In the last few weeks, I completed Candice Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” and began a full rewatch of the show. Sex and the City is weird. I understand why it was so much a part of the Zeitgeist but it holds up strangely in that details of Carrie Bradshaw and her friend’s lives are often unrelatable and even obscure but the underlying sentiments remain constant over the passage of time. I’m conflicted on the phenomenon as a whole because I agree with a lot of the criticism that it is a slice of white, wealthy Manhattan that refuses to acknowledge differences in race or class or sexuality but I enjoy it more than I probably should with my highly honed protofeministic sensibilities. Everybody who I’ve told that I’m watching it gave me a look, either physically or metaphorically, because I’m supposedly intelligent or something and I should know better than to immerse myself in the problems of a child woman in her 30s from a decade and a half ago.
Candice Bushnell’s original work is dry and sharp and witty, and sounds like how I would write a gossip column if I wrote one. It’s brittle in its beauty, like the Upper East Side WASP mother who drinks an excessive amount of wine and tells her burgeoning womanizer of a teenage son he won’t amount to anything more than what he achieves, cementing his future treatment of women for decades to come. The book initially comes across as almost reveling in the lack of love in modern society because love does nothing but make fools of the men and women weak enough to succumb to it, filled with gems like “These days, everyone has friends and colleagues; no one really has lovers – even if they have slept together.” The underlying sentiment of the book seems to be that battle of the sexes won’t ever end because men and women both ultimately desire companionship and in some way, the women who admit to it are far braver than their lovers who would never deign to confess their true feelings. In fact, maybe that’s the thesis of the book: men are weak.
I feel about Sex and the City similar to how I feel about Gossip Girl, although I’ll admit, I have a greater attachment to the latter due to the inimitable Blair Waldorf and her tendency to dig herself into deeper and deeper holes because of her own selfishness and tendency to lash out. The difference between Sex and the City and Gossip Girl is that Gossip Girl comes across as a lot more aware than Sex and the City, with its opulence not regarded as the norm but odd and obscure to be ogled at and not the ideal or expected of humanity. In reality, no newspaper columnist could afford Carrie’s show closet and it was an example of voyeuristic glamour that wasn’t really held up as such. However, both of the series owe their success to the snippets of deep humanity that eke their way through the materialism and the commercialism and pettiness that characterize the bulk of the series, and perhaps because I’m younger, I relate to Gossip Girl more than I do to Sex and the City. That being said, I have a lot of appreciation for Carrie Bradshaw herself because most of all, she’s so profoundly flawed that I can’t begin to defend her but I see kinship in her because she shares some of my worst qualities.
The thing that made Sex and the City tick was Carrie Bradshaw. In the intro to the show, she’s portrayed as the two worst things that a woman can be, a child in her frilly tutu skipping the streets of New York City, and a sexpot, clad in a sexy dress on a public bus. She doesn’t come across as aware or in control of either identity but driven by the world around her because she doesn’t really know what she wants so she has no idea how to get it. On one hand she craves love, but she refuses to work for it like I did when I was 16 because she’s never been denied what she wants and it shows in her behavior. Not to mention, for all the talk about sex on the show, the sex scenes themselves are profoundly unerotic because they always are overanalyzed to the brink of exasperation. If two people have sex in a forest and never talk about it, did they really have sex? The ultimate drive of shows like Sex and the City or Gossip Girl for that matter are the underlying mantras of what makes human beings tick and what we ultimately care about it other people, what they do and don’t do and what it means when they fail to measure up in a million ways. It matters because we force ourselves to care and that’s the beauty of watching women get worked up about things that ought not to be issues in an ideal world, but as we all know, our world is far from ideal.
And of course, then there’s Mr. Big. I went into the book and show expecting to loathe him because he would surely offend my long-standing moralistic sensibilities but I liked him, possibly because I was so often frustrated with Carrie and her behavior. Big looks like someone I used to be involved with, and he probably is an older version of him character wise as well but if anything, that ought to prejudice me further against him. I’m not justifying his infidelity which Carrie was an active participant in if we have to get nitpicky, but there’s something to be said for the critiques of emotional unavailability that are so often thrust onto men like him that I don’t fully agree with. I don’t think that as women we can expect those whom we love to be eternally available to us because they’re human beings who have the right to privacy of their bodies and their minds. Of course in intimate relationships, those lines are blurred, but the things that Carrie does, scoping out his ex wife in a false publishing meeting, abandoning him at a society party she feels insecure at, are not the behaviors of a grown woman. But, the possible difference between Carrie and I is that I have been very much in love before and I got out my crazy in my teens so now, I tend to be significantly more withholding regarding love than I ever was before.
The mistake that Carrie makes in Sex and the City is that she dates a man who she can never initially be herself around, all neurotic ephemeral glory. She says it herself, “I’m not like me. I’m, like, Together Carrie. I wear little outfits: Sexy Carrie and Casual Carrie. Sometimes I catch myself actually posing. It’s just—it’s exhausting.” But what she misses is that he never really expects it of her, at least not to the extent she prepares herself for. Big to me always seemed very affectionate to Carrie, truly liking her in a way that I never would have believed had I not read the book or watched the show. It’s strange but as women, I believe we refuse to believe that we deserve affection to the point we forgo it even when it’s actively given. It’s hard for men to be vocal about their feelings but it’s hard for women as well and that’s why I always had a lot of appreciation for Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy who always spoke her mind even to her own utter pitiful heartbreak. We should take a page from her book and it would probably avoid a lot of the miscommunication that characterizes so many of modern relationships.
The rest of the women in the show, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda are interesting to me in how they differ from Carrie herself and also how they’re variations on stereotypes that are so tried and true they remain relevant to this day. Samantha reminds me of my friend Lora in a way because they’re both the person I would approach when I mess up in some big unfixable way because as humans, we tend to do that sometimes. Charlotte remains the only woman of the core four that I think men would be able to stomach because she’s the most traditional and most conventionally attractive but at the same time, she’s also the most difficult to imagine spending a life with because at least at the beginning, she never sees beyond the aesthetic of the matter, which isn’t a flaw in in of itself but ends up emotionally crippling her until she learns to grow past it. Miranda might be my favorite on an objective level because unlike the rest of the women, she rarely does anything wrong but still suffers for the sake of being female and of a certain age. She’s a high powered lawyer who does everything right but faces the most trauma regarding marriage and children that nobody ought to go through and her struggles are played up for laughs but I wasn’t really laughing after a time.
In fact, I think that would be the thesis of the show. No matter how beautiful or brilliant or sexy you are, no matter how rich, men will always deign to treat women like complete and utter shit just because they can. They will lie and cheat and act like children because as women, we’re scared by society into believing the most important thing we can be is a wife or girlfriend and so, once we’re in that position, we will do anything to stay in it. It’s a power thing first and foremost. But what Sex and the City did differently than other shows is that it told women that they didn’t have to stand for it, that there was more than being the doormat. Women’s sexual pleasure used to be a taboo and it still is even in 2015 but moreover, what’s the taboo that I can’t seem to get past is what women truly want including sex but also beyond it, in relationships and in love and life. I said a while ago that it made me sad that I knew so many girls who had sex when they didn’t truly want to and it makes me sad that grown women continue to do so. Maybe by my daughters’ adulthood, the gap between the sexes will have been reduced but at this rate, I’m not sure if it’s even possible because it’s not me who suffers from it that is causing the divide but the men who enforce it, and I am not remotely for it.