I have long held mixed feelings about Sex and the City. I never watched it regularly, but caught it here and there. There is something about it that holds my interest and makes me want to watch reruns that I catch while flipping channels; maybe it’s the gorgeous clothes, the excitement of New York City. At the same time, there is something that I really hate about this show. It’s a gut feeling; something primal. The feminist in me screams that something is very wrong, despite the fact that the show purports to be about independent, sexually liberated women.
To get to the bottom of this I decided to watch the pilot, which I had never seen before. I’m going to talk about the pilot as if I’ve never seen another episode, and this is all new. It’s June 1998. Sarah Jessica Parker is known to me as the chick from Girls Just Want to Have Fun… (cue flashback fx)
A narrator, our protagonist, speaks to the audience in voiceover. The story starts out seeming to be about an English journalist who moves to New York and finds love, then loses it. She turns out to be a sort of everywoman, representing single life in today’s New York… and the stereotypes start flowing. Women all want to get married, men don’t. Women are really, really picky about men. All single women are willing to spend $400 on a pair of designer shoes (news to me, but I don’t live in New York).
The information that will ostensibly form the rules of this TV world is delivered in the form of brief monologues by various New Yorkers. We know which ones are going to become regular characters, because they get their names, job titles, and marital status subtitled on the screen. The only guy who has anything remotely non-assholish to say about women, is naturally a computer geek with glasses and awful hair. It’s implicit that single women are friends only with other single women. Or a token gay man.
But, we’re told, a new age is dawning. In 1998, women “get” to treat men as sex objects. Objectification is a gift you give yourself. The four main female characters form a continuum of thought on this subject from bang-anything-that-moves to romance-is-still-possible. They talk about it and talk about it.
At the midpoint, our main character has sex “like a man,” getting hers with someone she hardly knows and then leaving with a thin excuse before he is satisfied. She is chagrined to find out, a few days later, that he’s okay with it. None of the other women fare too well on this particular evening, either. So we’re told that this is what the show is going to be about: women who try to be like men, only to find out that they’re still, you know, women. Through it all, Carrie keeps bumping into a business mogul whose name I don’t ever remember hearing, so we figure this will be a source of sexual tension to last the season, if not the series.
And what’s with all the smoking? Maybe it’s a New York thing. There was that fad in the 90s of women smoking cigars, but is Kim Cattrall with a giant stogie hanging out of her mouth attractive to anyone? At least to anyone who would watch a girl power show?
So here it is, the problem. The show is not really about single life in New York. It’s about the single life of upwardly mobile, hot women with hundreds of dollars to blow on shoes, who feel they’re being empowered by having sex. Now, whether or not promiscuous sex is empowering is, I suppose, a matter of personal opinion. And, Carrie very responsibly has a purseful of ribbed condoms, so we can supposedly write off concerns about safety. But are there only extremes? Hook the guy and start reeling, or simply hook up? We hope the show will be about finding the balance.