I was reading a post on Feministe.com about Sex and the City 2 and I got upset.
The original article can be found here: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/06/01/defending-sex-and-the-city-sort-of-not-really/
If you choose to read it, peruse the comments as well. They’re bound to ignite some sort of fiery reaction in your blood, no matter your views on sexism, racism, ageism, and so on.
I take issue with a lot of the criticism of the show and of the sexism that the post suggests the show propagates. Yes, Sex and the City was popular when our economy was booming and when excess was the norm; the idea of keeping up with Jones’s really meant overspending and under-saving. Of course, that’s all come crashing down. But has it really? And if so, does that make Sex and the City irrelevant?
While the middle class and other socioeconomic underprivileged persons are arguably unable to spend, and of course revenue is down, has the recession trickled up to reach those wealthy who everyone was actually trying to emulate?
For some, yes. But for others, arguably most, no. We’re not re-aligning our mindsets toward redistribution of wealth or reallocation of government resources for some better purposes. We’re just biding our time until we’re better employed and we can start spending all over again. Spending with the hopes of upward social mobility.
While the writer and the commenters (when not veering off to discuss the state of Muslim women in the world) believe that the women of Sex and the City care only for their clothes, shoes, men and money, I’m arguing that they too face very real-world problems, even in their carefully scripted, fairytale Manhattan lives. Emphasis on scripted, fairytale lives.
Carrie has long been a renter, and at some point (I’d like to say season 4) is forced to make the decision to either buy or relocate. She has no money, no savings; there’s not a hint of financial responsibility surrounding her character because the audience is well aware that Carrie is happy to spend her paychecks on fashion. She spends time considering what to do and it’s revealed that she’s spent the better part of $40,000 on shoes. That’s enough for a down payment. In the end, of course, it all comes to a resolution and the shoes are safe.
While a small incident in the show’s 6-year run, the money crises that Carrie suffers from shows that while perhaps Sex and City is merely a fairytale, it is also grounded in some sort of reality. While not all of us can afford to walk around in Louboutins (oh, and I wish that we could), we all face issues regarding our own use of money at some point.
Another issue, which I’m finding to be more and more common in my own life, is the issue of lending money to friends. There’s a row over that at some point as well, with rich Charlotte hesitant to lend money to one of the girls. Of course, I once sided with whichever of the women asked for the money, but now I understand much better to never mix friendship and money.
These examples show that while Sex and the City may very well be at its core a frivolous look at unrealistic women with expensive tastes, it’s also a show that understands that no woman, not even the best-dressed or most educated can escape certain problems. There are also bouts with sexually transmitted infections, cancer, raising children, etc.
It’s a show. I don’t want to spend my time watching my own life problems played up on the screen. I want to suspend reality and pretend that I too have the weight of the world upon my shoulders when I must choose which of my designer outfits to wear to the newest club opening. That’s the world viewers want to see.
The sprinkling of reality was just to taste.
Also, the article quotes another article which talks about the refreshing moment when Charlotte and Miranda discuss that their motherhood and how sometimes you do need a break from the children. It anachronistically refers to 1971 as first-wave feminism, but it would have actually been more like second-wave at that time. I enjoyed watching the women struggle as mothers. Miranda struggled a lot in the series after the birth of her child. She was unprepared to be a mother and encountered a steep learning curve. She has to fight to keep her friendships, she has to fight to learn how to raise her son. She turns to Magda, her cleaning lady, for help. Charlotte struggles with conception, turning finally to adoption. She is happiest with her non-traditional family and is forced to give up her perfectionist ideals in order to embrace motherhood.
And then there’s the religion problem. I’ve been avoiding it. I don’t want to talk about it. But I’m going to address it from my own point of view. I’m prefacing this like that because I believe that everyone gets tangled in their opinions and then everyone gets called a racist and we’ve got problems stemming from our own inability to define anything or to thoroughly understand the topics at hand.
Before this segment begins, we’re going to have to discuss the lens from which the audience is viewing the movie. Mostly white, American, probably Christian (I’m basing this off of what I know my blog readership to be. I am in no way negating the experiences of any other person, however, I can only draw on the experiences of a white, middle-class, raised-Catholic person, because that it what I am.) And that’s where the problems are.
As white, middle-class viewers, we come to the movie with certain preconceived notions. We need to be aware of our own limitations before we can thoroughly critique the limitations of any certain work.
