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Sex & the City: Not as Progressive as You Think

Four women. One city. Lots of sex.

I remember at the start of quarantine, I longed for the end of the day when I could grab some popcorn, curl up in bed and resume bingeing the show I’d just heard so much about: Sex & the City. I remember my jaw dropping and my finger pointing at the screen when a scene with a famous Sarah Jessica Parker gif would make an appearance.

While I enjoyed the girls’ antics, Samantha Jones’s hilarious, snide comments and the way the women all had a distinct personality of their own, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Was this supposedly groundbreaking show no longer the feminist powerhouse of progressive ideology it once was?

Let’s discuss.

The sex shaming

As I mentioned before, this show grabs the audience’s attention with its in-your-face title but fails to actually make the show a safe space for certain aspects of sex.

For example, Samantha Jones, brilliantly played by Kim Cattrall, is a woman who knows what she wants: power and sex. Using her confidence and charms, she combats the expectations of a woman her age and has all the fun she wants, without getting attached, of course.

However, her supposed three best friends always make snarky comments about the frequency of her sex life and how many partners she indulges in.

So much for girl power, ladies.

And in return, Samantha never dishes back the holier-than-thou approach that Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte all seem to direct at her about her sex life whenever they talk about theirs.

In the end, Samantha Jones is the only friend of the group who is nonjudgmental and fully content with her lifestyle. She resists the confines of society’s conventionality and lives her life as a single, genuinely happy woman who has no plans to settle down with anybody.

The relationship between Samantha and the other women makes the argument that this show is completely sex positive a little less credible.

LGBTQ+ representation

Sex & the City also clumsily misrepresented the LGBTQ+ community.

The gay men in the show are all flamboyant, feminine and fabulous. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with these things, but it does feed the stereotype that all gay men appear and act in this manner.

However, actor Willie Garson, who played Stanford Blatch, Carrie Bradshaw’s “gay best friend” and designated gossip buddy, begs to differ.

He argued that the show pushed the representation of queer people in the right direction just by the simple act of representing them at all.

“​[Gay characters] were kind of hushed or in the shadows on TV, or talked about in a dark way,” Garson said in an interview. “I think it was a darkness that the producers wanted to bring out and say ‘hold on, this character is fun, and is just one of their friends, it’s not a ‘thing.’”

Despite the way viewers may look at the representation as they watch it 22 years later, I won’t argue that the show did serve as a stepping stone to, eventually, allowing television to properly represent the LGBTQ+ population by giving the community a platform.

However, bisexuality is another topic that the show wrongfully depicted. The protagonist herself voiced her opinion about the sexual orientation simply being born out of confusion. In Carrie’s words, bisexuality is “just a layover on the way to Gaytown” and that they all “end up with men.” Erasure of bisexuality, or bi-erasure, is still an ongoing issue in 2020, stemming from both heterosexual people and even from within the community itself.

It could be argued that the women’s ignorance on the subject is the focal point of the episode, and that, in the end, Carrie’s closed-mindedness only serves as a hindrance to her finding happiness with her bisexual romantic interest. I’ll leave that open to interpretation.

The lack of BIPOC

“That show was as white as it gets,” said Chelsea Fairless, co-founder of Every Outfit on Sex and the City and the #WokeCharlotte meme. “They didn’t ever have a person of color as a series regular.”

The lack of diversity was not the only issue in regards to race, though that in of itself is a huge issue (out of 95-108 romantic interests on the show, only three were people of color!). One of the bigger issues was that when a person of color ever was on the show, their race was what defined their character, either as a stereotype or a punchline.

There is an entire episode dedicated to the challenges Samantha faces when she dates a Black man, Chivon. She begins using “slang” and changing the way she dresses in a way to be more stereotypically “Black.” Again, you could argue that the ignorance of the women on the topic is the driving force behind the episode, as the quartet are depicted as uninformed most of the time, and the show demonstrates the progression of their growth. Regardless, the episode is very cringey and distasteful. There was no cultural sensitivity.

Sarah Jessica Parker acknowledges that the show definitely failed in this area.

“There were no women of color, and there was no substantial conversation about the LGBTQ community,” she said at Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.

*

So, no, Sex & the City hasn’t fared well in the test against time. However, we are lightyears more socially aware and politically correct in 2020 than we were in 1998 thanks to the tools currently at our disposal, like the internet. It is still important, though, to hold the show accountable for these shortcomings and to make note of them when you’re watching. I still find the show entertaining, but I can’t help but cringe at the problems I outlined, which is indicative of how far we’ve come as a society.

Everything can’t be perfect — but acknowledging the distance between what was feminism then and what feminism is now is imperative to dismantling the harmful effects of pop culture. Sex & the City very much demonstrates white feminism, while nowadays, feminism isn’t feminism at all if it isn’t intersectional.

Don’t be too down on yourself for point out these flaws, though. Being aware of the holes in the women’s philosophies just means that we can celebrate the fact that we know better now.

Alexis is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in women's studies. Her ideal career would be one that incorporates her love for writing and her passion for social activism. For fun, she likes to read crime and romance novels, explore recommended podcasts, and binge watch New Girl. When she isn't curled up with a book or Netflix, she can usually be found enjoying the nature trails of Gainesville.
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