What Might Have Made Me Watch Sex & The City

The marketing campaign around Sex and the City makes me feel like I am the only person on Earth who did not watch this show. To be honest, I did not have HBO when it premiered. By the time I saw an episode of it, it was well underway and I was unimpressed. Specifically, I was concerned by Amanda who all my students said was so empowering. In the epi I saw, Amanda was sick and spent the whole day calling everyone in her address book in the hopes of finding someone who would care for her. Intermittently she would go to the window and yell at the trans sex workers outside to be quiet and they would yell the same back at her. Ultimately, no one in Amanda’s “little black book” would come to her aid. Most were one night stands or standing booty calls, and even her friends were too caught up in their own stuff to care for her. By episodes end, Amanda had invited the trans sex workers she had been verbally abusing all day to come up to her place for a drink. Instead of being freeing, the episode played out like an old anti-woman morality tale supported by cissexism. Amanda’s supposed sexual liberation was clearly disciplined and punished by her friends and the narrative (she has a huge address book but no real friends), and her sexual “freedom” was juxtaposed with trans sex workers in a way that posited them both as outside of “real womanhood” and as “whores.” In other words, both sexism and cissexism worked to vilify everyone involved. This was hardly the feminist tome I had been promised and so I let the ship sail alone.

Then the movie came out, and guess what, I didn’t see that either. Instead I heard tons of criticism from one of my good friends who watched the show religiously. Included in her complaints were the resurrection of the mammy figure, this time in the form of a black assistant instead of black and brown trans sex workers, the policing of the female body (the shaving incident), the racism (both Hudson’s role & Charlotte’s refusal to drink the water in Mexico), & sexist pairing off of all of the characters. I watched clips on youtube that confirmed many of these interpretations for me, as well as the heterosexism embedded in the sexist pairing off of the characters.  (In truth, I tried to watch it on cable but was appalled that Miranda was being blamed for her husband cheating on her by both her friends & her therapist, and turned it off.) And I began to wonder why any of my students or the myriad of female viewers of this show bought the surface level premise of female empowerment through sexual conquest when just beneath was the same old retread of sexist messages about needing a man, betraying or back stabbing one’s friends, and not being “a slut” as well as all the other problematic oppressions like racism, classism, ageism, cissexism, etc.

Well no one has ever really answered my question, beyond pointing to its barbie-dream-house-like “escapism” and I’ve never felt the need to comment on the blog about it because well, I don’t watch it enough to take on the trolls.

So why write about it now?

Well, besides the fact a sequel is fast approaching in which the key plot seems to once again revolve around the relationship woes of these women and the fact they have to give up independence to get love, oh so feminist that, there is this amazing video by Elisa Kreisinger that actually reframes the series through a queer lens that makes it far more intriguing to me. (In truth, what Elisa is doing with the video and her overall project are actually the intriguing part, but at least now I’ve said my bit about Sex and The City publicly and got it off my chest once and for all).

Watch and tell me what you think:

I am indebted to Pia Guerrero of  Adios Barbie for bringing this video and this artist to my attention. If you don’t read Adios Barbie, you really should.

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8 thoughts on “What Might Have Made Me Watch Sex & The City

    • Yes, I often wondered if the show was a giant marketing ploy on the part of its participants to get free designer shoes. I think Sex and the City was even directly responsible for the trend to shave off part of one’s toes to fit into the shoes they advertised for so heavily.

  1. I love(d) SATC but I’m finding it’s not aging well. I rewatch episodes from time to time and it’s much less “progressive” than its champions would have us believe. Gay characters trotted out only on occasion, usually to talk about the man troubles of the women, never their own man troubles, and visibly put back in their boxes when their two minute slot’s up. (An episode I just watched had the main character tell her supposed best gay friend that he couldn’t come out for drinks to meet her new boyfriend because the event was “just for the girls” in a way that had me cringe.) Marriage and children continues to be the holy grail for most of the women, except for Samantha, and you’ve noted above how the writers treated her.

    Even though I enjoyed the show (and still do on occasion), I have much the same complaints that your friend had with the movie, which I think is wretched. Moreover, I can’t get past the fact that the main character’s choosing of a man who treated her beyond appallingly for ten whole years (even leaving her at the altar) is being packaged as the perfect romance. At least with “happily ever after” fairy tales, the prince didn’t treat the heroine badly. Is this progress?

    • I’m happy to have a fan of the show weigh in as my critique’s basis is pretty thin as a non-watcher.

      This pt of your comment was most telling:

      I can’t get past the fact that the main character’s choosing of a man who treated her beyond appallingly for ten whole years (even leaving her at the altar) is being packaged as the perfect romance. At least with “happily ever after” fairy tales, the prince didn’t treat the heroine badly.

      Wasn’t Mr. Big married when they met & didn’t he actively break up a relationship she had with someone who didn’t treat her badly just to leave again? Or am I mistaken about that?

      • You’re not far off, prof susurro. Big wasn’t married when they met but he got engaged soon after they broke up (for the second time) because he wasn’t willing to consider marriage, among other things. But you’re right, he did break up a relationship she was in with someone who treated her much better and he was married during their affair. I was willing to overlook much of that history when the television show was on but something about the fact that she goes back to him even after he left her at the altar in the movie has never sat well with me.

        The movie has spoiled the show itself for me, probably because it fixated on the aspects I liked least. I’m sure part of this is because I’m older, more liberal, more skeptical of the American marriage culture, and a more demanding viewer than I was in college. I expect a show like SATC to push boundaries but what I see now is that it pushed boundaries on the surface (depictions of sex, mainly) but not in substance.

  2. I enjoyed the show even though I knew it wasn’t as progressive as the hype would have you believe.. One of the things that I think drew me and the culture at large was fascinated was the age of the series’ singles. Because past young ingenues we see women as “mothers” and or the district attorney. Yet here was a show that bothered to show that older single women had lives, that they still participated in the public world after work, was fascinating.

  3. What made me watch sex and the city movie is that it talks about friendship and getting married is not the end of our love story but rather the beginning…

    • I am not sure that the overall argument of Sex in the City from Show to film holds true to the latter part of your statement, but as a non-viewer I can only speak to the advertising and the bildungsroman of the “lead”.

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