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.