explicitly made, and shifts toward the idea of children being allowed access to places, restaurants, and stores that used to be strictly for adults. Samantha and Miranda (a mother at this point) both agree that a fancy restaurant is not the place for children, bringing up the underlying theme of the episode, which is that single and/or childless people have had to make concessions for families and children, but that no concessions are ever made for the single adult. Instead, they are often trivialized or vilified. This point is apparent when Carrie returns the tennis shoes to Kyra. The scene begins with Kyra opening her front door. She is in the center of the shot, the door only partially open, but enough to reveal another large portrait of a baby on the wall, which takes up the space immediately to the left of Kyra’s head. Carrie takes up the left third of the frame, with only the right half of her head and shoulder visible. The shot quickly cuts to Carrie holding the tennis shoes out in front of her. She takes up the majority of the frame, this time with the left half of Kyra’s head and shoulders visible. Taking the shoes from Carrie, Kyra says, “You didn’t have to return these. I had forgotten all about them.” Still not inviting Carrie in, there is a slight awkward pause before Carrie asks, “So, any news on my shoes?” Kyra, again not realizing how serious this is to Carrie replies, “You know what, no, it’s weird.” There is another awkward pause, and Carrie continues, “So, this Jennifer, did you ever find her sandals?” Kyra, still confused, and now seemingly annoyed, asks, “What?” Carrie, despite the uneasiness now evident in both women, presses, “Well, if she took my shoes, she would have left her sandals. Just being a bit of a shoe detective here.” Kyra, missing the joke, only replies, “I haven’t heard from her.” Carrie, obviously disappointed, frowns and says, “Oh.”

Finally, it dawns on Kyra how rude she has been, saying, “Oh my gosh Carrie. I am such a shit. I should have offered to pay for them.” Carrie shakes her head, “No. No, you don’t have to do that.” She is not doing this out of forced politeness. For Carrie, the insult is not in the lack of offering to pay, but rather in not taking the situation seriously. Despite Carrie’s protest, Kyra continues, “You have kids and lose all sense of social decency. Come in.” Here her loss of social decency is not only the situation with the shoes, but that she hasn’t even invited Carrie into the apartment up until this point.

Carrie enters, and there is another awkward moment where Kyra glances at Carrie, admonishing her (without words) to again, take off her shoes. Grabbing her checkbook, Kyra asks, “So, um, how much were they?” Carrie responds, matter of fact, “$485.” Kyra looks up, laughing, “Come on, Carrie. That’s insane.” Carrie, for the first time begins showing signs of annoyance, politely replies, “Well, that’s what they cost.” Defiant, Kyra offers, “I’ll give you $200.” The conversation escalates, with the camera making shots/counter-shots of Carrie and Kyra. Their dialogue continues as follows:

Carrie: “Okay, this is an awkward conversation.”
Kyra: “I’m sorry; I just think that it’s crazy to spend that much on shoes.”
Carrie: “You know how much Manolos are. You used to wear Manolos.”
Kyra: “Sure, before I had a real life. But Chuck and I have responsibilities now. Kids. Houses. $485, like, wow.”

As if to prove this, she picks up her daughter, positioning the little girl between her and Carrie.

Carrie, keeping her cool, despite the insult she has just suffered, counters, “I have a real life.” Kyra, remaining self-righteous, replies, “No offense Carrie, but I really don’t think we should have to pay for your extravagant lifestyle. I mean, it was your choice to buy shoes that expensive.” Here, it comes down again to choice. More than just a choice to buy shoes “that expensive,” it has been Carrie’s choice to remain single and not have children. Carrie, wisely understanding the nuances of choice, remarks, “Yes, but it wasn’t my choice to take them off.” Kyra, still holding her daughter, condescends, “They’re just shoes.” The scene ends with a close-up of Carrie’s face, her expression is a mixture of shock, embarrassment, and indignation.

