The past year has seen a new type of female character emerge. Unlike the Carrie Bradshaw effect of the late '90s and early 2000s, TV's fictional women are no longer glamorizing dysfunctional relationships or using retail therapy to numb emotional pain. True, characters like Mindy Lahiri ("The Mindy Project"), Ann Perkins ("Parks and Recreation"), and Jess Day ("New Girl") make their share of mistakes and poor decisions, but they don't shy away from their behaviour.
Unlike Carrie, these female characters take responsibility for their actions and handle distressing situations like adults. In this decade, the women on television control their own lives.
While "Sex and the City's" Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) made waves in the '90s for embracing an active sex life -- a trait Mindy, Ann, and Jess all share -- her irresponsible spending, penchant for labels, and relationship with Mr. Big (a man who mistreated her for years, yet whom she ended up marrying), made her the victim of her own actions. Yes, at some point, some people overspend, and some people find themselves with a partner who doesn't respect them, but unlike today's fictional women, Carrie was defined by those situations. By the second "Sex and the City" movie, Carrie kissed another man, and in response to the news, Mr. Big buys her a diamond ring to solve the problem.
On "Parks and Recreation," however, Ann (Rashida Jones) doesn't have this luxury. In the fourth episode of the current season, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) confronts Ann after noticing she adopts the personality and hobbies of any man she has a relationship with. Instead of a snide remark said at brunch (à la "Sex and the City"), the two friends actually discuss the problem, prompting Ann to re-evaluate her approach to boyfriends, and how important it is to be yourself.
The same can be said for "The Mindy Project's" Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and "New Girl's" Jess (Zooey Deschanel). Mindy's decision to keep up a one-sided relationship with her coworker is immediately called out by her best friend, so she instead begins pursuing men who treat her better. Meanwhile, Jess' go-to pal may be her roommate, Nick (Jake Johnson), but the two have countless confrontations about relationship choices and self-destructive behaviour. Case in point: now that Jess is unemployed, her friends have been consistently supporting her job search and keeping her motivated when she begins to feel down.
However, this shift might not be permanent. With the premiere of "The Carrie Diaries" -- a "Sex and the City" prequel -- set for early 2013 on The CW, another generation of girls will be subjected to the franchise's "labels and love" ethos. Yes, some women like designers and others prioritize dating, but to define women by those things is limiting and dangerous, especially to young women. Shows like "Parks and Recreation," "The Mindy Project," and "New Girl" portray women as interesting and three-dimensional -- as actual human beings. They have real relationships with their friends, where bad behaviour is called out, and successes are celebrated. And while they aren't perfect, these women strive to fix their problems as opposed to shopping them away.
"The Carrie Diaries" may work to portray their characters as more than just PG-13 rated versions of their adult selves, but it might also perpetuate those dangerous traits that audiences are only now starting to tire of.