Sunday, May 30, 2010

my only blog post about SEX AND THE CITY

Based on this review, SATC seems to really polarize people. Most of the commenters agreed with the hostile review, but a percentage of the commenters were hostile to the reviewer.

I watched about 15 minutes of the show once and that was enough for me - the incessant voice-over was just too annoying. And from everything I'd heard, the show spent an insane amount of time on shoes. I certainly never considered it a feminist show since it was about a bunch of rich shallow fashion-obsessed dummies.

And yet... it is rather suspicious how much hostility is displayed towards the show and the movies. As several of the review commenters pointed out, the silly male fantasies of the James Bond franchise never seemed to inspire this much vitriol from anybody. Some even claim James Bond is cool.

Here's the thing - the feminist pioneers were a smart, fearless group of women, not afraid to speak out, risking hell and hostility to break down barriers.

But not all women are like that. There are plenty of timid, not-too-bright women (and there probably an equal number of men who are the same way) who don't think very hard about anything at all. They like pretty clothes and they like sex - because everybody likes sex.

But here's the thing - traditionally women were not supposed to like sex. Or if they did, they better keep quiet about it. Their job was to be the object of desire, either for a husband or a john. They didn't get to have their own desires - female desires were inconvenient in a world where women were traded between men.

I don't think some of these know-it-all critics of the SATC franchise realize what a big deal it is for lots of women to admit that they like sex and seek it out for pure pleasure. Yeah, feminists broke those barriers down 50 years ago, pushing for jobs and birth control. That got a LOT of press. But it takes decades for the rest of the world to catch up with pioneers.

So this is the first step for the slow women - admitting they like sex. For the dim women, buying a lavish wardrobe is all they require for a sense of empowerment.

So SATC is an easy target. But the most hostile critics of the show almost always tip over into expressions of misogyny, often while claiming to be feminists. Lindy West does it several times, especially in her hostility to the oldest of the four women, Samantha:
What is the lubrication level of Samantha Jones's 52-year-old vagina? Has the change of life dulled its sparkle? Do its aged and withered depths finally chafe from the endless pounding, pounding, pounding—cruel phallic penance demanded by the emotionally barren sexual compulsive from which it hangs? If I do not receive an update on the deep, gray caverns of Jones, I shall surely die!
Now menopause is a serious subject and impacts virtually all women. West whines about how shallow the movie is, yet references to menopause make her spit bile. And what makes her angriest, apparently, is that the movie takes a note of reassurance - Samantha is still having lots of great sex. No doubt this is a comfort to the movie's target audience. And it's certainly no more of a fantasy than so many Hollywood movies in which saggy middle-aged men are paired up with beautiful 20-something women.

West really tips her internalized-misogyny hand here:
This will not stand. Samantha, being the prostitute sexual revolutionary that she is...
If the Samantha character is having lots of great, unapologetic sex at 52, that does in fact make her a sexual revolutionary to many women from more backwards areas of the US or the world. But West suggests she's a "prostitute" (and the strike-out indicates that this is what she really thinks but is just going along with the movie's conceit that Samantha is a sexual revolutionary.) Calling the character a prostitute makes no sense - she does not charge for sex. What West really meant was a slut. Slut-shaming is a favorite hobby of sexists everywhere - usually the same ones who adore James Bond for his tom-catting ways.

That West calls Samantha a prostitute indicates either that West doesn't bother differentiating between a woman who has sex for money and a woman who has sex for pleasure because all women having non-marital sex are the same, or more likely, she wanted to call Samantha a slut, but she dimly realizes that "slut" is out-of-bounds these days - although more for prudery than double-standards sexism.

The review concludes:
At sexism's funeral (which takes place in a mysterious, incense-shrouded chamber of international sisterhood), the women of Abu Dhabi remove their black robes and veils to reveal—this is not a joke—the same hideous, disposable, criminally expensive shreds of cloth and feathers that hang from Carrie et al.'s emaciated goblin shoulders. Muslim women: Under those craaaaaaay-zy robes, they're just as vapid and obsessed with physical beauty and meaningless material concerns as us! Feminism! Fuck yeah!

But as several commenters pointed out, in fact many Muslim women do wear couture under their burkas. Because within the horrible hard-core patriarchal societies in which they are trapped, it's the best they can do.

And there is definitely a connection here - while the Muslim women are literally constrained by their burkas, the fans of SATC are mentally constrained by their own lack of imagination and ambition - to them, any woman who admits to liking sex and who spends lots of money on her wardrobe is a raging hard-core feminist.

So I would have to say that SATC is feminist - it's feminism for stupid people. And that doesn't excuse the subtle or not-so-subtle misogyny from the SATC critics.

UPDATE: just today the NYTimes ran an article about the virtual female slavery of forced marriages in Afghanistan. And this kind of thing happens in plenty of other places all over the world. And for that reason SATC is revolutionary to so many people - women exercising agency over their own sexual desires - neither being forced to sell themselves to a "good provider" in exchange for sexual services, as in traditional Western marriage - or being sold to someone for a life of sexual slavery by your parents when you are a teenager - or younger.