Rewatching ‘Sex + the City’ at ‘their age’

I began this article before the reboot was announced.

Photo by Florian Wehde via Unsplash

Positives

  1. Carrie is a villain. On paper, Carrie is not an super likable character, and yet, she is. She manages to be a cheater, a liar, a shopaholic, and overall a selfish human — and that’s what makes her a compelling lead. Sarah Jessica Parker managed to make a selfish, unreliable, and fickle person charming and endearing. She made us root for her. We want Carrie to be happy even though she continuously drops the ball. Carrie is the heroine and the villain, she’s human, and that’s what makes us root for her: we see ourselves in the scrappy screw-up that is Carrie.
  2. Pushing the limits of when you have it ‘figured out’. The show set a precedent for women (and men, but mostly women) to “not have it all together” by the time they’re in their 30’s. Season one was released in 1998, and the women were not doe-eyed newcomers to NYC; we meet them as hardened women who are figuring out their careers, buying homes, dating, and experimenting sexually. This concept opened doors for more shows that focused on how long it takes for us to truly get our lives figured out. Furthermore, life imitates art, and when the masses saw people still figuring out their life trajectory into their late 30’s, it made them more accepting of the loved ones they have who might be going through the same thing. This is a tiny example of representation in mainstream media. It’s important on every level.
  3. Female empowerment. These are four powerful women. Career wise, they all succeed. Samantha owns and runs her own PR company, Miranda is a partner in a law firm, Carrie is a published author, and Charlotte runs an art gallery until she decides to be a stay at home wife and try to have a baby— a decision that is controversial amongst her friend group. The fact that the decision to stay home is more controversial than four women making good livings on their own is a refreshing theme, especially in the late 90’s. These women make their own choices, they make their own successes: and that’s pretty cool. As a young woman in late 90’s and early 2000’s watching this show, they were role models for me. I wanted to be like Carrie, except I never would’ve left Aiden! (PLEASE comment on who you wanted to be like!)
  4. Female sexuality. Duh! This show proved that women are sexual creatures too! Of course, some people knew this beforehand but HBO and SATC shoved the concept in your face. They made it mainstream, therefore making it generally more acceptable, while ruffling some conservative feathers along the way. (And there’s nothing wrong with that!)
Photo by Ava Sol via Unsplash

Negatives:

