For the first time, all six series of break through feminist show Sex and the City will be available on demand in NZ. Twenty years after its debut, we ask two women of different ages what the show means to them.

Gen X-er Sharon Stephenson wishes her life had turned out differently so she could have lived her Sex and the City fantasies in Manhattan, not Wellington.

The summer of 2000, I took my first trip New York. I rode the lift at the Empire State Building an ear-popping 86 floors, caught the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and took too many photos from the observation deck of the World Trade Centre's South Tower.

But one of my treasured memories of that visit remains the Sex and the City tour I persuaded my then boyfriend, now husband, to join me on.

I was obsessed with the show from its opening credits, when Sarah Jessica Parker's character, Carrie Bradshaw, gets splashed by a bus with her face on it. I was in New York, dammit, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to stroll past Carrie's brownstone, to see where she and her friends drank Cosmopolitans and ate cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery.

It was, of course, as cheesy as a fondue but for four hours I lived the fantasy I was a wealthy Upper East Side princess navigating life in the urban jungle in stupidly high stilettos.


Although I wasn't as much a fan-girl as the Texan woman who cried at the end of the tour, I could see where she was coming from. For perhaps the first time in television history, SATC was a show made by woman for women about women who were successful and powerful and not ashamed of it.

It broke taboos and made it bad-ass to be single, successful and free.

Even feminist scholar Naomi Wolfe agreed: "Sex and the City really was a turning point. There hadn't been women at the centre of a quest narrative before. No one had ever thought women were that interesting."

SATC ran for 94 half-hour episodes from 1998-2004 and was adapted from a column in the New York Observer by Candace Bushnell, a 30-something freelance writer.

It focused on four friends who brunched, drank and shagged their way around the Big Apple. Carrie was the linchpin, a sex columnist who achieved the impossible: a sartorially magnificent wardrobe and studio apartment on a freelance writer's salary. Charlotte was the sweet but naive princess who spent her life trying to land a rich man. Samantha was the high-flying PR with a fabulous career, home and even more fabulous sex life and Miranda was the occasionally bi-curious lawyer.

Carrie and Mr Big in a scene from Sex and the City. Photo / Sourced
Carrie and Mr Big in a scene from Sex and the City. Photo / Sourced

Like so many woman my age, I believed my friends were Charlotte or Samantha and I, of course, was Carrie (no one wanted to be Miranda - crazy in retrospect, given she was the only one who ended up with it all - a high-powered job, husband, baby and a house with a garden).

In reality, none of us were remotely like them: they were skinnier, richer, whiter, had more interesting jobs and lived in Manhattan. But that didn't stop us from using SATC as a kind of instruction manual for life.

Tucked in among the gratuitous product placement - the Jimmy Choo shoes and Louis Vuitton handbags - were serious issues: breast cancer, bereavement, ageing, relationships, single motherhood, infertility, divorce and money.


But the SATC gals dealt with them with humour and sass and, when they messed up, they breezily dusted themselves off and carried on. As in the episode where Carrie realises she has spent $40K on shoes but can't afford the deposit on a new apartment. "I'm literally the old woman who lived in a shoe," she laughs.

But what resonated most was SATC's treatment of sex. For possibly the first time on mainstream TV, it was normal for woman to have sexual desires and pursue them, whether or not they were in a serious relationship.

The women were sexually confident and independent, but without the suggestion of being slutty or heartless.

SATC didn't take sex too seriously, as evidenced when Samantha found a grey pubic hair and accidentally, hilariously, dyes her whole nether region red. That was a high water mark of the six series, as far as I'm concerned.

Whatever their flaws - and I wanted to slap each of them at different moments, especially Carrie who was unable to realise Big wasn't all that - SATC has become one of the cornerstones of our pop culture.

Even Lena Dunham's Girls, which strived so hard to distance itself, references its older sibling in the first episode when Shoshanna tells Jessa she's "definitely a Carrie, with some Samantha aspects and Charlotte hair".


