Remember Sex and the City? Remember the excruciatingly long first follow-up film during which very little happens apart from watching Carrie spiral dramatically into several different phases of self-pity thanks to Big ditching her at the alter (I’m so surprised, said no SATC fan ever). No one has forgotten the casually racist sequel, where the foursome randomly travels to Abu Dhabi. Thankfully the franchise ended there. Sort of.
I was embarrassingly late to the Sex and the City scene. SATC had its run much before I was old enough to watch it, but that didn’t stop my friends in high school from catching reruns on E! years later. They were all about it: who in our friend group was Carrie? Who was Charlotte? No one wanted to be Miranda – gross. While this was going on, I made noncommittal remarks and pretended like I knew and cared what they were talking about, and why it even mattered; I was never interested in what all the fuss was about. A few years later I finally caved and watched all six seasons the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. A part of me felt like I was only masquerading as a female because I hadn’t seen every episode five times, and part of me was finally curious.
Out of dark at last, I was both delighted and disturbed by what I found. Delighted because, yeah, this show is ridiculous and terrible in the best way. It’s hilarious and entertaining just because it’s so absurd. (And yes, I’ll admit it’s entertaining and addictive.) Disturbing because do women watch this show and take it’s messages seriously?
This got me thinking about what we’re actually supposed to take away from Sex and the City. Is it simply for entertainment – a 22-minute form of escape – or is there a deeper message here about modern femininity that’s unfortunately misconstrued?
A brief deconstruction:
Carrie: Our “relatable” narrator; we admire her; aspire to be her – right? She’s apparently fashion-forward (yikes), a decently well-known NYC celeb, and has a successful column. Plus, she never really has to work. Sure, she’s occasionally shown looking introspective at her computer, but she’s usually out spending all her money on clothes or getting brunch with her friends. Carrie doesn’t know how to cook or use her stove, and she’s proud of it – a modern woman! Let’s not forget about her puns – clever, right ladies? Fair enough. We’re led to believe that Carrie is what we would expect “single and fabulous” to look like.
Let’s be real: Carrie is pretty awful. She’s self-centered, borderline psychotic and looks ridiculous 100 percent of the time. And are we really supposed to believe that she can support her terrifying shoe addiction with a casual writing gig?
*Cue Carrie looking pensively past her computer screen, sucking on a cigarette*: And then I got to thinking, are men actually just like pizza?
And let’s not forget Carrie’s one big flaw: Big.
Big: older, shady, wealthy, terrible eyebrows. That’s all we ever really learn about Big. We don’t even know his name, so what is Carrie’s deal?
Carrie is supposed to be the model for a confident, successful, single thirty-something woman living in NYC. But while Carrie pretends like she wants to be single with no commitment other than her lease for her beloved apartment/closet, in reality she’s just waiting for Big to stop cruising around NYC in the back of his limo and commit already.
Carrie’s entire existence is based off of what Big is or isn’t doing. In the episodes when she isn’t with Big, she’s either: a) Thinking about Big; b) Stalking Big; c) Pretending like she’s annoyed with Big’s consistent and demanding messages on her answering machine while secretly loving it; d) Comparing herself to Big’s current wife/girlfriend; e) Telling herself she’s better off without Big; f) All of the above. Meanwhile, she’s off rejecting perfectly fantastic guys (remember Nice Guy Aiden? Remember when he bought her a brand new laptop and redid her apartment and Carrie unreasonably proceeded to hyperventilate and then cheat on him – with Big? I can’t.) simply because they aren’t Big. The entire series is essentially Carrie trying to lock down the guy who doesn’t really seem to want her. Do we even know who Carrie is without Big? Does she?
Not so single and fabulous.
Miranda: No one wants to be the Miranda of the group. Everyone knows this. But why not? Miranda is intelligent and successful – an ivy league educated New York lawyer – so what’s the problem? Maybe her shoulder pads have something to do with it. For a more feasible model of what a successful and independent woman might look like, Miranda is made to be kind of a wet blanket; she’s intense, serious, and her level-headed solutions for most problems are dismissed by the other women. Plus, Miranda is hands-down the worst at dealing with men and romantic relationships. This girl can’t catch a break: she’s dressed in hideous pantsuits all of the time, she marries “down,” accidentally gets pregnant, and has to move to Brooklyn. So what lesson do we take away from Miranda? Don’t become a successful, independent lawyer, apparently.
Samantha: Samantha is the oldest and most sexually confident of the group. Her confidence and sexcapades might be the most entertaining of the foursome, but that’s not to say that she doesn’t base her confidence off of the attention she receives from men. Samantha is adamantly against marriage throughout the series; true, she sticks to her word about not getting married, but that doesn’t stop her from ending the series in a serious monogamous relationship – with a much younger man no less.
Charlotte: We’re left with Charlotte, who seems to be the model of what a “traditional” woman might look like: educated, successful, sort of a prude, and looking for a husband who will take care of her. Unlike the rest of her friends, she openly wants to get married – the sooner, the better. Sadly for Charlotte, her earnestness often reads like desperation. At the same time, her openness about searching for the WASPiest guy she can find just might make her the most authentic; yes, Charlotte may be a little too earnest/obsessive in her search for love, but at least she’s honest about it. In the end, Charlotte marries a guy who turns out to be impotent. No worries – she divorces him, gets his enormous apartment, and marries her divorce lawyer who, yes, has a bit of a perspiration problem, but loves her unconditionally. Charlotte lives happily ever after.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get married – the problem is the mixed messages we’re getting from the show. The confusion comes with the way that the characters are meant to be portrayed (strong, independent and secure with being single) and the message that we’re getting (don’t end up single, old and alone). These women bash marriage and monogamous relationships, say they’re secure with being single, yet the entire series is about them going through man after man until they find their ultimate committed relationship. On their own, these women have a lot going for them – great careers, friendships and intelligence – so why is it that they seek their self-definition through their relationships with men?
Enter Sex and the City 3. Fortunately not another film, but a mock-Twitter feed bringing us “our favorite puns from the [fictional] movie set.” These Tweets are hysterical and hit the nail right on the head. The account offers a humorous take on what Carrie might be musing about in 2013. Not only do they draw on Carrie’s unending obsession with Big, but they have a firm whole on the essence of Carrie’s fellow city girls as well: