The ‘Sex and the City’ episode where Carrie was forced to leave her shoes at the door matters 18 years later because women are still shamed for being single

Carrie Bradshaw holds a pair of shoes out to her friend
On ‘A Woman’s Right To Shoes,’ Carrie is forced to walk home in old sneakers when her heels are stolen. HBO Max
  • The iconic “Sex and the City” episode “A Woman’s Right to Shoes” aired on August 17, 2003.
  • That it still empowers me exposes how society still has a single-shaming problem, 18 years later.
  • The episode’s writer, Jenny Bicks, encourages all single women to celebrate themselves.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On August 17, 2003, Carrie Bradshaw took “one giant step for single-womankind” when she demanded a new pair of expensive heels from a judgmental friend.

But in the iconic “Sex and the City” episode “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” which aired 18 years ago today, Carrie’s Manolo Blahniks had a deeper value beyond their astronomical price-tag. When Carrie made a registry for her beloved shoes to replace the pair that went missing at a “baby welcoming party” as a way to insist on a replacement from Kyra, a friend who had shamed Carrie for not being married or having kids, she asserted for all single women that our life choices matter too.

Watching the episode again this year, I still feel a surge of pride in Carrie and empowered by the fact that I’m not a mother and might not ever want to be one. Her “registry,” demanding respect for herself and her shoes, reminds me that I matter as a single, childless woman, and so do my milestones.

But the fact that this realization seemed so groundbreaking at the time it aired, and still does now, exposes a bigger problem with the way society treats single women. It’s nearly two decades later, but we’ve barely made much progress at all.

Society dictates that we shower married and child-bearing people with gifts, but single, childless people would be considered weird for doing the same

Right now, I can only dream of owning a pair of Manolo Blahniks. But just like Carrie, a writer living in New York City, I’ve felt the subtle shame that comes with having “so much time” on my hands (as Kyra says to Carrie) that I can worry about “silly” things like planning a birthday night out on Broadway while my friends are busy scraping off the peanut butter mask their kid has decided to paint on his or her face.

The unspoken “rules” of society also still say after 18 years that it’s ridiculous of me to celebrate non-romance related accomplishments with a registry, too. I love my friends, but I guarantee that most of them would be too busy to attend my “I got a new job!” party – especially if it included a link to a gift registry filled with my dream wardrobe.

But if I don’t attend their engagement parties, bachelorette parties, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, or kids’ birthday parties, eventually I’m just not going to be in their lives at all. The shift would be unintentional, perhaps even unconscious, but it’s still not fair.

Carrie Bradshaw sneakers.
‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ aired August 17, 2003. HBO Max

Screenwriter Jenny Bicks, who was single when she wrote “A Woman’s Right to Shoes,” but is married now, joins me in lamenting the financial burden on single women to celebrate everyone else with extravagant parties and expensive gifts.

“The amount of money that we as single women had to spend to celebrate people getting married was insane, you know? You have to go to these destination weddings and buy gifts, and no one’s doing that for the single woman,” she told Insider in a recent interview.

Of course, it’s not just a financial issue. It’s about what we, as a society, deem celebratory. While having children and getting married are certainly milestones worth celebrating (if you want to do those things), some people, like Carrie’s friend Kyra, seem to think they’re the only milestones that matter.

The idea for the episode came to Bicks after being asked to take off her shoes at a party in Manhattan. She hadn’t been expecting the request, and as any fashion-conscious person knows, the shoes make the outfit sometimes.

Though Bicks’ shoes didn’t go missing (like Carrie’s did that night) the experience became the basis for the now iconic “Sex and the City” episode, which ended up tackling an issue a lot bigger than stolen heels – single-shaming from friends who consciously or subconsciously think that the only worthy accomplishments for women are tied to serving other people through motherhood or marriage.

“How do you go about being judged by someone you thought was a friend of yours, who made a different life choice from you?” Bicks asked rhetorically.

Sarah jessica parker sex and the city
Sarah Jessica Parker in ‘Sex and the City.’ James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

Through platforms like social media, we’ve made some progress toward empowering single women, but we still have a long way to go

While I may not have Carrie’s gorgeous shoe collection, I do have at least one thing she didn’t: social media.

One benefit of the modern age is that platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have allowed more equal footing for women, whether childless by choice or happily parenting, to celebrate themselves by posting about their accomplishments. Women are becoming increasingly more comfortable discussing their lifestyle choices that go outside the marriage and family default that many consider to be the norm, as Bicks pointed out.

“You are seeing more and more women making different kinds of choices and being rewarded for that,” she told Insider. “Women are owning that they’re wealthy and that they can do whatever the hell they want.”

But it’s not just external factors that can make it difficult for single women to celebrate themselves. Internalized shaming is a very real issue that single people like me struggle with sometimes, and that can make it hard to post about my career accomplishments with the same fervor that others post about life milestones.

Sarah Jessica Parker as Carry Bradshaw on the phone.
‘A Woman’s Right to Shoes’ screenwriter Jenny Bicks told Insider she had an experience similar to Carrie’s. HBO Max

Author Kate Bolick, who wrote 2016’s “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own,” has centered her writing career on helping other unpartnered women combat that shame.

“Women have questioned marriage and lived happily alone forever,” she told Insider in a statement. “The key is allowing yourself to understand and accept that romantic love is not the end-all be-all of a well-lived life.”

Much like so-called “spinsterdom” has been around forever, the idea of single women being pit against married women isn’t new. It didn’t start back in 2003 when “A Woman’s Right to Shoes” aired on HBO. In fact, Bolick pointed out that in 1898, novelist Neith Boyce wrote an entire “Vogue” magazine column “poking fun at the social norms that demand single working women spend their hard-earned money showering brides-to-be with gifts.”

While I can’t change how society views single women, I can take a cue from Carrie and get better about advocating for my own single-woman accomplishments

While Bolick is right that women can, and long have, lived “happily alone,” it’s not easy to accept and embrace that at face value. While social media does provide that open platform to elevate accomplishments we achieve in whatever way we’d like, as Bicks has observed, let’s not kid ourselves: We singles are still constantly bombarded by romance- and kid-themed photos on those same platforms, and those are the posts that most often rack up the likes and comments.

My friends and their kids are all great – and don’t get me wrong, I enjoy eating cake at their parties – but we all have our limits. As a single woman who doesn’t expect to find her partner while swiping right any time soon, I want to get better at voicing mine.

It doesn’t mean I hate celebrating my friends, but I simply want to live in a world where I can expect a celebration of my accomplishments like married women can instead of just craving it.

So, where do we proudly single, hard-working ladies go from here?

Bicks encouraged me, and all unpartnered women, to celebrate our own personal and professional milestones however we want to, no matter the potential for eye rolls from judgmental friends or family.

“Don’t wait. I mean what the hell, what are you waiting for, right?” she said. “Life is way too short to not celebrate yourself and get what you want.”