Carrie Bradshaw, running through the streets of New York in Manolos, sprinting. Carrie Bradshaw in her rent-controlled Manhattan apartment, housing Gucci, Versace, Armani. Carrie Bradshaw, hardly a cent to her name, but fabulous. Carrie Bradshaw on the side of a bus, barely getting paid. Carrie Bradshaw, the writer, sarcasm, cynicism, wit, sex, love, humour, a brand. Carrie Bradshaw, not the total embodiment of the New York City Girl. Carrie Bradshaw, a work of fiction, a character, not real.
Show me a female writer today who has dared to write about sex and love — honestly or humorously — who has not been compared to Carrie Bradshaw. Men, in particular, do not hesitate to compare a female writer to Carrie Bradshaw. But here’s the thing: Carrie Bradshaw is not a writer. She is a work of fiction. Candace Bushnell is a writer. Sex and the City? Her dating column for the Observer. Sex and the City? An anthology of her columns. Sex and the City? A show inspired by her columns. Carrie Bradshaw? A character created by Candace Bushnell. If one must compare, compare her at least to the writer, not her fictional character.
Carrie Bradshaw-ish. Carrie Bradshaw-esque. Carrie Bradshaw-like. These comparisons are not synonymous with “writer of a wildly successful column that was turned into a wildly successful book that was turned into a wildly successful HBO series that spawned two major motion pictures.” No. To liken a woman’s writing to that of Carrie Bradshaw is to say “petty” or “frou frou”, “silly” or “oh you silly woman!”, a terminology and definition perhaps first coined by those afraid of the independent woman, an attempt to belittle women who have found for themselves a voice. It is to say, it is not your voice; it is the voice of Carrie Bradshaw. To sound like her is a joke, a shame. Inject wit or cynicism, a pun, a play on words or a joke, and you are not yourself, you are Carrie Bradshaw, but there are few to none who will compare you to Sontag or Didion, du Maurier or Dundy. If you have a niche, regardless of what it may be, you write like Carrie Bradshaw.
Perhaps it is because we do not hear enough about female writers and we do not read them, that we are more likely to read Hemingway in high school than Didion, and laud Bukowski (and who is Paglia?), and that is why we can only compare female writers to Carrie Bradshaw, not that we have read her work, but because we have heard her narration on TV. Perhaps it is because we live in a grossly patriarchal society where Aaron Sorkin and Matthew Weiner are savants of machismo while successful women are scrutinized for the disagreeable, the most successful of whom are regarded as petty and petulant, dull and dumb. Growing up, I read Enid Blyton and Beatrice Potter because my mother had given them to me. In school, I read Austen, because we had to, and then no other works of women. In high school, a four-line poem by Margaret Atwood:
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye.
I thought I was reading E.E. Cummings, but I wasn’t, and those four lines flowed like electricity through my body, and I had never felt this way about the Dylan Thomas and Eliot poems I devoured. In university, I read Beckett, Nabokov and Achebe, more works of men than women, and then I read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, and I couldn’t get enough. It is not that because they are women and I am a woman and that is why I can relate to them. More often than not, I cannot relate to their stories; cover their names, and I will not be able to tell you which is written by a man, and which is written by a woman (The Notebook was written by a man?), but I can tell you which one I love. I love female writers not because they are so, but because I have been deprived of them, because I have not had enough of them, because, just like their male counterparts, there is beauty in their prose as well. And women who write and who are heard of are given shit, a stigma. But know that jokes and puns and play of words, and, god forbid, talk of sex existed long before a Carrie Bradshaw.
If you must compare me to a household name, a name that has made the women of my generation and that of the generation before me more attune of their ambition and independence and sexuality, a name that has helped in the creation of open conversation about a woman’s needs and wants, than do so. But liken the way I think about love and the colour blue to Maggie Nelson and my guile to Mary Maclane. Don’t define me as Carrie Bradshaw because that is the only name you know.