I see where the writer wanted to talk about Muslim women. I see how he wanted to draw parallels between the girls from New York and the secret women’s book club in Abu Dhabi. I see how he wanted to show the similar spirits of both sets of women. I see this. But he failed miserably.
The Muslim women in the movie are poorly placed. They get very little screen time and are shown as caricatures of a collision between two cultures: Muslim women who desperately seek to become Americanized. I have a hard time believing that this is the case. Our own American lens, however, makes it seem as though “they” (any othered subset) would want to welcome our own Western culture.
One woman has decorated her outfit with color around the sleeves. Another eats french fries under her veil. At one point, the Muslim book club sheds their outer garb to reveal the spring collection of Louis Vuitton.
This attempt at subversive independence is poorly placed in the film. The author opens a door where there never should have been one, or if some opening, a window, intending to merely peek inside at the issue of religion, but instead fails to walk through this now gaping hole that is the issue of religion and culture, leaving the audience unfulfilled and angry. This wasn’t supposed to be a racist movie. But it was.
The Middle East is probably the worst setting the author could have chosen, and I’d be interested to see why he chose it. Now? Of all times?
To quote the New York Times article linked at the bottom, “The gravest of these sins in my unscientific survey are behavioral: the women act like ugly Americans and debase every aspect of Muslim culture they come in contact with. Also: they’re women. And middle aged. Girlish. Have had bad work done. Or maybe not enough.”
The characters, specifically Miranda, are aware of the disrespect that they (mostly Samantha) are showing to the predominantly Muslim culture that is surrounding them. They talk about it. The author attempts to parallel the wearing of the veils with the silencing of women while simultaneously showing Carrie as having tape over her mouth in a book review. The hastily reached conclusion? He’s afraid of her because she’s a women, not because her book may not have been the most insightful. His attempt to silence her comes from the fact that he’s a man.
The NYTimes shows the bind that women find themselves in. To age gracefully? Not allowed. To embrace plastic surgery? Not allowed. To age? Not allowed. To be immature? Not allowed. To be women? Not allowed.
Hello first wave feminism.
Aren’t we past that?
But we aren’t and that plays into why I’m still going to defend this movie. I’m not defending racism. I’m defending a film. I do agree that there were things that could have (should have) been done very differently.
The United States, whether we like it or not, is a Christian nation. We can’t wrap our minds around other cultures, let alone other religions. We’re afraid of things we don’t understand. We want to crusade against anything “other,” anything different. We can’t fathom why certain things are the way they are and we get upset about the rights of other women in other places. But we still have a lot to work for as women in the United States.
We’re not free. Critics of Sex and the City come down on it for not having enough diversity, not having this, that, etc. Creation and maintenance of the family is the focus of many women in our culture. Little girls grow up dreaming about their wedding day. Carrie makes it to that point in the first movie but eventually marries in a small ceremony at City Hall. Sex and the City has the balls to show Carrie and her husband addressing the fact that they have no children and don’t plan to. The movie doesn’t cop out with Carrie getting pregnant. She’s setting her own terms for her marriage and her life.
The idea of housework and child-rearing not being considered work is something that women deal with on a daily basis. The “third shift” is the housework, something that many women who work full time still have to do once they get home because of antiquated notions about feminine roles. Miranda quits her job as a lawyer in the film but hates being a full-time stay at home mom. Being a full-time mother just isn’t her thing and she regrets leaving her job. She finds another job where she is appreciated yet still able to make it to her son’s school events. She is defined by her career. Charlotte, however, is a full-time mother and she is fulfilled and exhilarated by her job (most of the time). She derives meaning from her work in the maintenance of the family, but part of her conclusion in the film was that she, too, needs time to herself away from the children.
There’s oppression right around the corner. Muslim women nothing. American women nothing. No single piece, no single article, no single film, book, or scrap of media is going to speak for all women of any culture, religion, race, etc. Oppression comes in all forms, religious and otherwise.
You cannot encapsulate the struggles of women or any culture into a two hour movie about girl power and friendship. The author tried and failed miserably. I’m forgiving Sex and the City its grave mistake of being set in Abu Dhabi. That was a dumb plot device that never should have been constructed. It set off a chain of hatred that someone should have seen coming.
I loved the movie. It wasn’t about materialism (there were no grand shopping sprees, no ridiculous spending); it was about love and marriage and life and choices. And in the end, female friendship wins and everyone is allowed to be in the sort of relationship of their choosing. That, my friends, is exactly what I paid to see.
Here’s another little piece that I enjoyed: