Monday, April 14, 2014
On Sex and the City and Feminism
Since Queen Bey’s album came out, the F word has been heavy on our lips. Feminism is a constant topic these days. Much so, that it has become joke fodder. I can get out of doing things I don’t want to by saying “Aren’t you a feminist? Shouldn’t you take control here?” The way my mind wanders is that I tend to obsess over little things and try to get a timeline of it based on my lifetime. When I think of football, I think of the greatest I have seen in my life. When I think of Politics, I think so in terms of the impact by the greatest in the context of my lifetime. As Feminism occupied my mind, I started to think of the greatest in the last 20 years. Mrs Clinton, Ms Cyrus, Malala, Ms Winfrey and Ms Adichie crossed my mind. Oprah’s struggle was two pronged in that she had to overcome the race and gender barriers to become the biggest name in Media. Mrs Clinton, a woman who is strongly tipped to go where no woman has gone is the ultimate female Politician of our time and an amazing woman who’s been able to earn herself political relevance in her own right. Malala’s name came because of the sacrifice she made relative to her age and status. She had no fear berating President Obama to his face and taking on the Taliban. I put this to my Twitter followers and some of the names I mention made appearances alongside: Alice Walker, Margaret Thatcher, Amanda Palmer, Helen Fielding, Susanna Kaysen and Madonna.
You know a name that struck me as unheralded; the Sex and the City girls . This isn’t Kanye West saying the Kardashians and their reality show prepared America for interracial relationships territory. Just for the way in which it challenged the perception and understanding of Sex and relationships, it is one of the great feminist contributions. When Miranda Hobbes remarks to her boyfriend who runs to shower every time they conclude a round of sex that “Sex is not a sin”, she speaks for all those girls who have been slut shamed or made to feel a certain way for enjoying what is essentially a piece of human interaction. Samantha Jones was the perfect antidote to the idea that women could not have sex without catching feelings. Her character is unapologetic for its voracious sexual appetite. When Miranda, a Harvard educated corporate lawyer dates Steve, a barman it’s a challenge to the idea of women being bound by societal expectations. We see her battling with sleep whilst waiting for him as their schedules clash. This feeds the idea that we should be with people who make us happy and not those society dictates would make us happy. Miranda prefers him to some of the Wall Street assholes she comes in contact with. I explained this argument to a relative closer to their 30s who was intrigued as to why I was watching this show that was essentially “soft core porn designed for the mainstream”. Isn’t that where the genius of Sex and the City lies? Girls aren’t supposed to talk about sex? Girls aren’t supposed to act like they enjoy sex? It takes this somewhat taboo topic and humanizes it. When Seun White mentioned Miley Cyrus in my twitter poll, I wasn’t sure if she was serious or trolling. When I asked her to explain why, she said ” She diminishes societal constructs, is fearlessly brash, crassly displays her sexuality and is very free” and accompanied it with a hashtag Equality. If I was able to wipe out Ms White’s memory and take her in some time warp to the early Noughties, I have no doubt that she would have said exactly the same referring to Samantha Jones.
The flâneur is a great literary device. Charles Baudelaire, the French poet defines it as “a gentleman stroller of city streets”. This is a creditable tool at providing a lens into the nuances and the wider context of the cities being portrayed in Popular Culture and its essence. There is supposed to be a female version of this: the flâneuse. This idea has been derided by some feminist writers particularly Janet Wolff who argues that it does not exist. She argues in one breath that the role has been so male dominated that it has essentially become an avenue for the marginalization of women. In the other breath, she raises a call for exploration that goes beyond the man’s lives of the modern city. Sex and the City can be viewed as being borne out of this concern. There’s a better detailed article on this element which sparked my thoughts and research and from which I take some quotes here. There are scholars that nominate Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw as the most visible flâneuse of our generation and I am tempted to agree. The way the show is structured in that Carrie’s weekly column is inspired by the going on’s in her life which tend to lend itself towards posing fundamental questions to the audience in a bid to challenge our sensibilities can be profound in our understanding of the times and the people. Sex and the City holds great anthropological value. The flâneuse is designed to ”objectify the inhabitants of the city, noting their activities and appearance for her own enjoyment.” Deborah Jermyn points out that the show’s opening credits ” features snapshots of New York architectural icons … intercut with images of Carrie looking about her, smiling knowingly…and moving confidently through the streets of Manhattan” . The significance of this being that it “shows Carrie’s gaze on, ownership of, and pleasure in the city”. The way in which what used to be a gender specific role was inverted is another piece that underlines the importance of Sex and the City to the modernist wave of feminism.
