TV & Media

Monday June 9th 2008 – Sex and the City

There has been much written on Sex and the City, more so now that it’s made its inevitable leap from the small screen to the big. But I almost feel as if this is completely justified. In this supposedly post-feminist world, Sex and the City seems to say an awful lot about the role of women in today’s society. And the role of men. And the role of shopping.

The thing is, after seeing the film I decided that I didn’t actually hate it Carrie and co cinematic debut. I knew exactly what I was going to expect. I knew that the gender politics would anger me. I knew the blatant commercialism would offend me. I knew that the film’s message, underneath all that crap about ‘female friendship and empowerment’, would ultimately be that women are defined by who they sleeping with and what they are wearing on their feet. And I think it did just that. Yes, it could be claimed that the film shows a world in which women are free to make their own choices about the men who they sleep with, but in short they still seem somewhat contrasted by these men. Even Samantha, the ‘man eater’, who we are to believe has sex like a man (as if all sexual acts can be so easily gendered), still seems to validate herself by the men she is sleeping with. Men find her sexually attractive, therefore she is. The film, to me, seemed to jump far too quickly to the conclusion that women ‘need’ men, although they’d had the forethought to dress it up so that it read as ‘women need love’. When Carrie ‘loses’ her man, she seems to completely lose herself, refusing even the female friendship which I was under the assumption was the whole crux of the plot. Either that or the message of the film is that women need Vera Wang dresses. In a way, I think I hated the commercialism more than I hated that particular brand of post-feminism that Sex and the City does so well. Problems seem to float away with the purchase of a designer handbag. Greed is good. Money solves problems. If you are having a bad day, you will have less of a bad day if you buy a nice dress. Yes, in this materialistic culture it is true that purchasing power does make people a little happier, but do new shoes really solve your problem? And interestingly enough, once again the power of pretty things seem to be a gendered thing. It is only women’s minds that are easily distracted by a necklace. Never are we shown Big buying a nice designer suit to make him feel a bit happier about himself.

Of course, Sex and the City did, to borrow a cliché, what it said on the tin. But did it leave me feeling empowered as a woman? No. Did it leave me emotionally drained? No. In fact, I felt that as a piece of cinema it completely lacked the emotional drive I wanted it to have. The tone was all wrong, and kitchen sink drama merged with melodramatic bullshit and teen gross-out humour seemed completely the wrong way to present the story that wanted to be told. Of course, my lack of emotional attachment to the characters was probably because I never cared about these women during the period in which the show was actually on. And maybe it was also because it was a big Hollywood production, and we all know that those tend to end nicely, more often than not with the big patriarchal hand of marriage.

Sex and the City wants to pretend that it exists in a world where women are empowered, and where the world is not intrinsically sexist. But we know that’s not the case at all. Mainly because it exists in a world in which products like Sex and the City exist, shameless marketed towards women. It makes no attempt to ask questions about feminism or women roles in society and instead upholds age old stereotypes. What makes matters far worse is that it denies that it is doing such. I’m fine with mindless fluff; I just don’t want it to pretend that it is playing a greater role in society. Sex and the City did nothing to change the face of feminism, in fact I believe its pseudo-empowerment hinders more than it helps.

Previous blog entries:

Forbidden forests and fanfiction
God save the BBC – the anarachy of kids TV

8 comments

  1. Wait, wait, wait!

    I cannot agree with this review, just another opinion that goes with what every other newspaper has printed, in order to give people what the reviewer’s think they want to hear: a tirade on how bad such an eagerly anticipated film is. Much easier to slate than appraise, as ever.

    Yes, it did contain a lot of commercial branding. But then that’s what Sex and the City is partially about: pretty things, and FASHION. Not only would I expect anyone who had watched at least one episode of the series to realise this, but I would also hope that some sort of appreciation of the fact that, yes, sorry to say it, it is a movie, and people expect to be entertained. Of course you don’t see Big buying a suit, its a film with the four women as the protagonists, not the men.

    The women are not exclusively defined by the men, but do they play a huge role. How naive to say that love, and relationships in general, do not play an equally large role in our lives. Again, its a program about sex and relationships, are you really surprised that it played such a crucial role in the film?

    Feminism seems to play a surprisingly large part in your review, but how archaic is your view of feminism? These are, to my eye, liberated women, who feel free to pursue whatever pleasures they wish, from sex, to work, to shopping. In terms of empowering women, I think the frankness with which women can now talk about sex and relationships is largely down to programs like Sex and the City. Taboo subjects such as masturbation are now acceptable table topics with one’s friends; surely this can only be a good thing?

    I’m confused as to what you expected out of this film. If you didn’t really like the series anyway, why watch it? Of course the Hollywood finale to a series about sex and shopping and everything in between was never going to please you. For the rest of us SATC fans, however, who grew up watching the program and can quote whole episodes by heart, it was a triumph. I thought it was very well acted, equally moving and funny, and a suitable celebration of SATC’s principal message, not that ‘women need men’, but that people need people, in all different ways and forms. What a shame that reviewers like yourself feel the need to shit all over it.

