This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. And yes, the movie came out two months ago; but I have to wait two months before reprinting the stuff I write on the Blowfish Blog, so suck it up.
The problem isnât that it's sexually conventional.
The problem is that it's sexually conventional… while giving itself airs about being sexually modern and cutting- edge, and pretending to offer innovative, category- breaking, woman-positive insight into sex and relationships.
That's only one of the problems, actually. This is a movie loaded with problems. In fact, I would argue that the "Sex and the City" movie is essentially a series of cinematic problems loosely strung together with some pictures of pretty clothes. But this is my Blog and not the New York Times or Film Threat, so the problems with the sexual politics are the ones I'm going to talk about.
I should tell you right now: I am not a fan of the show. At all. I've seen roughly a dozen episodes, and every one made me want to throw the remote through the TV screen. So I did not come to this movie with the proper, unbiased film- critic attitude. I came thoroughly prepared to despise it and everything it stood for.
But I've come to movies before with that attitude, and have found myself pleasantly surprised.
Not this time.
And so we come to the problem at hand. The attitudes about sex in the "Sex and the City" movie are deeply conventional, as facile and unimaginative as anything else in the movie … and yet it presents itself, in this smug, self-congratulatory way, as an example of brave, ground- breaking, "I am woman watch me fuck" sex- positivity for the modern age. It offers glib platitudes as if they were profound insights, and its approach to sex is as consumerist and status- oriented as its approach to… well, everything.
Lots of spoilers, btw. Consider yourself warned.
Let's start with just one small example. There's a bit in the movie where Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) is interviewing potential assistants, and she goes through an amusing parade of blatantly terrible candidates before she hits on the perfect Jennifer Hudson. She meets the brainless ditz who doesn't want to do any hard work. She meets the scary, obsessive, borderline- stalker fan. And then she meets the ridiculously over-qualified gentleman in the impeccable suit, with the outstanding credentials and the beautiful manners and the business degree from Harvard or wherever, the guy who you're wondering why the hell he's applying for a job as Carrie's personal assistant instead of at a brokerage or something… until he gives her a simpatico smile, and the camera pans down, and you see that he's wearing pink spike heels.
It's not clear whether he's a drag queen, a transvestite, a fetishist, or just a guy who likes to wear women's shoes. That question is never answered, or even asked. Carrie's reaction — and the reaction of the movie itself, the reaction it's trying to create and assuming it will get from its audience — is reflexive, unthinking rejection. Of course he's not qualified. He's wearing heels. Next.
Now. To be fair. Even if you're the most progressive, sex-positive person on the planet, you might find something a little inappropriate about a guy — not a transsexual, but clearly a male- identified man in a man's suit — wearing pink high heels to a job interview. You might see it as inserting a note of sexuality into a situation where it's not really called for. But on the other hand… well, if you were interviewing for a position as Carrie Bradshaw's assistant, wouldn't you wear the best pair of heels in your closet? And if you were a writer who was famous for being a shoe-obsessed fashion victim, would you really reject a job applicant out of hand simply because he — and not she — shared your passion, and showed it? It may have been a miscalculation… but it's hardly cause for the automatic ridicule, revulsion, and rejection that the movie presents it as. If you're really a cutting- edge woman with modern sexual attitudes, a guy in spike heels should not be that big a deal.
But let's take a larger example. A clearer example. An example that's not ambiguous, and one that's actually central to the plot and character development (such as they are) of the movie.
Let's take Samantha.
Samantha (Kim Cattrall), for those of you who've never seen the show, is the shameless slut, the woman who "acts like a man," the one with the sexual appetites and attitudes of a Casanova. As the movie begins, she's been settled down for years with a man she loves, and loves to fuck. But she's starting to feel restless — for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest is that she still has a roving eye for pretty men. She feels that her relationship is forcing her to suppress an essential part of who she is — the part that likes to pick up cute guys for casual sex. And so she ends her relationship: sadly, regretfully, but clearly believing that it's necessary.
Now. Did anyone else see this movie? And at this point in the story, did anyone else want to stand up and scream, "For the love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, will you PLEASE try non-monogamy?"
