Sex and the City is a shallow, sexist enterprise. But it does one thing well: it shows men what it feels like to be a woman. And the result is not prettyby Laurie Penny / May 28, 2010 / Leave a comment
Six series and two films later, the feminist arguments (both for and against) Sex and the City have been done to death. Shoes, handbags and marriage are not what every girl wants. But why do men hate Sex and the City so much? Is it because it’s a screechy, shallow, dated franchise based on thuggish sexual binaries in which men have no role whatever, apart from as scapegoats or faceless playthings? Well, partly. Though that isn’t the whole story.
In the second Sex and the City film, released this week, it’s clear that the protagonists still view men as asinine, brutal, essentially alien beasts who can be led around by their genitals. “The only place you can control a man is in bed,” says Samantha Jones in the television series. “If we perpetually gave men blow jobs we could run the world.” Hardly a rousing manifesto for gender equality.
Sex and the City sets itself up in cheeky opposition to male power without for a second questioning the premise of patriarchy. It conjures a dynamic in which men are at once the enemy and the object of desire, where any interaction women have with the opposite sex is rigidly policed by an all-female gang of friends. The franchise gives the impression that only women who are rich, attractive, white, western and powerful can win in the gender war—and only by imitating the worst aspects of shallow patriarchal objectification.
Poor Mr Big. It can’t be easy being a phallic cipher. His sole purpose since the inception of the series has been to provide Carrie with an acceptable sexual foil, his husky voice and dark-eyed intimation of limitless personal wealth apparently explaining why Carrie returns again and again to a man who treats her like dirt, a man she eventually, for no discernible reason, marries. Big is a patriarchal husk with zero emotional depth, an empty symbol of everything that women are meant to find hateful and desirable about powerful men. Imagine introducing him to your friends. It’d be like having a girlfriend called Tits.
Then there’s Aidan. Boring, squidgy-eyed Aidan with his tight white T-shirts, who reappears in the latest film to tempt Carrie away from Big. He is framed as the polar opposite to Big—despite also being rich, white, male, handsome, American and seemingly unable to hold a conversation that isn’t about Carrie or money. All of the male romantic…