Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Sex & The City: Pioneers of the Childfree Message?

When I was in grad school, a group of us single ladies used to get together once a week to watch Sex and The City. Now, an embarrassing number of years later, I find myself getting sucked back in to the SATC rerun vortex. The hairstyles, the clothes and the jokes are pretty hideously dated. But you know what’s not? The themes that these four women in their thirties and forties without kids (at least in the earlier seasons) experience on a daily basis.

Miranda in the ElevatorThe episode that really drove this point home for me is the one where Miranda accidentally goes to her gym during “family day”. Late for a meeting and hurrying into the elevator, Miranda is asked by a single dad if she would mind letting his child hit the button for Miranda’s floor. Predictably, the little monster presses them all. Miranda then acquiesces to a date, only to regret it weeks later when an incident makes it abundantly clear there’s no room for her in all the Daddy/child relationship drama. The episode closes with Miranda in the same elevator, once again being asked if she would allow someone else’s child to push her button because “he likes pushing the button.” Miranda’s reply this time? “So do I,” before pushing it herself.

I realize that this little scene taken out of context might sound petty. After all, what’s the harm in giving up your right to push an elevator button if it brings more joy to a child than it possibly could you? Probably none. Unless this is just one in a string of a thousand other things you’ve done for someone else’s kid recently. Maybe you had your view blocked at the fireworks from a toddler on his uncle’s shoulders. Maybe you reached for the last cookie at the picnic only to be beat out by a tiny, trembling chin. Maybe you nearly had a Depends Moment waiting in line for the public bathroom at the Neil Diamond tribute band concert in Polliwog Park, and then had to wait an extra 30 nail-biting seconds when somebody’s kid behind you just couldn’t hold it anymore. (I type, of course, from experience.)

The subtle, underlying message from society is pretty clear: You are no longer as important as they are. And if you’re a parent, that makes total sense. It’s really no big deal for you to take a backseat to the fireworks, give up your cookie, or do a harrowing little pee-pee dance in public while your kid goes first. Because you love that kid and you’d do anything for them. You want to sacrifice for them and make them feel like they’re more important than your own wants and needs. The rewards you reap from being a parent completely overshadow any feelings you might’ve considered having about that last delectable snickerdoodle. And for centuries, it was just considered the passing of the baton. You get all the treats as a kid, and then transition over to making sacrifices for your own brood later on.

But what if you don’t want kids? What kind of psychological damage is done when you’re reminded on a continual basis that you no longer really matter as much as others in the grand scheme of things? That your needs are no longer as important as those of the little people around you? That you need to sacrifice your experience, your comfort, your desires for others you don’t even know?

There are times where special treatment based on age is entirely called for. We should always be giving up our seat on the bus for the elderly. And though it sucks for us, we should probably let the little kid cut us in line for the bathroom when they’re on the verge of peeing their pants because they haven’t yet figured out the bladder warning signs. But getting the final cookie? Pressing the elevator buttons? Why is preferential treatment being given in these situations? I have to wonder if it winds up doing more harm than good in teaching a whole crop of kiddos that they deserve something more than someone else for no real reason other than being “cute”. When and how do they learn to eventually shut that off? Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s why I see so many girls at the bar letting guys they have no intention of talking to buy them drinks. Or people thinking nothing of nudging their way in front of you in line to nab the last empty overhead compartment space on your flight.

I’m not suggesting that we all run around like selfish maniacs, grabbing up the last scratchy blue blanket on the United redeye. In fact, I think it’d be fantastic if we all did a little more of the why-don’t-you-take-it, no-you-take-it, no-I-insist dance over the final pink Starburst in the pack. The key is making sure that we’re doing it indiscriminately. That everyone’s getting a piece of the generosity pie.

Otherwise I fear we might be headed for a lifetime of lengthy elevator rides, compliments of a generation who believes that everything should be sacrificed for them – not only by their parents, but by the rest of society as well. So thank you, Miranda, for reminding us that we ALL deserve to push the button once in a while.

9 Responses to Sex & The City: Pioneers of the Childfree Message?

  • Erin says:

    Visit any playground (with watchful parents) and you’ll see that it’s a pretty quick transition from being the one to get preferential treatment to being expected to watch out for those younger or less able. Obviously some learn that lesson quicker than others. I suppose it depends on the situation and the parents. Just for the record, you can eat the last cookie if my kid makes a play for it :)

  • Liz Lowe says:

    There are people who definitely take it too far. A story from a few years ago that still makes me twitchy, maybe one day I’ll let it go ;)

    My husband and I were at a music festival and a band we absolutely love were headlining. We knew they were likely to be popular so we went to the stage an hour early so we could get a spot at the front. Even then we couldn’t get near the centre of the front, we ended up off to one of the sides of the front.