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  2. 9 Jun ’08 at 7:20 pm

    Emma Ronicle

    Hear hear Venetia!

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  3. I don’t hate the film because it was eagerly anticipated, nor am I jumping on a band wagon of hate. Nor do I actually consider my piece an objective review of the movie. I am not a reviewer, this was not in the film section, and if I was asked to write a review of the Sex and the City film, I would never hand in a piece like this. This is an opinion, and to be honest, one I have long held about Sex and the City.

    In all honesty, I went to see this film because my three closest friends wanted to see it, and we were going out to dinner afterwards. I will also admit that I went with a closed mind, and while I do think that it did work as a piece of entertainment, I found the gender politics and the commericalism far too much to handle. (Yes, SATC may be all about fashion, but I find the concept that material goods make you happy distasteful and frankly wrong) My ideas of feminism may be slightly different to yours. I don’t believe SATC portrays empowered women, and what I can’t stand is when articles about the show claim SATC itself is making a feminist stand. It is not. These four women remain within the realms of the feminine. They discuss shoes and men and gossip. While I disagree with the idea of gendering concepts, we need to aspect that in our society, these ideas have been coded as feminine, and are generally accepted as such. We rarely see other aspects of their lives, and when we do, they are often in relation to their ‘women-ness’.

    Of course we’re never going to agree on the matter. I disliked the film, you loved it, and I’ve had a similar discussion with numerous people, most of whom agree with you and not me. There is just something about SATC that puts me on edge, something about the idea that we are being sold ’empowered’, but who still exist within a sexist world.

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  4. Only a mudwrestling contest outside Grimston house could resolve this debate.

    Though the idea of Kim Cattrall getting paid to ‘act’ is abhorrent, isn’t S&TC just a bit of light fun?

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  5. I think that the idea that discussing men, shoes and gossiping confines you to being feminine, which, according to you, is somehow completely at odds with being a feminist, is narrow-minded. Not only do they do the above, but they also hold down jobs, own their own apartments, bring up children on their own, and stand up for what they belive in. By labelling them so firmly because they like to wear nice clothes and talk about sex, I think you are missing the point a little. In numerous episodes they confront issues of sexism and ideas of gender politics, they just don’t feel the need, as do most modern women these days, to shed aspects, albeit stereotyped aspects, of their gender just to prove that they belive in sexual equality. Could I suggest that perhaps you are the one being sexist?

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  6. Another feminist columnist in nouse- who’d have thought it!?

    Why oh why must 4 or so characters define the whole of womankind? They don’t define what women are, they define what THEY are. Individual characters.

    Thats like saying an episode of top gear ‘defines’ all men as being environment-hating, pipe-smoking, fox-hunt-loving middle class drivers of gas guzzling cars. Yet no men ever complain about the ‘definition’. Most men accept its just a funny show. (I, for example, have never driven, am very eco conscious and don’t smoke or wear silly jackets. I’m not up in arms at this sexist portrayal. I just laugh.)

    I fail to see how SATC is in any way political! Film reviews should be about plot, character, direction, casting, music, acting, not a political rant which was probably written before the film was even released! The film doesn’t set out to smash down these perceived social barriers, or change the way we think – it sets out to make people smile, to ENTERTAIN! (and to make a shedload of $$$ for the studio. It’s lowest common denominator stuff here…the color purple it ain’t.

    I find your extrapolation of the mindset of a few characters in a film to represent 50% of the world’s population a little odd.

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  7. 10 Jun ’08 at 10:57 am

    Matthew Jeynes

    Ok, Monty, some interesting points. Just let me work through them one by one.

    1) Firstly, the fact that you are using ‘feminist’ in a derogatory way is a sad indictment of you and the rest of society who believe as you do.

    2) Please tell me where in Sarah’s blog, she maintains that the 4 characters ‘define the whole of womankind’? It absolutely does not say that, please read it again.

    3) The Top Gear analogy does not work as that is a non-fiction show presented by real people, whereas SATC is a fictional creation.

    4) SATC is political because it wants to be. It thinks it is ’empowering’ women. It is not ‘lowest common denominator stuff’. Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the series will know that it does aim for a feminist message (although I am in agreement with Sarah that it fails in this attempt).

    5) Also, this isn’t a movie review! It is a blog. If you don’t know the differance, please look it up. And as for saying that this entry was written before the movie came out, please take 2 seconds out of your day to read the first line of Sarah’s second paragraph.

    6) Finally, on your last point, please tell me where in the article these ‘odd’ claims are made.

    I completely understand people objecting to Sarah’s opinion on the grounds that they believe SATC is empowering, or successful in its message, but to dismiss the political/social side of ANYTHING, let alone something that has for years attempted to portray a social message, is just plain naive.

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  8. Monty: Top Gear gets lots and lots of criticism, too. Mainly for the reasons that you suggest.

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