I'm not saying non-monogamy is for everybody. I'm not saying it's the perfect answer to all problems in all relationships. I'm not even saying it would have solved this couple's problems. But if a central problem in a relationship is that one of you really likes to fuck around and feels stifled when you can't — if one of you truly loves the other and wants to stay with them, and at the same time genuinely feels that you can't be true to yourself if you don't have the freedom to be a big slut — then non-monogamy should at least be on the table. It might not work, your partner might not consider it, it might not be what you ultimately want… but at the very least, the concept should cross your mind.
But it never crosses Samantha's mind. Samantha — the proud slut, the sexual adventurer, the one of the four friends who supposedly has the most sexual knowledge and experience — seems to have never even considered this option.
And none of her friends suggests it to her.
I'm going to indulge in a little cultural stereotyping here, so please forgive me. One of the big themes of the TV show (and a lesser theme of the movie) is that these four women are… well, let's not say "fag hags." Let's say "modern cosmopolitan women with lots of gay male friends." Therefore, the fact of non-monogamy cannot have escaped their notice. Non-monogamy isn't universal in urban American gay male culture, but it's certainly very, very common. And anyone who's familiar with that culture knows it. Yet none of these women — not Samantha, and not any of her friends — considers Samantha's dilemma and thinks, "Gee, she acts like a gay man anyway — why shouldn't she try having a relationship like one?"
I could go on.
I could talk about the idea that combining sex with food — what Dan Savage calls "faux naughty, boring breeder kink" and Susie Bright calls (I'm paraphrasing here) "a vain attempt to get your lover to go down on you" — is wild and kinky and adventurous. Not that there's anything wrong with combining sex with food, and not that sex is a competition… but if that's your idea of cutting-edge modern sexual adventure, you need to go someplace where they're doing flesh-hook suspensions and anal fisting.
I could talk about the displacement of sexual affection and emotion into consumer goods and status symbols: the way all four main characters use an elaborate system of hieroglyphics where objects — jewelry, clothing, beautiful apartments — stand in for emotions and relationships…. with the attention focused almost entirely on the objects, at the expense of the actual emotions. And I could talk about how this is presented as normal, reasonable behavior. Comical, yes: but comical in an "isn't it funny how we all do this, what a silly universal human foible" way. (Yes, we all invest certain objects with symbolic meaning…. but the "Sex and the City" women transform this tendency into a vapid consumerism so extreme as to be grotesque. A far cry from the cutting- edge rethinking of sexual culture they supposedly aspire to.)
And very importantly, I could talk about the idea that when you deny your partner sex for months — and are snarky and dismissive when they want one of those rare times to be more than just routine — you nevertheless don't bear any responsibility when they cheat on you, and have the complete right to present yourself as the sole injured party. The movie seems to think it's being super- modern for acknowledging that one-time cheating shouldn't be met with inflexible unforgiveness… but it never considers the possibility that, when you deny your partner sex for months — with no sympathy, and no good reason. and no end in sight — then maybe, just maybe, you don't have the right to expect them to stay celibate forever.
I could go on. But I think you get my drift. The sexual consumerism, the default assumptions about sex and gender and relationships, the mocking revulsion at anything that resembles actual sexual transgression… it all adds up to a conventional, reflexive, not very imaginative view of sexuality.
Which is fine. Not every sex comedy has to subvert the dominant paradigm. But not every sex comedy pretends to. Not every sex comedy offers a preachy little homily at the end about breaking down categories, after it's spent two hours reinforcing almost every sexual category in the book. Not every sex comedy smugly pats itself on the back for being more feminist and sexually progressive than "Leave It to Beaver."
What gets me mad isn't the retrograde attitude. What gets me mad is the retrograde attitude being packaged as sexual revolution in a Gucci shopping bag. The fact that this glib, shallow, vapid piffle is being presented as the new erotic feminism — the fact that this is what's being offered to women as a ground- breaking vision of sexual possibility — that's what made me want to throw my popcorn through the screen.
P.S. For an even more vicious — and, if I'm to be honest, much funnier — review of the "Sex and the City" movie, visit my friend Nosmo King's blog, Faster than the Speed of Satire. And then tell him to get off his ass and blog more often.