    I think you can see where this is going: five minutes after the gig had STARTED, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and gestured to me to move to let her and her small kid go to the front. I shook my head, she got a bit shirty, tutting and gesticulating. I couldn’t hear what she said over the noise but she didn’t look happy. You want your kid to be at the front, lady, get here 60+ minutes early like everyone else here.

    I don’t mind her “asking” per se, but her attitude when I refused was unbelievable…! I understand that standing around for an hour can be difficult with a child but, hey, it was hardly wonderful for us either and thems the choices and consequences of having a kid. You don’t just get to rock up late and trump everyone else who has done the waiting around.

    I’m not even sure the kid would have got anything out of it anyway (apart from the sense of entitilement, as you point out!). I think the woman was just using her kid as an excuse because SHE wanted to get to the front.

    • Kate says:

      Ugh – we had a similar situation. My husband and I went to a movie. We sat in the 2nd to last row, because my husband is 6’5″ and blocks the view of everyone behind him, and I forget what movie it was, but it more of a kids’ movie, so we definitely wanted to avoid blocking a child’s view (plus we just like sitting in the back).

      So when we saw one lone adult man in the last row, we felt we were fine. My husband took a seat that was NOT directly in front of him, but in front of the empty seat next to this guy. Bear in mind, we were seated well before the previews started, before the lights went down, etc. It wasn’t right away, but eventually Mr. Last Row made some shitty under-his-breath comment about “that’s alright, it’s not like my kid needs to see”. Seriously?! First of all, how are we to know you HAVE a kid, since you’re sitting alone? Secondly, you’ve got plenty of seats on either side of you – switch seats. And third, you had plenty of time, why did you just sit there and wait to complain?

      In general, I’ve totally noticed lately that, on game shows or what have you, sometimes all the commentators will say about a competitor is “she has 2 kids”. And I’ve actually noticed it happening for the male competitors too. It’s just this general attitude like kids are the only thing worth mentioning about people’s lives. I could be an ultramarathoner and I’d be described as “she likes to run”, yet Susie would have this long montage of how she has to work endless hours caring for her kids. People, kids are a CHOICE. No one made you have them. No one forced you to sacrifice your time and effort. Why are my life choices somehow less important?

      I could go on, but I’ll stop now. :(

  • Lara says:

    Totally agree on the pushing the button issue. This show did have some great childfree moments, like when Carrie asked why single people’s achievements are never celebrated but friends are expected to fork out for weddings and baby showers. There was also the baby shower episode itself which was really funny. However, I have problems with SATC in the later seasons – as you point out, it’s the early ones that relate most to the childfree situation. I was really disappointed watching a documentary on the show when the creator and producer said that they wanted to show Miranda could be ‘soft … so we gave her a baby.’ Miranda was a great character pre-baby and she was a great friend to Carrie. I don’t see why giving her a baby suddenly made her a better person. It did redeem itself slightly with the second film (awful, I watched it on a plane) where Miranda and Charlotte discuss just how hard it is being a mother and Carrie and Big admit to a shocked wedding guest that they have no desire for children. But the best comments of all came from Samantha in response to Charlotte. There’s the one where Charlotte tells her to tone down her sex talk at the breakfast table:
    Charlotte: The people at the next table have a child.
    Samantha: Well that’s their choice.

    And my very favourite:
    Charlotte: You guys, Trey and I are trying to have a baby.
    Samantha: Why?

    Sorry if the quotes aren’t exact!

    • ML says:

      I was just going to mention the baby shower episode :) I love it, it’s so true. When I got married I bought my friend an I’m-not-getting-married gift. Why shouldn’t she get a treat, single people need things too.

      • Lara says:

        Brilliant idea ML, good for you – I also think people should get gifts if they dodge a bad marriage. I broke up with someone totally unsuitable years ago and my best friend gave a huge sigh of relief and sent me a congratulations card!

  • Scott says:

    I agree. There’s a difference between sacrificing for someone who already exists and creating someone to sacrifice for.

    You have no obligation towards someone who does not exist and who will never exist. It’s not actually selfish to decide not to have kids. That just means you aren’t concerned about people who will never exist, so no one is actually harmed by your “selfishness.”

    I just can’t be bothered to think too much about things that are never going to happen.

  • Scott says:

    Not necessarily common experiences of women. There is that one episode where the issue was “modelizers” — men who only date fashion models. How many places on earth is that an actual problem? Manhattan, Paris, maybe Milan. Is this really a common problem among American women?

    The idea that she can afford those shoes and that apartment on the salary of a freelance advice columnist is patently absurd.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      That never bothered me until I actually became a freelance writer and now it’s HILARIOUS!

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