We have had some rather intense conversations at Acts Of Faith Blog about the various ways women have been indoctrinated. My focus has rightfully been on African-American women specifically due to the need to clarify many tools of oppression as well as the self-imposed limitations many black women place on themselves to conform to an ideology that has long ceased to work towards their advancement.
I want to switch gears for a moment and expand the concept of indoctrination to a general audience of contemporary women in Western society. What better example could be used other than Sex and the City? Though there are quite a few women who have not watched the series or the first film (really!) many of us have. In fact, it has become a cultural zeitgeist that has redefined the status of the upwardly mobile woman of a certain age who lives in an urban environment. Plus we’re being bombarded with ads for the 2nd installment of the movie which opens on May 27th.
When SATC first aired on HBO in 1998 it signified the realization of a cultural shift. The show is based on the book by Candace Bushnell and featured four women who hailed from other places who had become friends after moving to New York City to establish careers and find love. Or in one character’s case sex…and lots of it. There was a question or theme explored during each episode as the women progressed through life.
I personally found Bushnell’s own personal life slightly more interesting as she based Carrie on herself and her job at the time of writing a dating column for a newspaper. Bushnell had been a broke writer crashing on her friend’s sofa when she finally “made” it. She was offered a rather low-ball figure for the television rights to SATC but due to the success of the series she has gone on to write other books and created another series where she was the Executive Producer (meaning she ran the show and got paid the big bucks).
Back to the series, you have four women (Gen Xers and a Boomer) who are female archetypes and perhaps contain separate aspects of a single person split into fractions. Carrie is the voice of the show who self-reflects on our inner motivations. Miranda is the high-powered executive climbing the corporate ladder, Charlotte is the spoiled princess and daddy’s girl who is a traditionalist and Samantha is the alpha female of the group who runs her own company and makes no apologies.
These women have a few things in common: they all have active sex lives and are unashamed about it. That was the kicker of the series. In fact that was one of the themes of the earliest shows that asked could women have sex like men, meaning could they get their physical needs met regardless of an emotional connection? It was a recurring theme as they met many men, sometimes found love and often faced obstacles in their pursuit of mutually satisfying relationships.
When the series first aired on HBO there was no indication it would be so successful. There was a 6-month gap between the pilot and the series for example. You’ll notice the abrupt change in Carrie’s hair if you watched it. There was nothing else like it on network television – nor could there be because the frank discussions about sex (and relationships) wouldn’t be allowed in the puritannical United States anyway. My 20-something self was shocked at the open way these women lived without shame or remorse – but I ate it up.
I really enjoyed the series for a variety of reasons, but I was never under the impression it was grounded in any type of reality. As the series continued the production value went up (meaning the network threw more money at them) and designers took notice as well. While I sometimes enjoyed Carrie’s obsession with shoes I always wondered where she got the money to afford such extravagances. Oh wait…they answered that question. She was up to her eyeballs in credit card debt! The friendships between the women was the glue that held it together and stopped it from becoming a caricature of wantonness. They went through real moments of conflict that had to be resolved. They never competed with each other for male attention either. The show didn’t feature their biological families which told us that we make our own families of choice as adults by surrounding ourselves with people who love, support and encourage us as we are.
While those aspects are great, here’s where I have to step in and evaluate the message that is being sent to women. The show was rightfully criticized for its lack of diversity. I mean these women lived in New York City and there was nary a person of color in sight. When the show tried to veer into an exploration of race (like when Samantha dated the music executive whose sister objected) it fell off a cliff into a pool of stereotypes.
When I watch a series I not only focus on who’s in front of the camera but those calling the shots behind the camera as well. The writers of that show – like many – share a rather inclusive background of similar heritages, education, proximity, etc. So while certain universal themes may be explored it is still through a decidedly narrow lens. For those who saw the movie and thought it was ridiculously long they could have cut out the entire Louise from St. Louis segment as an example. I like Jennifer Hudson and am rooting for her career and life success but that role did not suit her. Even though the producers were trying to correct that exclusion they failed at making it an integral part of the story. It was clearly an add-on that never quite fit properly. Which is why if we want an accurate representation of ourselves we have to create our own projects!!
