Ah, Sex and the City. I came into adulthood influenced by the women of this series. In my twenties it was my guilty pleasure. Especially if going through a breakup: “I’ll just binge watch SATC and eat ice cream.” What was it that made the viewing so alleviating? Of course the fashion, the bright lights, the big city, the fabulousness. And a show that spoke blatantly about love, relationships, and sex from a woman’s gaze-perhaps it was liberating. But as I grew up, so did the series. And it seems when we both reached maturity, the movie was released: Sex and the City. What interests me, now, is how as I continue to grow and evolve, my consumption of the Sex and the City movie has shifted from a dominant viewing perspective to an oppositional one. I believe at one time, the dominant message, and indeed the one intended, that I decoded was this: That no matter how successful you are as a woman, how independent, how much money and amazing friends you had, how brilliant your life was, your inherent, ultimate desire as a woman is to find your one true love. At this stage in my life I can debunk that message. I would say that a woman can find happiness alone, outside of the hegemonic norms of the nuclear family, the monogomous relationships, and the constant hunt for your other half.
Because the movie is a series of four women’s lives intertwined, I will focus on each character and the portrayal of them, while looking at three supporting roles. I do not look at the female character’s opposite male characters as I don’t think its important to do so, because, for once, the male characters in the storyline do not carry on lives of their own. (Which is not to say that the dynamics of the man/woman relationships mean nothing, as you will see.) In each of their lives I will identify problems from a feminist point of view, whether based on gender, race, sexuality and class, or any other social issues I deem necessary to mention. And there are just so many to choose from!! Also my relationship and understanding of the characters and their development is derived from a decade of viewing the series, but will do my best to contain the summary of them to the movie itself, or otherwise briefly inform.
Charlotte York Goldenblatt
A pretty woman, who finally, after years of the most adamant search of the four main characters finds a husband in a Jewish attorney, to which she marries after having to convert to Judaism. I have no opposition to the conversion. On the contrary have had a deep desire to convert, myself. But for no man. Just out of an individual longing. Out of the four female lead characters, to me, Charlotte was the neediest, and the one I least related to. Her portrayal is not a very empowering one. She has made it very clear (in the past, in the series) that she must marry into money. I would also like to point out that when her and her husband could initially not conceive a child, they adopted a baby from China. This is problematic for me considering the social issues when weighing domestic vs. international adoption. Large numbers of U.S children wait for adoption while many middle/upper middle class families choose international, believing that is where the true need lies.
Never really depicted as beautiful or even sexy (although those are subjective interpretations) Miranda is a hard ass attorney. Much more interested in the success of her career, Miranda, rarely to never, swooned over men. She is, as I mentioned, pretty clearly the least feminine of the four main characters (maybe even masculated) but most feminist. She marries and has a child with a man who is the more sensitive, sweet of the couple. She most certainly wears the pants of the two. In the movie, Miranda’s husband is unfaithful to her because she is too busy, too concerned with work and he is left sexually lacking because of it. Therefore, according to him, reaches out to another woman. What message does this convey? That if a woman becomes too powerful, too independant, she will not be able to sexually satisfy her man? Also, this well-to-do, white privileged couple, Miranda and her husband, employ a Ukrainian immigrant nanny. I, of course, do not know what wage the nanny is being paid, but the depiction of the immigrant nanny perpetuates the discourse of exploited labor amongst immigrant people.
Samanthha is a favorite of many. The depiction of a free, sexually liberated woman, she spends her life engaging in numerous, free love relations with men. In the movie, she works as an agent for her boyfriend, a Hollywood star. In the course of the movie she realizes that her life literally revolves around her boyfriend and decides she must end the relationship and return to her true self. She gains a small amount of weight, I did not notice, but her best friends did. I had trouble with this because when portraying her “pouch” it was like a pinch worth’s of extra skin. It was nothing to report. And ridiculous expectations of weight, what is healthy what is beautiful, is detrimental to the progress women are trying to make in the conventions of beautfy. Also what’s important to note about Samantha’s sexual lifestyle and desires is that many women who choose to be openly sexual and take up as many partners as they please (similar to what is socially acceptable for men, but not women, generally speaking) experience slut-shaming and harassment, which in turn causes guilt and shame. Samantha’s experiences are very accepted within the story and do not deal with the reality of what women often times experience when being sexually free.
