As an unapologetic Sex and The City fan, after re-watching episodes over and over again, and reliving the characters’ relationship high and lows, I have come to a conclusion: as Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte learn from the mistakes in their relationships, so do we, the fans and viewers.
The girls certainly have had many disastrous experiences to learn from; there’s the boyfriend from the gym who doesn’t like Miranda when she’s confident, Jack Berger who can’t handle Carrie being a more successful writer than him, Steve who breaks up with Miranda because she has more money than him, and the list goes on.
Watching the Manhattan foursome decide their dating deal breakers makes me wonder about my own, and the biggest lesson I have learnt from a bad relationship. Being 20 years old, I’ve only had a handful of relationships; one of these relationships really was a doozy.
He stood me up for our first date, which should have been a warning sign for the rest of the relationship. The way he spoke to me and other female friends should have set off alarm bells and red flashing lights in my head. He once told me that if I shaved my head, or cut my hair short, that he would break up with me. Oh, the horror of a girl having a ‘boy’s haircut’!
He would pull female friends onto his lap, and pull their shirts up and say, ‘show me your abs’. When I would say to him that, as his girlfriend, this flirting upset me, he replied: ‘You already have a boyfriend and you know that someone likes you and thinks you’re sexy. I give these [single] girls attention because they don’t have someone to make them feel special like that.’
At the time, I didn’t take what he said as a reference to how he viewed women. Looking back now, I see that he viewed women as shallow beings who need a man to rescue them with their approval. If someone said what he said to me today, I would laugh in their face, and respond, ‘How arrogant are you that you think a woman needs two seconds of your attention to feel special or attractive? How little do you think of women that you think that they can’t feel those things by themselves?’ Never mind the fact that touching a woman’s body without her consent actually may not make her feel special or attractive, but it could make her feel quite uncomfortable; a man is never ‘owed’ a woman’s body.
This boyfriend took his insecurities out on me, telling me I was spoilt and sheltered because of differences in our family situations. He once loudly shamed me in front of a group of friends, saying my outfit was so short that someone might see my ovaries. In an instant, I went from feeling comfortable and confident to feeling mortified and like I wanted to disappear – and all this from someone who felt it his duty to make women feel special?
I was younger and had no self respect a completely romanticised view of him, of us. I thought that a relationship meant accepting someone’s shortcomings, and loving them anyway; I didn’t realise that if a relationship was more shortcomings than it was longcomings (or whatever the opposite of shortcomings is), then you owe it to yourself to get the heck out. I wish I could tell you that I had that brainwave back then, and got out first, but I didn’t. He broke up with me and I was devastated for a few days. It was a few weeks before I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, what was I doing? Why did I put up with that?’
By the next year, I had discovered and embraced feminism due to some excellent bloggers and journalists, and my perspective on absolutely everything changed. Up until then, I’d thought ‘feminism’ was something that happened in the 1970s to do with women getting the vote; I was sadly misinformed. I vowed to myself that I would never accept less than I deserved again.
There are many ways that the patriarchy aims to undercut women, and one of the most covert ways is through relationships; these subtle and passive aggressive messages sent to women seek to modify their behaviour so it is more likable or appropriate to men.
This relationship taught me not to waste my time on someone who doesn’t respect me (and my entire sex), and it also taught me the importance of being on the same page as someone. Whether it’s a friend or a partner, it’s acceptable and healthy to have some differences here and there; for example, my current boyfriend supports… Collingwood.
However, when it comes to the bigger things, the deal breakers – our core beliefs and our ideologies – it’s important to understand, support, and respect one another. My boyfriend, a proud feminist, supports my decisions and choices; he is encouraging, and he never tries to control or suppress me, my voice, my body, my clothes, or my behaviour. He never tries to silence me, and my feminism doesn’t make him uncomfortable. It’s paramount to feel respected, appreciated, and safe in friendships and relationships; and simply to be accepted and loved for who you are.
I look back at that doozy of a boyfriend and think how immature we both were. I also think that if I was capable of undergoing a change so big, maybe he could too. If I could open my mind, become informed, acknowledge the presence of the patriarchy as a powerful institution (one that needs to be rejected and not negotitated with), and change my attitudes and behaviour, there was a chance he could too, and transform himself into a better partner.
I am an optimist.
By Eleanor Danenberg
Originally published in 2015: Lip Magazine Online