Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Generation of Carries

We all know someone who made Carrie Bradshaw the author of their yearbook quote.  All the girls in high school wanted to be her, and why not?  She was effortlessly thin, effortlessly wealthy, effortlessly cool, effortlessly going to the best parties and meeting the best men.  By the end of the series run, she was aspirational rather than the realistic, glum portrayal of single life in New York that she was in the first season.  Everyone ooh-ed and ahh-ed over her shoes and her wild outfits, but that wasn’t realistic.  She had a gorgeous apartment, went out for drinks or dinner almost every night of the week, and could still afford Dior dresses and Manolo shoes?  Come on, no way.  And yet, everyone believed it, and believed that we were all Carries in a way.  We could write about our sex lives and dating escapades and become massive successes, flitting around Manhattan from exclusive door to exclusive door in our absurdly high and uncomfortable heels, having men take us to the most fabulous restaurants and hotels.  We would eat cupcakes and drink martinis and still be in fantastic shape, and still have money left for rent and cabs everywhere.  So now we have a generation of memoirists in the vein of Carrie Bradshaw, girls who think it’s the extravagance of their lifestyles that make them interesting and not their thoughts.  Carrie was only enviable for her glamorous lifestyle – we know nothing of her family life, of her inner thoughts as they relate to anything but men and dating, how she ended up a writer in New York (“The Carrie Diaries” non-sequitur aside).  Doesn’t it seem crazy that we can desire and aspire so badly to be like someone we hardly even know anything about?

Twitter, Instagram… these are tools devised for a generation of Carrie Bradshaws.  There is no space to develop insight into ourselves, to consider the implications of what we do on the world around us, to engage in meaningful conversation with another person about anything other than ourselves in these media.  All there is is space for us to show off our most recent Carrie-esque escapade: a picture of our new Hermes bag, a picture of the view from our rooftop deck, a picture of us all dolled up and at a really cool new club.  We hashtag everything in the hopes that someone will see it and think we are important and interesting, we feel a mild exhilaration when we receive a notification that someone has liked our picture, we are ecstatic when a minor celebrity replies to us or retweets something we say.  At one time I thought these mediums were about connection, the human need to connect with other people in order to feel worthwhile in some way.  But the connections we seek here are just validation, other people saying how jealous they are of our beautifully presented meal or the new Chanel Jumbo Flap someone who isn’t us bought for us.  It’s not about connections so much as it is about narcissism.  We probably hardly even care what other people are doing, but we sure as hell want them to see what we’re doing. 

A coworker of mine often gripes about braggy Facebook statuses.  A picture of the Barclays Center with the caption “VIP seats and meeting Kanye at the Jay-Z concert, you know no big deal”, a picture of a bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne sitting in a bucket of ice fashioned with the logo of a popular Vegas nightclub with the caption “Just a typical Friday night…”.  If it’s a typical Friday night, why do you see fit to write about it?  The faux modesty displayed here, pretending a ridiculous situation is ordinary and nothing to gush over, is pure narcissism.  What can you say to these pictures, pictures and posts people make online, publicly, explicitly so you can see them, besides “wow I’m so jealous!” (validating them) or “yeah I’m over Ace of Spades, so hood rich” (being too narcissistic to let someone else enjoy something without one-upping them).  You can’t win, really.

But back to Carrie Bradshaw.  This all came from an article I read in Gawker just now.  A woman was dumped via text message, and she responded by publicly shaming the dumper (only a few week relationship, mind you) on her blog, sending texts he sent her from his work phone to his company, and telling him how great her life is and how totally uninterested she was.  If you’re doing so great and you didn’t like this guy, why are you spending so much time trying to prove this to him?  Just say, “Okay cool, maybe I’ll see you around!” if you care so little.

But then I read her description of her book.  Now of course this is all how she has presented her story, but basically she is that girl who wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw.  She claims to have given up straight-A’s and medical school for vodka, boys, and shoes (oh, and a “VIP lifestyle”).  She’s successfully convinced herself that these things somehow make her interesting or different, or at the very least worth reading about.  Ignoring that fact that most female memoirists offer this same narrative of being so close to doing something meaningful but then giving it all up to get drunk and party (Cat Marnell, looking at you), it’s upsetting to me that this is what is presented to young women as the more interesting choice.  I will bet this woman has more followers on Twitter than my endocrinologist, making her more likely to be seen, more likely to obtain that modicum of celebrity that every young person strives for.  These women are even more anti-feminist than the strippers and porn stars who amass enormous twitter followings by objectifying themselves; these women are regular women with lots of great options in front of them that opt instead for a life of materialism and partying.

I say anti-feminist because the real reason these women were once considered daring or interesting, and certainly the reason Sex and the City was able to obtain such success, was because these women were acting like men.  Whether conscious or not, these women were pushing themselves into arenas typically occupied by men, proclaiming to have the same feelings as men about love and sex, aggressively asserting themselves as equals while simultaneously distancing themselves from other women who do stupid, woman-y things.  The whole premise of Sex and the City was that these women were having sex like men – with many partners, no strings attached, devoid of feelings or affection, and not as part of some grander search for a life-long mate but just because they wanted to.  The problem is that this was not about equality but about women forcing themselves to be more stereotypically masculine to have the lives they want.  The idea of having feelings and being emotional was stigmatized even more, pushing men even further into the depths of chauvinism to assert their manliness among this new breed of beer swigging, casual fling having women. 

These are the women who think they are totally in control of their dating lives but typically end up most broken hearted by rejection, case in point the woman discussed above.  This idealized version of yourself, the one who is exactly what men want – partier, big drinker, sexy, loves sports (just a guess here but I feel pretty confident in that one), not bothering with stupid shit like feelings – is still getting broken up with at times and that must be devastating.  I can’t imagine that that’s what men want to marry though.  Who wants to marry Carrie Bradshaw when all she cares about is herself and how your money will get her a nice closet and give her good writing material?  After all, what did Carrie love about Big if it wasn’t that he was rich and he didn’t seem all that into her?  Why do women chase celebrities and athletes and bankers to date knowing that they, stereotypically, aren’t the kind of people who show you respect or remain loyal?  I can say this with some authority because at one time, I pretended to be one of these emotionless party girls too.  My heart was broken and my feelings were hurt over and over, but still I tried my hardest to always have up the tough exterior.  I thought that I didn’t want to be a girly girl, I thought that I got along best with guys, but then I realized that I was the problem there – it was my own outlook hindering friendships with women and keeping me from being able to make girl friends easily.  I think a lot of these women are probably doing something similar.

Maybe having fun and getting “likes” really is the meaning of life though, and maybe I have it all wrong.  Maybe wanting someone to be interested in my thoughts about things other than their life is really too much to ask for, and maybe I would feel significantly more fulfilled if only I knew that there were some people out there who were watching my life unfold, commenting on how fabulous and glamorous it is, desperately awaiting my next post just to read more about my life.

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