Carrie Bradshaw, the main character, is probably the most likeable character. She is not too attractive, not overly aggressive or too sweet, and doesn’t engage in numerous sexual relations. She is very approachable and neutral. She has an amazing fashion sense and is depicted as incredibly materialistic. Almost to a completely unrealistic degree. A successful writer, Carrie devotes her work to investigating women’s relationships accross the spectrum. While she spends a good portion of time dating, she professes to long for one BIG love. Which she finds in her Mr. Big. The majority of the storyline is based on Big purchasing a rather expensive home for he and Carrie. The purchase raised concerns for Carrie in her partnership in the transaction-ultimately leading to them wedding. This was just really disgusting to me. Women owning property wasn’t even permitted for hundreds of years based on the old english common laws of coverture. Why did Carrie have to enter into a marriage contract to be part owner of the home? Why was her name simply added to the deed? This is an excellent argument for marriage truly, in many instances, being a business decision disguised as love, especially for the middle to upper classes. And what kind of patriarchal white supremacist advantages did Big experience throughout his life that allowed him to be a millionaire in the first place? Why are more women not in the financial situation to purchase penthouses by themselves?
It doesn’t take much to realize that Sex and the City is VERY white. Even over the years the series has had limited representation of people of color. But in the movie, the writers chose to bring in a women of color, and she is Louis. Louis is hired by Carrie to be her assistant while Carrie is mourning her break up with her ex. Historically in film, black women have been caricatured and not at all in a positive manner. In bell hook’s The Oppositional Gaze, hook’s recalls the her first experience viewing a black woman on the screen in the character Sapphire of “Amos and Andy” and says: “She was even then backdrop, foil. She was bitch nag.” And hooks goes onto identify other types casted for black women in film-the mammy, the hypersexualized woman. In my opinion, I think Louise is lovely, smart, independant, kind. But is she still backdrop? Her role as a supporting actress is quite literally to support and assist the white, female protagonist. I mean, for goodness sake, her last name is never even mentioned. I would be curious to know if hooks approves of Louise. Perhaps Louise’s portrayal is a step in the right direction.
Standford Blatch is Carrie’s homosexual male sidekick. What I find interesting about Standford, the more I learn about queer film theory, is how his character is emasculated. Standford is a soft and sensitive, very effeminate character. He loves his fashion and style, the way Carrie does, and he is very “girly” about men and relationships.
Where Standford Blatch’s softness stops, Anthony Marantino’s bitchiness picks up. Anthony, Charlotte’s gay friend, depicts another stereotype of gay men. He is a wedding planner, a diva, and very sassy. I don’t have any issues with gay men who have any of these characteristics. What I am concerned with is how these single stories represent gay men in media. After watching, Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema, I am interested in the question, who are these representations of marginalized groups for? The bitchy gay man or the emasculated gay man, which may very well occur in reality, are violent single story stereotypes that perpetuate hegemonic thought in mass media audiences. I am not convinced this is the sole representation a gay director would use to represent people of his community. And this is very disturbing for me, that as media/film consumers we absorb these stories as the norm for all gay men, or any peoples outside of the heternormative, white middle class norm. These ideas relayed through the media keep society in privileged/marginalized structures of people like a well oiled machine.
In conclusion, I have nearly always as a viewer of Sex and the City, paid the most attention to the language, content, form and enjoyed and lived vicariously through the homosocial relationships amongst the four women. But once really constructively looking at it, I see many problems. And perhaps I sound like a bitter, old spinster who doesn’t believe in love. On the contrary I really love love. But, again, at this stage in my life I view the movie and its message oppositionally. I cannot buy into the dominant encoding: “Ladies, you are not whole and complete until you find your man.” I am a single mom, college student, business owner. Finding a man to complete me is not even on my list of things to do. I am quite complete. In my twenties, I bought it. In my thirties, I think Samantha has the right idea. And who knows, maybe in my forties, I will identify with Charlotte. But for now, I still love my girls. I can consume SATC superficially and get enjoyment from all of the pretty things. But the message is all wrong for me, the oppositional viewer.
Miranda Hobbes. Digital image. Sadierae + Co. N.p., n.d. Web.
Charlotte York Goldenblatt. Digital image. Superior Pics. N.p., n.d. Web.
Samantha Jones. Digital image. TV Guide. N.p., n.d. Web.
Carrie Bradshaw. Digital image. WeWomen. N.p., n.d. Web.
Louise. Digital image. Fan Forum. N.p., n.d. Web.
Standford Blatch. Digital image. The Rix Mix. N.p., n.d. Web.
Anthony Marantino. Digital image. Samantha Knows It Better. N.p., n.d. Web.
hooks, bell. The Oppositional Gaze. In Black Looks: Race and Representation. (Boston: South End Press, 1992), p.120
Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cimema. Dir. Lisa Aides and Leslie Klaiborne. 2006. In Class. GWSS 3307. 2/18/15.