Of all the great things about television, the greatest is that it’s on every single day. TV history is being made, day in and day out, in ways big and small. In an effort to better appreciate this history, we’re taking a look back, every day, at one particular TV milestone.
IMPORTANT DATE IN TV HISTORY: August 17, 2003
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT: Besides its well-earned reputation for outrageous sex storyline and even more outrageous double entendres, Sex and the City more than occasionally hit the nail on the head with an observation about modern living, especially modern living in a big city like New York. Carrie Bradshaw wasn’t always relatable, with her fabulously fashionable wardrobe and chi-chi friends and invites to the hottest clubs and whatnot, but every now and again, she’d get to the heart of something fundamental.
“A Woman’s Right to Shoes” is one of those episodes. We see at the beginning something that is all too relatable for the single friend of a rapidly marrying peer group: the wedding-shower/baby-shower shuffle, where you have to continually buy gifts for your friends and their offspring. Carrie responds to this particular rate race with characteristic subtle comedy.
When Carrie and her gay handbag Stanford show up at the party, they’re faced with an unusual — for a single girl used to cocktail parties, at least — request: remove your shoes before entering. Carrie’s shoes, of course, are $485 Manolo Blahniks, and they complete her outfit so she makes a big ‘ol deal about taking them off. And then, to make matters worse, when she decides to sling Stanford over her shoulder and take off for the night, her Manolos are nowhere to be found. Absconded. Stolen! Or at the very least accidentally mistaken for someone else’s shoes. (Though: come on.)
The great thing about this plot is that Carrie is in no way easily likeable here. Her materialism has always been one of her worst qualities, and here she tries to make that materialism seem noble, which is even worse. But when we see her friend the party host (none other than Tatum O’Neal) react to the pilfered Manolos with a barely concerned wave of the hand, the real point starts to become the focus: the fact that married people and families are valued more than single people and the things they care about (even if the things they care about are just stupid overpriced shoes). While Tatum tries to shame Carrie for buying $500 shoes, Carrie starts mentally tallying up everything she’s spent on wedding gifts, shower gifts, bachelorette parties, baby showers, and Christenings. And it’s a lot. Most TV comedies, especially in the ’90s when Sex and the City debuted, were incredibly family focused. TV has always acknowledged the primacy of heteronormative family structures. That’s why so many of them end with weddings or births. What Sex and the City was bold enough to do was make the forceful and unapologetic case that maybe not everybody has to end up married with kids, and they’re still worth just as much as anyone else. (And then they had Carrie get married in the movie and ruined everything, but that’s another story.)
“A Woman’s Right to Shoes” tells a deceptively lightweight story that is actually a thorny and complicated tale as old as time: does the city belong to single people or the increasingly bold and ubiquitous families? Carrie knows what she thinks the answer should be, and even while giving a bit of an even-handed argument (Samantha gets some pesto pasta to the face after being rude to a baby and his mother), Sex and the City is bold enough to side with the singles on this one.