Here are some the messages I found to be most problematic:
Carrie & Big
I personally hate them together and while I like the actor Chris Noth (esp his character on The Good Wife tv series), I despise their 10 years of conflict. After all the crap Big put Carrie through (marrying Natasha, cheating on Natasha with her, his general coldness and lack of committment) they finally get married…at City Hall. Wow! What a love story. (Incidentally the real-life Big left Bushnell and married another woman. She likewise has gone on to marry someone better suited.)
The movie conflict came from his alleged shame at having been married previously and his complaining about Carrie wanting a bigwedding. She should have long left him and moved on – but the writers had to make Aleksandr Petrovsky a jerk at the end to sell the idea of Carrie going back to Big in the series finale. Ugh! She should have never married him after he stood her up at their first wedding. After 10 years for him to have those types of insecurities requires therapy not matrimony. Besides after all that time Carrie should have been able to be a Bridezilla or have whatever type of wedding she wanted! **Now in the sequel movie we’re going to be lead on a wild goose chase to nowheres as Carrie & Aiden reconnect. Which brings me to…
Carrie & Aiden
I LOVED THEM TOGETHER!!! Yup I’m an Aiden stan and that’s when I knew I was hooked on the series. That would be Season Three. When I screamed at the tv…and realized I was screaming at the tv…over fake people. Aiden Shaw was the archetype of the “prefect” guy. I think this means I’m looking for my own version of Aiden. He was sensitive, respectful and committed to Carrie uncondtionally. He was financially sound, really tall and very good looking. That’s tv for ya! (Only on tv would an 5’4″ actress be continually paired with actors over 5’10” just to make her seem even more tiny and delicate.) Which of course meant she had to blow it. Hello…therapy! She never appreciated Aiden and basically treated him the way Big treated her – but worse! Bringing him back for Season Four was pure torture as Carrie decided to plead with him to give her a second chance only to refuse to marry him. That was the time I really began to hate her!!!
Miranda & Steve
So real life and reel life have collided as the actress who portrays Miranda has come out as a lesbian so re-watching the episode where she pretends to be in a same sex relationship to impress the boss at her law firm is hilarious. You’ll also see how they made Miranda very tough and slightly butch but softened her look as the series progressed. Miranda’s one recurrent relationship has been with a bartender. She’s a Harvard-educated partner at a law firm. This was and always has been a mismatch. We are expected to accept the fact that she married down and are supposed to be okay with that. Remember the episode where Steve freaked out over the price of a suit Miranda had offered to buy him so he could accompany her to a work function and bailed on her? If I was dating a man who had an important event I’d let him buy me a dress that was appropriate for the occasion. I’d also take the shoes and a mini-makeover as well! Yes, the writers tried to clean that one up by making Steve a co-owner of a bar (with Aidan!) but puh-leeze!!
The movie conflict was over the fact that she was tired, overworked, the main breadwinner and doing too much but she’s portrayed as the unyielding shrew to the “good natured” Steve – who cheated on her. (Miranda’s character most closely resembles the perpetual state of giving to others to their detriment that many black women have allowed themselves to be boxed into.) They mend fences but again I DON’T BUY IT!!! That marriage counselor they were seeing was an over-Botoxed quack! Had Miranda married another man who was able to provide more financially or at least took the majority of the household burdens away, she wouldn’t have been too tired to have sex with her husband. So the lesson here is – don’t marry a man who can’t carry his own load lest you be left with yours and his as well!
