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Sex and the City: Why No One Wants to Be a Samantha (But They Should)

Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, embodied the revolutionary sexual freedom and independence that Sex and the City stood for when it premiered. But while the erotically adventurous forty-something quickly became a pop culture icon, fans of the series tend to enjoy Samantha but don’t actually want to be “a Samantha.” This is largely because our culture has trained us to see her promiscuity and independence as a phase, rather than a respectable, permanent way of life. Here’s our Take on why fans love Samantha’s unapologetic bachelorette lifestyle, but don’t necessarily want to live it themselves—at least, not forever.


TRANSCRIPT

Sex and the City: Why No One Wants to Be a Samantha (But They Should)

What’s our problem with single women over a certain age? Starting in 1998, Sex and the City took on this question through edgy plotlines about single life that were previously considered taboo for TV, and, most of all, through the character of Samantha Jones. This erotically adventurous woman in her 40s embodied the revolutionary sexual freedom and independence that Sex and the City stood for when it premiered. But while Samantha quickly became a pop culture icon and viewers to this day love to watch her unapologetic bachelorette lifestyle, it seems that many don’t actually want to live it in real life.

When a 2017 Buzzfeed quiz asked readers asked which of the four Sex and the City leading ladies was their favorite, Samantha won with 35% of the vote. However, when a different 2018 Buzzfeed quiz asked which Sex and the City lady readers saw themselves as, Samantha came in fifth out of six places with just 8% of the vote. Fans of the series tend to enjoy Samantha, but don’t actually want to be “a Samantha.” And this is largely because our culture has trained us to see her promiscuity and independence as a phase rather than a respectable, permanent way of life a woman might willingly choose. Here’s our Take on why fans love the idea of Samantha Jones, but don’t necessarily want to be her — at least, not forever.

Samantha: “If you are a successful saleswoman in this city you have two choices: you can bang your head against the wall and try and find a relationship or you can say ‘screw it’ and just go out and have sex like a man.” – Sex and the City, 1x01


The Rare “Bachelorette” Breed

Before Sex and the City, shows about single 30-something women were few and far between, with a few notable exceptions like That Girl, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Murphy Brown. Sex and the City went further than any of its predecessors by showing and talking about the sex lives of complex single women over the age of 30. The show includes episodes on Miranda considering an abortion, Carrie’s affair with a married man, and Charlotte’s addiction to the Rabbit. But it was Samantha’s sex scenes and romantic plotlines that were and still are by far the most edgy and explicit throughout the series. According to Ceros’ Sex and the City by the numbers article, Samantha uttered 210 profanities over the show’s six-season run and was featured in 40 of the series’ 96 total sex scenes. Though Carrie was the show’s protagonist, it was through Samantha that the show actually pushed the boundaries of how female sexuality is portrayed on screen.

Samantha: “And then he pretended to tie my hands behind my back. I tell you, it is so refreshing to be with someone who likes to f—- outside of the box.”

Carrie: “... And this is my friend Samantha.” – Sex and the City, 6x04

Samantha represents an authentic version of the “Bachelorette” trope that’s remarkably rare onscreen. Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda are all also single at numerous points in the series, but it’s only Samantha who is committed to being a bachelorette and staying that way. She’s unapologetically promiscuous, sharing details of her sex life that most women (or even men) wouldn’t dare to discuss out loud. She purposely avoids serious relationships, mocks the idea of monogamy, and genuinely loves being independent.

Typically, single female characters onscreen fall into four distinct categories. The first type of single female character is cynical about all romantic relationships and needs to be convinced by the right guy. The second type is a stressed-out single mom or career woman who believes she simply doesn’t have time for a serious relationship. The third type is painted as an older, sexless spinster, uninterested in sex or romance, which is implied to be fitting for her years. And finally, the fourth type is the single woman who doesn’t want to stay that way, and desperately hopes to find “the one.”

Molly Carter: “Why does she deserve to get married, and I don’t?”Insecure, 1x01

Despite their differences, what all four of these single female character tropes have in common is that eventually they realize or admit they do want a committed, long-term relationship. In Sex Education, Maeve Wiley initially says, You know in rom coms, when the guy finally realizes he’s in love with the girl, and he turns up with a boom box outside her house, blasting her favorite song, and everyone in the audience swoons?... Yeah, that makes me sick.” But later in that exact same episode, she’s totally charmed when her love interest does exactly that by serenading her in front of the whole school. In Gilmore Girls, Lorelai seems like the totally self-sufficient single mom, but she admits that she worries about never having the picture-perfect life with a house and a husband. Even Miranda, one of Samantha’s single female counterparts on Sex and the City, prides herself on buying her own apartment, only to have a panic attack over the fear of dying alone later in the same episode. Samantha’s refusal to be boxed in by any of these tropes, or to share their assumption that eventually, singledom ends, makes her the remarkably rare character who’s genuinely a bachelorette.