It is 13 years since SATC ended (let's not even mention the two woeful films), but seeing it though 2017 eyes, it's still as gloriously escapist and wonderfully nutty as ever.

As Carrie says, "Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they need to run free, until they find someone just as wild to run with." Words to live by.

Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are back for the Sex And The City. Photo / Supplied
Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are back for the Sex And The City. Photo / Supplied

Millennial Tess Nichol wonders how Carrie could afford cocktails every night on a media salary.

'So it's a show about three hookers and their mom?"

Way before I watched Sex and the City (beyond secretly sneaking a peek at the rude bits if it was on TV while I was babysitting at a house with Sky), I'd picked up on the backlash. Sex and the City was about shallow, vapid sluts and the main slut looked like a horse.

The cultural narrative of a terrible show for stupid women was so pervasive it never occurred to me it might be worth watching.

The "hookers and their mom" quote is from Family Guy, a show I devoured as a teenager without noticing the hideous sexism (and racism and homophobia and transphobia) in most of its jokes. Then, at 21, I discovered feminism and began actively seeking out artists, musicians, TV shows and movies I'd previously assumed weren't worth my time.


It's easy to see why so many men - and shows like Family Guy are run and written mainly by men - felt threatened by Sex and the City.

Here were women who not only enjoyed sex but pursued it, sometimes aggressively, later talking about their exploits with a frankness I'm sure every straight man fears has at some point been directed at him.

They were unlikeable - yes, that constant criticism levelled against female characters - but they didn't seem to care.

Bossy Miranda, critical Carrie, narcissistic Samantha and obsessive Charlotte saw each other's flaws but they loved themselves and each other anyway.

That's what I loved about the show when I finally watched it, binging two seasons in about a week because I was in my third year of a politics degree and had that kind of time to waste.

Of course, some critics had valid points - I mean, were you supposed to relate to people with loft apartments in New York City and wardrobes full of high-end designer clothes?


Where were the brown and black faces in a show set in one of the most diverse cities in the world?

Was Carrie even a good writer and how was her column enough of an earner to bankroll the life she led?

Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie in the television series Sex and the City. Photo / Supplied
Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie in the television series Sex and the City. Photo / Supplied

Most criticism the show copped, however, was sexist, unfair and looked past its skilled handling of four women and the nuances of their lives and friendships.

Besides, if this was the one current show tackling the reality of women's lives, how could it relate to everyone?

The show didn't change my life and I never watched beyond those two seasons, but it was perhaps the first show I'd ever seen that centred itself on women's friendships and all their complexities.

The characters fought, and when they did it was how I fought with my closest friends - messily and sometimes underhandedly but always with the knowledge that afterwards you'd still be friends because how could this dumb fight possibly be worth throwing something so important away?


One scene that has stuck with me was an episode in which Carrie has fought with Big and Miranda, and in the final scene she arranges to meet someone at a diner.

The show sets the scene up as the resolution of a lover's tiff, but when it's revealed who Carrie is meeting, we see Miranda waiting at the table, not Big.

The idea a friend could be one of the great loves of your life is cropping up in shows more and more frequently. Who knows how much Sex and the City helped this along - this certainly isn't a think piece trying to measure the show's influence on how much we're willing to value female friendships.

But it can't have hurt, right?

Girls, the HBO show that wrapped its sixth and final season earlier this year, is often cited as Sex and the City's successor, but it's just one of so many shows to come out in recent years focusing heavily if not exclusively on women's friendships.

Broad City, Parks and Recreation, Orange Is the New Black, New Girl and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are all probably a little in debt to Carrie and co as well.


They're all shows I loved more than Sex and the City because they're funnier and kinder, showing versions of adulthood that exist in the same world in which I'm navigating mine.

But that's the great thing about having so many women-led shows: the burden of expectation for one show to sum up all of womanhood is lifted. There's enough space to tell all our stories.