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Why the Swooning Over Difficult Men But Not Difficult Women?

sarahDifficult men are the cool kids of the contemporary media landscape. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White – you know the list – are getting all the credit for revolutionizing our concept of the TV hero. Bad is now good.

But what about the women? In a brilliant essay in the New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum asks why “Sex & the City” (SATC) is so routinely hand-waved away as the TV equivalent of chic-lit. Weren’t they the female equivalent of difficult men, “odder birds by far,” more “jagged” and “aggressive” than previous single-woman TV icons such as Mary Tyler Moore?

Significantly, the SATC women also started out less “adorable to men.” That, to Nussbaum, “felt like a definite sign of progress: since the elemental representation of single life at the time was the comic strip “Cathy” (ack! chocolate!), better that one’s life should be viewed as glamorously threatening than as sad and lonely.”

I’ve taken a few cracks at SATC myself. I was disappointed that the show ended up coupling off the once-proud single women. I also thought that “SATC – the TV series and the movie – has been unabashed, unconventional, and explicit about sex. By equal measure, though, it has been reticent, conventional, and indirect about the real emotional power of the show.” That power was in the friendship among the women. The friendship storylines lost out to the mate-seeking themes that always seemed to take precedence.

Nussbaum believes that the show started strong but then went wrong:

“For a half dozen episodes, Carrie was a happy, curious explorer, out companionably smoking with modellizers. If she’d stayed that way, the show might have been another “Mary Tyler Moore”: a playful, empowering comedy about one woman’s adventures in the big city.”

“…in the final round, “Sex and the City” pulled its punches, and let Big rescue Carrie. It…showed a failure of nerve, an inability of the writers to imagine, or to trust themselves to portray, any other kind of ending—happy or not. And I can’t help but wonder: What would the show look like without that finale? What if it were the story of a woman who lost herself in her thirties, who was changed by a poisonous, powerful love affair, and who emerged, finally, surrounded by her friends?”

That was the ending I wanted.

Sarah Jessica Parker image available from Shutterstock.

Why the Swooning Over Difficult Men But Not Difficult Women?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2013). Why the Swooning Over Difficult Men But Not Difficult Women?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Jul 2013
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