Samantha: “Marriage doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, just an ending.” – Sex and the City, 3x12

It’s also significant that Samantha is the oldest woman of the Sex and the City ladies, spending most of the series in her 40s and turning 50 in the first movie. Through following four single women over 30, the show appeared to challenge the idea that women had to settle down, but Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda notably do still end up in happy, settled relationships by around the time they hit that next milestone: their 40th birthdays. At most, their single status helped elongate the phase in which our culture deems it acceptable for women to remain single. Samantha, on the other hand, completely rejects the foundational idea that a single woman is only “acceptable” up to a certain age at all. So, if Sex and the City revolutionized TV, it was Samantha Jones who revolutionized Sex and the City.

Samantha: “You’ve got to grab 35 by the balls and say: ‘Hey world, I’m 35!’”

Carrie: “Okay, calm down, Auntie Mame.” – Sex and the City, 4x01


Samantha vs. The World

It’s no secret that fans of Sex and the City like to identify with one of the four leading ladies, often labeling themselves as a Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, or Miranda. Each woman fits loosely into a different stereotype: the heroine, the career woman, the prude, and the slut. And as the show has aged and gained new viewers of younger generations, attitudes towards each of these character types have shifted and evolved. Being labeled as a career-oriented “Miranda” while the show originally aired was widely considered undesirable. But in recent years, Miranda has become the “sleeper hit” of Sex and the City, inspiring multiple op-eds about her inspirational character, a popular Instagram page dedicated to her best moments, and even a 2019 book entitled We Should All Be Mirandas: Life Lessons from Sex and the City’s Most Underrated Character.

Miranda: “I want to enjoy my success, not apologize for it.”

Samantha: “Bravo, honey” – Sex and the City, 2x10

Unlike Miranda, Samantha’s character started as a fan-favorite and has slowly lost popularity. When the show aired, many viewers applauded Samantha’s radically confident and overt sexuality. But in recent years, voices have focused more on shortcomings like her vanity and egocentrism, with Samantha being described by Screen Rant, CheatSheet, and The Atlantic as “insensitive,” guilty of some “pretty toxic behavior,” and even “a cautionary tale.” Rather than interpreting Samantha’s promiscuity as a sign of her strength, modern viewers see it as a symptom of her fatal flaw: a lack of emotional vulnerability. Samantha’s emotional intimacy issues are apparent from the show’s start, and create recurring problems in the few serious relationships that she attempts over the course of six seasons. So, rather than identify with her character, viewers avoid calling themselves “a Samantha” because they don’t want to embrace the fatal flaw — as well as the final destination of permanent singledom — that comes along with her label.

In numerous movies and TV shows, single women with emotional intimacy issues are eventually “cured” of this flaw, while their singledom is treated as the symptom of a personality that needs to be corrected or tamed. At the beginning of Trainwreck, Amy Townsend is portrayed as a self-proclaimed “sexual girl” who avoids emotional intimacy at all costs, and she’s viewed as a joke among family and friends until she meets and starts dating Aaron. After falling in love with him and quickly ruining their relationship, Amy realizes that she’s only jealous of married women because she doesn’t believe that she deserves any love or commitment. In literally referring to herself as “broken,” Amy acknowledges that the entire point of the film is to fix her immature and promiscuous single girl ways so that she can embrace love and finally be happy. Annie Walker in the movie Bridesmaids and Cece Parekh in the TV show New Girl have similar character arcs. Both reject any form of emotional intimacy by staying in unfulfilling relationships before realizing that they need to “fix” themselves by letting go of their bachelorette lifestyles and committing to serious relationships.

Cece: “You know, for the first time in my life, I actually feel like I want something that lasts.” New Girl, 1x23

The way pop culture typically portrays it, by the age of 35 women need to either grow up and settle down as a wife and mother or banish themselves to life as lonely and sexless spinsters. Samantha defies societal expectations by choosing neither of these options, proving that a single, sexually active bachelorette of any age can be happy without having to outgrow her independence or promiscuity. Yet because viewers are trained to see women’s sexual freedom as a fleeting and immature phase of life, they hesitate to identify with her. And when, in the movies, Samantha ultimately chooses singledom over a highly enviable, loving relationship, viewers tend to look down on and disdain this choice.