Samantha and Smith
Are we really supposed to believe that after five years together Samantha has “lost” herself and has to leave the one man who was at her level and truly LOVES her? She’s 50 (now with the sequel 52) years old and she’s under the impression she can do better? Really? I’m not sure what parallel universe she lives in but didn’t SATC already declare women over a certain age were toast from Season Six with Enid gushing over Petrovsky and asking Carrie what was she doing with a man who was her peer? Wasn’t Enid lamenting how said men of that age (50’s) were dating younger women while her prospects and those of other women in that group were gone?
Now we know Samantha has all the confidence in the world but her bellyaching was annoying to me. If she felt her life was consumed by that particular man perhaps she needed to not date him and manage his career at the same time. She was profiting from the relationship emotionally and financially. He’d supported her through a life-threatening illness. It seemed that when things were no longer all about her and became less convenient that she bailed on Smith. That is completely narcissistic. Having lived in Los Angeles let me tell you, I don’t care how great Samantha looks, the types of men she’d meet would only be interested in women 18-25. Patty Stanger would be complaining on camera about how Samantha was one of those “male-acting power-driven” Millionairesses that she can’t match because their expectations are too unrealistic.
Charlotte and Trey ….and Harry
I’m combining because they’re so closely tied. Charlotte was 35 years old and had declared she was tired of dating. She wanted to get married. Fine. She meets a man who’s great “on paper”. Trey MacDougal is a doctor and comes from family money blah blah blah. To his credit he still held certain traditional values that indicated he should marry one woman and start a family. Versus being a man-whore who has out of wedlock children and strings women along. Their mistake was in rushing into a marriage neither were truly prepared for. Not only did Trey not want to marry it manifested itself physically withhis impotence. Charlotte saw the red flag but chose to ignore it because it was easier to live a lie than face the truth. I also think she was under an incerdible amount of pressure to conform to societal expectations. So while they had a certain affection for each other they should have never married. Wearing an expensive gown is not enough of a reason to go through with a wedding ceremony. She also quit her job as soon as she could put MRS in front of her first name. It was a disaster.
Which brings me to Harry. Yes, he loves Charlotte and is “good” guy but AGAIN we see the women bending themselves into pretzels to get these men to the altar (or running away from the idea of committment all together). He enters into a relationship with her knowing he has a bottom line regarding religion. He can’t accept Charlotte as is and SHE has to change to meet HIS needs. So she converts to his religion. I call BS on that one! During the series it was explored that he was not her type andtheir relationship was different than what she’d imagined but it was TRUE LOVE blah blah blah. Now her conversion was written as being permanent regardless of their relationship status but it was the ONLY reason why she did it. They never explained why Harry was so adamant either other than making a promise to his deceased mother. If you’re going to have a spiritual practice that holds such meaning it deserved some air time. Not to mention it was prefaced as a religious practice not a cultural affirmation. Now the specific religion doesn’t matter in the wider scope but I felt that was a personal inclusion of the writers post-9/11 to senda message. Let’s call it “judicial” activism. Fine, I understand the urge but I still don’t like what was being fed to women. If you believe in your version of God then your needs should be provided for by that God not someone else’s.
In each of these scenarios the women have compromised themselves in a significant way to be “happy”, but are they truly satisfied? I mean people complain about the message Twilight is sending young girls but things don’t get much better as they get older either apparently. Of course this is where race and class collides so perhaps this message only pertains to certain women. The rest of us can breath a sigh of relief that we have been ignored for an overall “universal” but narrow theme. I don’t care for any of the represented relationships as ideal though we’re being sold on the fantasy. That and their penchant for designer everything and the endless amounts of free time they have to look camera-ready at all times. Not to mention that they have access to every hot restaurant and club in Manhattan as well as a bottomless pit of money. (I know Season Four brought a little bit of much-needed financial reality for Carrie but she still had the girls AND Big ready to bail her out in a heartbeat. She experienced momentary discomfort that resulted from her choices but was never in serious trouble). The real-life experience for many women is the anthesis of how these characters live.
*Maybe the Sex and the City world isn’t so bad after all.