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Why the backlash against “Sex and the City” is political

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, June 5, 2008 23:32 EDT
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Argh, I’m done hiding my head and will be brave enough to talk about it, having been inspired by Sarah Seltzer. All these attacks on “Sex and the City” in light of the movie that has come out—mostly from people who probably never watched a minute of the show—are sexist. And they’re a particularly insidious form of sexism, one that feminists are prone to falling for, which suggests that women don’t deserve respect unless they distance themselves from unserious things. (Of course, if you adequately empty your life of humor and beauty to show how serious you are, you’ll get it for that, too.) As an audience member at one of my reading suggested, there’s something very fishy about the way the writers at Gawker and Jezebel bash the show for what? Doing pretty much the same stuff that they do at those websites, except at least “SATC” is fictional. And the sluttier-and-tougher-than-thou one-upmanship just made me embarrassed for the participants.

But the worst is the assumption that because it’s about four women and it’s funny and it’s about sex and there’s expensive clothes, then it is by definition stupid. Why? Because it’s feminine, admit it.

Meanwhile, you’ve got commentators like Best Week Ever’s Paul F. Tompkins and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. They’re both generally smart, enlightened folks, but last night Tompkins dropped by Olbermann’s show so they could snicker their way through a “Sex and the City survival guide for men.” (Check it out below.) The premise, of course, was that no so-called real man would ever want to see a movie about three-dimensional, adult female characters. (The TV show also featured plenty of well-rounded, interesting male characters over the years, by the by — Steve, Aidan, Trey — but we can ignore that inconvenient fact.) Quipped Tompkins: “If you’re with a woman who is insisting that you go see this movie, I think it’s time to maybe date someone else. Because men are not meant to see this movie with women.” Way to police those restrictive gender roles, bro!

The show is assumed, especially by people bashing it who never gave it a chance, to be about a bunch of feather-headed, shoe-obsessed sluts who never have a serious moment in their lives, and just want men to rescue them. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Only two of the characters even wanted to get married, and the other two really did have good reason to believe husbands were obstacles to their career and life goals. Moreover, the show did a beautiful send-up of the “marriage at any cost” desperation shoved on women—Charlotte, the one who buys the hype about getting married before your “sell-by date”, and ends up with a twit of a husband who can’t get it up for, you know, his sainted wife. The only evidence for their supposedly being trifling, shallow women is frankly that they sat around at brunch cracking jokes about their sex lives, which is the sort of thing that gets labeled “shallow” when women do it, because it makes men sweat bullets. Well, it makes women sweat bullets when it goes the other way, guys, but we just don’t have the social power to label and shame the behavior. In fact, if women get up in arms about the worst excesses—guys who make sport of fucking desperate women and then mocking the women for it, something that the characters on “SATC” never did—it just encourages the behavior, because it makes it seem more naughty, more masculine.
I object to defenses of the show that are like, “Sure, it’s shallow, but so is ‘Transformers’!” C’mon, this show had a lot more going on than “Transformers”. It’s not Bergmar or anything, but it was interesting and had a lot of variety and depth. There got to be a point in the show where the writers began to buy the hype, and suddenly Carrie’s clothes-and-shoe obsession was less a joke on her and more a selling point, and then everyone started drifting towards marriage, and I drifted away as a viewer. People assume the word “shallow” to describe the characters refers to their clothes and shoes, but even then, there’s no reason to think someone with feminine tastes is de facto shallow. But I have another read: People who accuse the show of being shallow are echoing the right wing definition of “shallow”, which is women who have things in their lives that are important to them besides being wives and mothers to others. It’s not the shoes or clothes that make them shallow, it’s that they lived for themselves. They had careers and lovers and adventures, and they did it for their own reasons and on their own terms.

And that’s why, as I’ve said before, the show is a fantasy for a lot of fans who don’t have that opportunity to live, well, like men get to. And that’s why the show is such a sore spot in our country, because it put a friendly face on that demonized woman, the independent woman. There’s not a lot of room for independent women still in the Hollywood machine. Movies like “Knocked Up” can push the envelope of raunchy humor, but still play it very safe and deny the threatening idea that a woman (gasp!) might not want to be tied down to just any random dude who asks. I’m not arguing the show was a feminist manifesto or something—it was just a comedy show that happened to be about these characters—but just in that aspect, it apparently was a nuclear level threat that has to be shut down with mockery on major news shows from MSNBC to Fox.

I haven’t seen the movie, and I’m not sure I want to if it’s just going to continue where the show left off, which was off the rails from what made it originally so fun. But there was a time there when it was a good show, dammit.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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