Meanwhile, older men’s sexual freedom is far more normalized in mainstream pop culture. The aging bachelor is a common and, sadly, far more accepted trope onscreen. In fact, Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother has a similar arc to Samantha’s. The series ends with him getting married, quickly divorcing, and then finding himself as a lifelong bachelor again. Although fans and critics were upset with the How I Met Your Mother finale as a whole, they still accepted Barney’s ending. “He’s welcome to have as much sex as he wants and to have casual, even anonymous sex because whatever happens between consenting adults is their business,” critic Margaret Lyons at Vulture wrote of Barney’s ending. Sam Rullo at Bustle simply wrote: “At least he’s happy.” So, while aging bachelorette Samantha is seen as “a sex-crazed vixen,” when aging bachelor Barney rejects monogamy, it’s excused as an adult’s chosen route to happiness.

Miranda: “Why do we get stuck with ‘old maid’ and ‘spinster’ and men get to be bachelors and playboys?” – Sex and the City, 5x03

Another reason viewers don’t want to model themselves on Samantha is how the show judges her choices. Samantha’s sexuality is often played on the show as comic relief. And this comes through in Samantha’s dynamic with the other main three women, whose constant quips also paint Samantha’s sex life as farce. When they’re not jesting about her, they’re outright judging Samantha’s sexual choices. Despite the show literally including the word “sex” in the title, the other three women are far less sexually adventurous than Samantha. According to the New York Daily News’ tally, Carrie sleeps with 18 people throughout the show, Charlotte with 18, and Miranda with 17. Meanwhile, Samantha has 41 sexual partners. And the other women make it clear that they don’t view Samantha’s promiscuity as something that would be acceptable for themselves. In the fifth season episode “Cover Girl,” after Carrie walks in on Samantha giving a blowjob to the delivery man, Carrie panics and later cracks uncomfortable jokes at Samantha’s expense. Yet even when they make up later in the episode, Carrie’s apology still contains a judgmental note.

Carrie: “It’s not my personal style, but I really admire your ability to put your sex life out there.” – Sex and the City, 5x04

Although Carrie is genuine in this moment, she reinforces that Samantha’s sexual openness makes her a woman to be both admired and laughed at — but not to be emulated.


Why We Should Want to Be Like Samantha

Even if many viewers don’t want to be “the Samantha” of their friend group, there actually is a lot worth emulating in her character. She spends the entire franchise overcoming her emotional intimacy issues, while also coming to a secure understanding that her bachelorette lifestyle isn’t a crutch or inability to change, but a way of staying true to herself and realizing her full potential. Samantha’s first serious boyfriend on the show is James, who opens her up to the idea that she could commit to a loving partner. When their sex life doesn’t satisfy her, she chooses singledom over her relationship, but still, in the Season 2 finale, she tearfully declares, “I miss James!” This is the first time that Samantha acknowledges that she does, on some level, want to be able to connect with someone.

Samantha’s second serious relationship, with sexy Brazilian artist Maria, quickly ends after Samantha grows tired of monogamy. But this short-lived relationship represents another step in Samantha’s growth, as it helps her better understand the emotional aspect of sex.

Samantha: “Maria has taught me how to connect during sex. It’s not just some animal act. It’s about two people making love.” – Sex and the City, 4x04

Later in the same season, Samantha becomes truly vulnerable for the first time in her relationship with hotel magnate Richard Wright. Her willingness to be monogamous with Richard and tell him that she loves him are key milestones in her healing her emotional intimacy issues. But when Richard’s infidelity nearly destroys Samantha, she realizes that her inability to trust Richard has taken too much of a toll on her health. Here Samantha begins to understand that she is capable of emotional intimacy, but her bachelorette lifestyle is actually truer to who she is.

Samantha: “I love you, too, Richard. But I love me more.” – Sex and the City, 5x03

Samantha’s final and most serious relationship on the show is with young actor Smith, who both offers Samantha a sexually fulfilling connection and pushes her to embrace her feelings. But in the first Sex and the City movie, as Samantha spies on her promiscuous neighbor, she can no longer ignore her desire for her old single ways and blows up at Smith when he keeps her waiting. When she tells her friends that she feels she should stay in the relationship because Smith supported her through chemo, Carrie points out: You just compared your relationship to chemo.” And it’s accurate that, for Samantha, monogamy ends up being something of a “cancer” to her wellbeing. In the end, Samantha realizes that she has overcome her intimacy issues, but her emotionally-evolved self does not need or thrive in a monogamous relationship. Samantha’s growth ultimately leads her to embrace herself as an emotionally mature and completely content bachelorette.

Even if we don’t aspire to have her particular life, we could all stand to be a little bit more like Samantha Jones. She sets an example to prioritize our emotional wellbeing in relationships and reject the assumption that we need to copy others’ life choices or conform to what society considers “normal” behavior. To be “a Samantha” is not to be sex-crazed, promiscuous, or even necessarily single — it’s to be self-assured, emotionally evolving, and true to yourself.

Samantha: “I will not be judged by you or society. I will wear whatever, and blow whomever I want, as long as I can breathe and kneel.” – Sex and the City, 5x04