  1. Carrie is a villain. That’s right, this gets to be a negative and a positive! Yes, we know Carrie one of the silver screen’s most famous cheaters, but rewatching the show I realized that cheating on Aiden wasn’t the first time Carrie blurred the lines of fidelity. In season 2, episode 10, Carrie throws one of her many temper tantrums because she tells Big she loves him and he doesn’t say it back. What does she do? She ditches him at his friend’s party for someone else, gets wasted, takes the other guy home, kissing him passionately before she blacks out. The next morning, Big calls to tell her that he does in fact love her and Carrie is satiated, for the moment (classic Carrie), saying, “I never told Mr. Big, I figured everything before ‘I love you’ just doesn’t count.” And how’s that Carrie? Shall we all take a moment to reflect on how Ms. Bradshaw might have acted if Big had been the one drunkenly kissing someone else, before ‘I love you’ or not? Yeah, I know. Hypocrite. The whole Big/Carrie romance could be its own article. We are meant to believe they are star-crossed lovers, but the same things about Big and Carrie that bothered me the first time I saw this show, still bother me now. Aiden challenges Carrie to go outside her comfort zone, try new things, be better to herself (he’s the reason she quits smoking) while Big indulges in materialism and gluttony: two of Carrie’s least attractive attributes. You can argue that Aiden was asking too much of Carrie to change, and that’s fair, but you could also argue that Big didn’t want Carrie entirely until Aiden’s positive impact on her. I digress! (PLEASE comment: Big or Aiden and why!)
  2. Racism. In the six seasons, two movies, and over 100 partners between the four women: only three of those partners are people of color. Samantha dates a black man who quickly chooses his sister, who cannot accept him dating a white woman, over Samantha. She later is in an extended relationship with a Latina woman who she leaves because she truly just isn’t the relationship type (though she gives it a fair shot more than once!) Miranda dates a black man and arguably a perfect man, who she leaves for Steve: the love of her life. But let’s go back to Samantha’s initial relationship with a black man. I invite you to watch this episode (season 3, episode 5) and note how truly cringe-worthy it is. Upon meeting Chivon Williams, who is undeniably a gorgeous human, Samantha says to her friends: “That is one fine lookin’ man, I’d like to get me some of that,” a statement so out of her normal vernacular that Charlotte calls her out on it, telling her not to speak like that. Samantha, Miranda, and Carrie all continue to joke and ignore Charlotte’s pleas for political correctness. As the episode progresses, Samantha culturally appropriates in the most cringe-worthy, awkward way — it’s enough to make you sick. If you had an awkward moment today and need to feel better about yourself, watch this episode.
  3. Sexual identity. One of the only episodes that comes close to the cringe-worthy level of season 3, episode 5 is the episode right before it! In this episode, Carrie is shocked to find that her adorable, kind, thoughtful, smart, and funny new boyfriend is (*gasp*) bisexual! This is a detail she can’t let go of, she keeps asking him about it and asking who he’s checking out (him or her?) to which he responds, “you,” because he’s normal and nice. (Unlike some people…) Carrie’s crude ignorance is enough to make you queasy in 2021. Eventually, she breaks up with him by ghosting before ghosting was a thing: she leaves the party he invited her to because she has the lamest lesbian experience in the history of lesbian experiences. She gets a peck on the lips from another woman (played by Alanis Morissette!) during a game of the spin the bottle. (Insert face palm Emoji here.) Gosh it was all just too racy for Carrie, who ditches her boyfriend and the party without explanation. (Classic Carrie.)
  4. The four lead characters are classist. Classist and embracing it. It’s not a secret that the four women are scene-queens and trust me when I say, there’s nothing wrong with fashion and culture and absorbing every drop you can absorb in NYC! The issue with these four is that they are always rating men and their “date-ability” with their jobs and income levels. Miranda even initially refuses to take Steve seriously as a partner because he’s “only a bartender”. Steve flips the script and breaks up with Miranda (for the first time) because he can’t handle the way he feels about their income differences. And in the episode where Miranda considers getting an abortion and Carrie reveals she had one in her early twenties, Samantha reassures Carrie that she’d made the right call saying, “did you really want a child with a guy who serves burgers on roller-skates?” Sure, you may think this is an okay dealbreaker in choosing a partner but stop and think about it. There is no job that puts food on the table which is shameful. Furthermore, to make a dig at the expense of the service industry that keeps these women half-drunk with Cosmo’s and ‘Tartini’s’ shows a classist hypocrisy at its core. They want to enjoy the fruits of the service industry’s labor without respect the industry as a viable career. (That is of course, unless they’re sleeping with the owner of a restaurant or club, which Samantha does.) The concept of judging someone doing their best to make ends meet is tacky and trashy both then and now. End of discussion.
  5. They are not responsible sexually active adults! It isn’t until season 3, episode 6 that the concept of contracting an STI is introduced to the show. They are so bad at being sexually active adults! The episode, which is an opportunity for addressing a serious issue only reveals that these women don’t get tested regularly. Miranda has chlamydia, a test her doctor only “threw in for good measure” during a routine exam, and no symptoms. 75% of women do not exhibit symptoms of chlamydia and only 50% of men do. (This is why you need to get tested regularly.) Later in that same season (episode 11) Samantha is asked by a potential sexual partner to get an AIDs test before they have sex. (Before an AIDs test, you get an HIV test, just FYI.) In 1999, when this episode would have been filmed, AIDs was the fourth highest killer in the world. Samantha reveals that she’s never gotten an HIV test. Never. She’s in her forties. “I’m a busy girl,” she tells the man who asks why she hasn’t gotten one. Samantha runs to her friends and asks if they’ve ever been tested. They react as if she’s asking something wild at first, but then Carrie and Miranda reveal that they’ve each gotten at least two. Charlotte never answers. Samantha admits to her friends she’s terrified she has it [HIV], which is the real reason she hasn’t been tested. Stop. Think about that. This means that this woman who has sex with multiple partners in a week, could be spreading HIV or AIDs throughout NYC because she’s so afraid she has it that she won’t get tested. Let that selfishness sink in for a minute. Pretty upsetting stuff.
Photo by Richard Cohen via Unplash

Author of “Drink Like a Bartender”: rated one of the ‘Best Booze Books of 2017’ by “Forbes Magazine”, Published Poet + Attempted Novelist [theaengst.com]

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