Growing up, there was no doubt that I was a Samantha. When it came to my other high school friends, however, there was a lot more debate over who their Sex and the City counterparts were. While each of the show's four central women had their admirable aspects, they each also had flaws you definitely didn't want to be associated with — but none had as undesirable a reputation as Miranda (Cynthia Nixon). Nobody wanted to be a Miranda (except my mom, that is).
That has since changed. Now, my friends — and it seems our entire generation — are fighting over who gets to beMiranda. The traits that seemingly made Miranda the lowest on the social ladder before — her practicality, her prolific blazer collection, her prioritization of her career above all else — are seen as far more desirable than they were 21 years ago, when Sex and the City premiered, or even 15 years ago, when my friends and I were watching on DVD.
When I was a teenager, I thought nothing was sadder than Miranda's relationship with her TiVo, as she'd spend her free time on the couch, ordering in and watching her favorite soapy dramas alone. This isn't just me projecting my own judgment on Miranda. The show wanted us to pity her in this scenario. And yet the second I hit my mid-twenties, I realized there is truly nothing better than doing just that. Miranda works hard, goddamnit. She deserves some time to decompress and get away from Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) chirping on about Big or Aidan or that time someone stole her shoes.
This flip in perspective has been a common experience for me while re-watching several shows from my youth. When I recently binged all of Gilmore Girls, for example, I realized that Rory (Alexis Bledel) wasn't some aspirational go-getter and was actually quite entitled, and that Lorelai's (Lauren Graham) inability to commit isn't at all charming, but steeped in sadness. Meanwhile, my love for the direct (and yes, demanding) Emily (Kelly Bishop) only grew. This tendency to discount unfashionably to-the-point women in favor of celebrating the flighty, self-involved hot messes can even be traced back to my childhood, when I was enamored with each and every Sailor Scout in Sailor Moon -- that is, every Scout except Sailor Mercury, despite the fact that she was the one I actually had the most in common with.
But maybe that's exactly why I — the book nerd with bifocals since I was four years old — didn't want to be the Sailor Mercury or the Miranda growing up. They represented real life, including feelings of being under-appreciated and invisible or working hard but still never being enough. Their lives weren't as glamorous as the lives of their peers, and back then I wanted to imagine my future as being a vibrant adventure in which I was swept off my feet by a Tuxedo Mask, an Aidan, or a Smith Jerrod.
Let's not pretend as though Miranda didn't have some hotties, like Blair Underwood, chasing her at different points in the series. But even when Miranda got a hunk, it never felt like she was truly satisfied. What she wanted, it turns out, was Steve, the blue-collar bartender who — despite the contrived cheating scandal in the first SATC movie — is easily in the running for the best love interest in the entire series. But back then, I clung to the image of having everything, and having it all in lavish technicolor, no compromises necessary. I would rather dream of a future where I made big, glossy mistakes in designer clothes with rich douche in a limo than one in which I had a normal, stable life with a guy who wouldn't turn many heads and yeah, had a weird relationship with his mother, but treated me well and made me laugh.
It was exactly Miranda's lack of concern with image — including the image of feminine likability — that put her in the position of not being hated, but not being loved, either, when Sex and the City first aired. One of the reasons the audience reacted so strongly to her character is because the show on some level seemed to want us to. For all the progress the series made pushing boundaries when it came to portraying female sexuality on screen, it was still built within the confines of patriarchal restrictions and for an audience shaped by these norms. In the show's mindset, Miranda wasn't a hero for how she defined life on her own terms; she was a killjoy who complained when her female friends seemed to only want to talk about men. Miranda's cynical sarcasm didn't turn into widely celebrated witticisms; it got forgotten in favor of Samantha's (Kim Cattrall) broad innuendos and Carrie's lazy puns. And there seemed to be several times throughout the series when Miranda came off like a warning of what happens when women try to "have it all." The underlying feeling the show gave off was that you couldn't be both the successful lawyer and the glamorous sex pot. (It also made the assumption that, at the end of the day, most successful lawyers wouldn't want to be the sex pot.)
Fortunately, television has come a long way since Sex and the City was on, and there are now several modern Mirandas who are heroes in their own rights; Better Call Saul's Kim Wexler, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Paula, and Younger's Diana Trout all have shades of the intelligent, judgmental lawyer in them. And many other shows have taken strides to find the beauty and empathy in everyday realities and mundane hardships like the ones Miranda faced (albeit with far less sympathy). This is in part because the stigma surrounding the independent, unapologetically smart woman on TV has been greatly lessened — but it hasn't been erased. Now, Miranda has become the poster girl for women who are pushing back against these oppressive expectations and helping to create room for more Mirandas in our midst.
You may be wondering why an unfairly maligned character from the '90s and early aughts is now a celebrated figure for modern feminists. The key, really, is timing. As younger Sex and the City fans, like myself, were growing into adulthood in a society that not only inspired but encouraged us to question why we previously discounted what Miranda represented, our personal reckoning with these issues suddenly felt political in 2016 when the ultimate Miranda, Hillary Clinton, ran for president and lost.
The comparisons between Clinton and Miranda are almost too obvious to be worth pointing out: Both women are Ivy League grads who practiced law, loved pantsuits, were in a marriage that survived a cheating scandal, and were widely put down by the world, largely because all of these great qualities weren't deemed desirable enough for women in their position. As communities of women began banding together to process Clinton's loss, it didn't take long before the similarities between Clinton and Miranda became clear, and the Sex and the City figure became a fictional counterpart to the real-life politician.
When Cynthia Nixon ran her own political campaign for governor of New York only two years later, it almost felt like it was finally a chance to set things right — a chance for a Miranda, fictional or not, to finally come out on top. For her part, Nixon completely played into the Miranda of it all, even declaring in an essay for Refinery29 that she believed "Miranda would support Cynthia Nixon for governor." Although Nixon ultimately lost the election (which was always a long shot to win), it felt like a long-overdue renaissance for her character's image. Miranda was no longer the unwanted, undesirable fourth wheel. She was the hero we all wanted and needed precisely because she was determined, serious, responsible, and all the other things that formerly boxed her in as the "frumpy friend" no one wanted to be labeled as.
Now, Miranda has become shorthand for under-appreciated women who have bigger things on their mind than their reputation. Mirandas aren't here to change themselves to fit anyone's expectations; they're far too stubborn for that. But they are here to be blissfully true to themselves in whatever form that may take. Like many great artists, Miranda had to die (OK, the show had to be canceled) for the world to catch up to her greatness. And sure, sure, I know that many of you probably championed Miranda at the time, but we all know that back then you were the vocal minority, not the overwhelming masses. But now, Miranda is a call for change. Miranda is a revolution in norm-core clothes. Miranda is all of us and who we want to be.
So no, as it turns out, I'm not a Samantha after all. I'm not even a Miranda. I'm a Harry — but isn't refusing to choose one of the main four such a Miranda thing to do?
This week, TV Guide is celebrating some of TV's most underrated female characters. As part of Women's History Month, we're paying tribute to Justified's Winona Hawkins, looking at why Doctor Who's Martha Jones deserved a better legacy, and more. You can check out all our Women's History Month content here.