Sex and The City is riddled with problematic tropes, but it was an unabashed feminist trailblazer
 
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Sex and The City is riddled with problematic tropes, but it was an unabashed feminist trailblazer

Sex and the City returns for a sequel series And Just Like That in December. Before its arrival, here’s examining how the show and the subsequent films hold up in a 21st-century set-up. 

Pratishruti Ganguly
Oct 08, 2021
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Sex and the City (SATC), Darren Star’s smash hit HBO series surrounding the lives of four thirty-something women navigating love, friendship and work in Manhattan, wrapped up back in 2004. Subsequently, the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series spawned two other films, Sex and the City (2008) and Sex and the City 2 (2010), and a prequel TV show titled The Carrie Diaries (2013–14). Now, the series is getting yet another sequel TV series, titled And Just Like That… with three of the four principal characters returning.

Since its premiere in 1998, the series has pretty much been the benchmark of aspirational stories about the New York life. The series unfolds through the eyes of Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), a columnist who shares her introspections and insights about dating, relationships, sex, man and everything in between. Much of the show is centred on the sexual escapades of Carrie and her friends’ — Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), a public relations professional, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), art dealer and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), a lawyer.

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SATC was revolutionary. For the first time on TV, women were not props in a male narrative. For the first time, sipping on martinis and flaunting Christian Dior purses, women cursed, unabashedly discussed sex and refused to settle for anything less than they deserved. They were owning their sexuality and having discourses on marriage and finding fulfilment in their jobs without being vilified for their ambitions. It did not slut-shame women, or value judge them for their choices — whether they wanted to marry, remain single, have or not have children. SATC spilt the unspoken truths, the best-kept secrets and the most intimate desires with the abandon of men.

More significantly, it was about female friendships. Every episode saw these women congregate to reflect on their lives and lend each other unconditional support. Their biological families never make an appearance throughout. They are single women who have chosen each other as their family. Which is why, when Carrie’s voiceover says, “It’s hard enough to find people who will love you no matter what. I was lucky enough to find three of them,” your heart leaps in unbridled joy

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It was also pathbreaking in its choice of maturer female protagonists. Not just Hollywood, every movie industry globally has routinely ignored older women and their sexual health in favour of a younger, reproductive milieu. By having three thirty-somethings and a forty-something-year-old at the forefront, SATC veered into the territory no other mainstream show about women had done before — ageism. It is a remarkable screen moment when Samantha declares, "I'm fifty f****ng two, and I will rock this dress," in Sex and the City 2.

Its commitment to a feminist perspective was also evident in its treatment of one of the show’s regulars, Carrie Bradshaw’s on-and-off boyfriend played by Chris Noth. He was only known as Mr Big until the reveal of his name in the series finale. In SATC, women took the centre stage, while men stayed in the periphery.

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The show’s glitzy world, where branded stilettos and overflowing cupboards were the norm, was the late 20th-century version of the American Dream. What the show wasn’t, was patronising. Sure, there was opulence of the first degree, but Carrie never failed to acknowledge how her addiction to shoes drove her to starve for days. On one hand, where the show exclusivised New York as the land of the super-elite, it also showed vulnerable women engaging in honest, heartfelt conversations about dealing with isolation in an unsparing city. It wasn’t the cosy image of New Yorkers Friends had fostered. The characters of SATC were not seen gathering around a worn-down couch at Central Perk sipping on coffee in the middle of the day. As fantastical as SATC was, it was also grounded in reality.

Over the last two decades, SATC has also undergone innumerable post-mortems. Post-feminist critics have pointed out the show’s lack of intersectional feminism and diversity. It was blinkered in its representation of the LGBTQI community. Both Carrie and Charlotte had token gay best friends in Stanford Blatch (Wille Garson) and Anthony Marantino (Mario Cantone), but their primary function was to provide sometimes heartfelt, sometimes sassy inputs on their friends’ romantic troubles. Incidentally, Carrie also refers to bisexuality as “a layover on the way to gaytown.”

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It ruefully failed the Bechdel test, something Miranda self-awarely sheds light on during one of their round-table conversations. "How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?," Miranda asks during an episode in Season 2.

While critics have continually questioned whether the show has aged gracefully, the films were doomed to failure from their inception. In its defence, the 2008 film, while reductive in its depiction of the central women, was more serious in its tenor as it dealt with three major breakups. Mr Big gets cold feet and ditches Carrie at the altar, Steve cheats on Miranda, and Samantha breaks up with Smith. But the film also attempted to be more inclusive this time over, with one Black woman — Carrie's assistant, played by Jennifer Hudson.

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The second film, released in 2010, did not even pretend to be woke. In this film, the women head to Abu Dhabi for a breather, and well, their version of Abu Dhabi feels straight out of an Arabian Nights tale with rampant orientalism and Islamophobia. From every person of colour being a butler, to the friends riding camels with snake charmer music playing in the background, SATC2 is riddled with cringe-worthy stereotypes. It also singlehandedly dismantled its own anti-ageist outlook, by making Samantha pop a thousand pills to trick her body into thinking it’s younger. Moreover, while the series and the first movie iteration had at least something at stake, SATC2 felt like a bland addendum to the franchise with no value addition.

And Just Like That won’t have Kim Cattrall returning, which already puts the sequel at a disadvantage. Could it be another failed effort at encashing on a well-established studio IP? One can only wait and watch till it premieres in December.

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