From here the scene cuts to a close-up of Carrie on the phone with Miranda. Recapping the incident, Carrie explains, “She shoe-shamed me. I left there covered in shame.” The camera then shows a quick shot of Miranda’s reaction, then cuts back to a wide shot of Carrie. Here she is seen sitting on the floor of her closet, surrounded by shoes. Slightly left center, directly in front of Carrie, is a bright white box with black letters that read “Manolo Blahnik.” Carrie, organizing her shoes, explains to Miranda, “No, it’s not about the money. I don’t care about the money. I’m talking about a woman’s right to shoes. Why did she have to shame me?” Later in the conversation, she gets directly to the point, asking, “Hey, is it bad that my life is filled with shoes and not children?” The real issue is more than just the right to shoes, it is the right to choose one’s own lifestyle, which becomes an issue when it is not the choice of the dominant ideal. For Carrie, choosing shoes represents choosing to remain single, and more importantly, not feeling guilty about it. The scene concludes with Carrie looking at her shoes, and the empty Manolo box (for the missing shoes), wondering, “When we were young, Marlo Thomas sang to us about accepting each other and our differences. But then, we got older and started singing a different tune.” At this point, Carrie gets up and goes to her computer, concluding her thought, “We stopped celebrating each other’s life choices, and started qualifying them. Is acceptance really such a childish concept? Or, did we have it right all along. When did we stop being free to be you and me?”

Later, discussing this idea of celebrating each other’s life choices with Charlotte, Carrie recounts, “I have spent over $2300 celebrating her [Kyra’s] choices, and she is shaming me for spending a lousy $485 on myself.” Carrie explains to Charlotte that after graduations, there are no special occasions celebrating the life choices of single people, saying, “I am talking about the single gal. Hallmark doesn’t make a ‘congratulations you didn’t marry the wrong guy card.’ And where’s the flatware for going on vacation alone?” Looking at the situation from this perspective, it is true. Society qualifies life choices, celebrating monogamy, matrimony, and childbirth, ignoring the fact that these choices are not the best for everyone. Although women may live under the influence of third wave feminism, clearly choice is only celebrated when it lands on the side of the dominant ideal.

Fed up with the situation, Carrie decides to take a bold step. Picking up her phone, she thinks, “That night, I decided, I couldn’t wait for a ring, and so, I gave someone else one.” Calling Kyra, she leaves the following message on her answering machine: “Hi, it’s Carrie Bradshaw. I wanted to let you know that I’m getting married. To myself. Oh, and I’m registered at Manolo Blahnik. So thanks. Bye.” Hanging up the phone, she smiles and thinks, “One giant step for me, one small step for single womankind.” Sex and the City, a master at double entendre, gives this cliché a whole new meaning in the context of this episode, where shoes and steps come together to represent independence. Further, by playing with society’s standards of marriage, Carrie makes a giant step forward by marrying herself, validating her choices within the parameters of the socially expected. If society demands she must get married to be accepted, then fine, she will get married, to herself.

After an amusing scene in the Manolo Blahnik store (a setting where Carrie’s, versus Kyra’s choices are validated), where Kyra is told “Please watch your children. We don’t want them touching the shoes,” Kyra purchases another pair of the contested shoes and has them sent to Carrie. The closing scene of the episode begins with Carrie sitting in her apartment, opening the shoebox. The glee evident on her face is not only about the shoes, but of the small victory she won in proving her point. Taking a shoe out of the box and holding it up, she thinks, “It was my very first wedding present.” The scene cuts to a busy NY street, similar to the opening shot of the episode, and again the camera focuses on Carrie’s feet, this time wearing the new Manolos. The camera follows her feet for a few steps, shows her nimbly jumping over a puddle, and then pans up to show the upper half of Carrie. Her voiceover concludes the episode, saying, “The fact is, sometimes it’s hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then. To make the walk a little more fun.” Carrie is seen wearing the shoes with a casual pair of pants and shirt. It is not a special occasion, which many reserve fancy heels and Manolos for, but just an ordinary day. The ease in which she walks, jumps, and jogs in the shoes, dispels any thoughts of discomfort or restraint typically associated with high heels. For Carrie and her fellow single women, special shoes not only make their walk of life a little easier, but they make it more fun.

This episode, as do the other two I analyze, works with the themes of feminism, fashion, and choice, ultimately landing on the side of celebrating women’s choices, giving attention to those underrepresented in conventional television programming and society. This reflects not only postfeminist ideals, but also a shift in women’s viewpoints about their lives. Freed from the constrictions of second wave feminism and its essentialist views of men and women, things become less about one or the other, making room for a third model, where choice can include a reappropriation of fashion and feminism into a functioning representation of independence. By giving weight and consideration to both sides of the issue, Sex and the City affirms this model, without undermining other effective depictions of femininity. At the same time, it reveals the deficiencies inherit in all discussions of gender politics, proving that no one way is the correct way to be a woman. The challenge, then, is for women to find a way to cultivate an identity that is both acceptable to themselves and accepting of others. Perhaps Carrie’s last words of the series’ final episode sum it up best: “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.”

June 2006
From guest contributor Jenn Brandt

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