Not too long ago, Taylor Swift remarked “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” after being subjected to ridicule from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. This is an encapsulation of the idea that women instead of being supportive of each other tend to bring each other down. Analysing Sex and the City, Alice Wignall says ” Not only is it a programme about women, but one about women who like each other. They identify as each other’s soul mates and provide emotional, practical and moral support. They don’t compete with each other for male attention. They make each other laugh. It is probably the best depiction of the genuine nature and importance of female friendship ever to win an Emmy”. Her argument is valid. When Miranda finds herself with an unexpected pregnancy, we see Charlotte who’s battling with Infertility lash out then give all her support despite the envy she feels. Friends who become sisters! When Samantha deals with cancer, the rest of the girls are there to provide all the support and reassurance she needs. Without meaning to patronize, it serves as a great piece of aspiration to all friendship circles and cliques as to what unadulterated love and friendships should look like to women, tallying with Ms. Swift’s brand of feminism.
The construction of the show’s characters is also brilliant in that it provides multiple brands of women. This exposes the young girls who would end up deifying it to a range of options from which they are heavily influenced. Miranda is the career woman. Carrie is the life of the party and the Beyonce to their Destiny Child. Charlotte is the conservative, romance obsessive. Samantha constantly plays the devil’s advocate and provokes. The thread that holds their friendship together? They are hugely successful in their chosen fields. Carrie is a writer and columnist who’s recognizable on the street to the average Joe. I mean, her face is plastered on public buses and the first episode of Season 6 sees her ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Miranda is a workaholic corporate lawyer who is the first in the friendship circle to purchase her own apartment. Samantha’s character was able to come from the metaphorical bottom to the forefront as the head of one of the premier PR agencies in New York. Charlotte, a well regarded art dealer. Some feminists don’t necessarily do anything to the feminist cause other than be successful. Their success breaks barriers and inspires other women. At their worst, this is what the ladies of Sex and the City do. When they rent a house at the Hamptons or have people approach them seeking mentorship, we see the perks and sense of pride that comes with attaining success.
There’s a strong argument that Sex and the City is flawed in that the constant theme all through is finding love, marriage and securing approval from men. By the time the show ends, three of the four girls are defined by their marriages. My retort to this being that whilst it’s an admirable and idealist approach to suggest women do not need male validation, it is FALSE. It’s quite obvious that girls wear make up, nice dresses and expensive shoes because it primarily makes them feel better about themselves. Allied to this need for confidence is the desire to be desirable. Why else are girls so reluctant to share beauty tips and tailors with each other? They need to stand out from the rest and the only way to do that is by keeping the things that help them at this from the clutches of over girls. Male approval is important. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the same vein, we spend so much time at the gym for no other reason than to feel some pride when we take our clothes off in the bedroom. There’s no shame in admitting this.
The usefulness of Pop Culture tends to be trivialized making it difficult for us to see some good in it but it is one of the essential tools of education of the younger generation who derive a great degree of joy and pleasure from it. House of Cards is a great peek at the duplicitous nature of Politics. Mad Men is a great outpost to understand the perception and significance of certain historic milestones. Love and Hip Hop Atlanta provides a great outlet for Ghetto America where the desire to get money outweighs common sense by a ratio of 100:1. Sex and the City is a great example of Pop Culture doing a job at educating and enlightening whilst also seeking to find the purpose of and in certain pieces of human interaction. That’s what makes it great. It’s also what makes it the quintessential piece of Pop Culture feminism.
Originally published on Culture Custodian