Why men hate Sex and the City

Prospect Magazine

Why men hate Sex and the City

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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 pretty

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 interests in the franchise have a hard, plasticised Ken-doll beauty that is almost offensively unreal, apart from the cheerily balding child-man who Charlotte eventually persuades to whisk her up the aisle. Who can remember his name? Probably not even Charlotte.

The only males who are acceptable as genuine friends are gay men—presented as mincing, quasi-pantomimic sidekicks with little authentic sexuality of their own. The second film revolves in part around the wedding of Stanford and Anthony, two characters whose mutual hatred was made much of in the series, but who the films have seen fit to pair off after the most spurious of drunken kisses for no other reason than the fact that both are gay. (Male bisexuals, of course, do not exist.) Gay men may not be the enemy in the same way that straight men are, but nor are they afforded real personhood: they are merely satellites to the female experience, doomed to advise Carrie and co on their wedding outfits forever.

So no wonder men hate Sex and the City. And yet, for all of its incontestable misandry, for all the twee dialogue, weary product placement and blatant fetishisation of upper-class consumerism, the urge to defend it springs unbidden whenever I hear a man who hasn’t seen the show attacking its premise. One male columnist writing for Stylist last week dismissed the franchise as “a load of crones cackling about penises.” Such ugly misogyny is seen as a fair retort to a series that treats men so flippantly. Yet women have to put up with being portrayed as two-dimensional, impossibly beautiful sex objects in almost every other television programme you care to name. For all its faults, watching Sex and the City can feel a little like redressing the balance.

The Bechdel test, named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel who coined the concept in her long-running comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For,” has passed into popular culture as a way of determining sexism in film and television. The premise is simple: in order to pass the test, a film must have two or more named female characters in it; these characters must talk to each other, and they must talk to each other about something other than a man. Thousands of films fail to fulfil this basic criteria—from the Home Alone trilogy to Lethal Weapon to Lord of The Rings. Interestingly, Sex and The City is one of the only shows that fails the test in reverse: in that men are a trivial part of the action and are rarely seen interacting with one another except to discuss the show’s female protagonists.

This wilful elision of men, their concerns and their needs, must be a large part of why male viewers find Sex and the City so uncomfortable. But it is also precisely the same elision that women experience watching countless films. If men don’t like Sex and the City, they can always change the channel and find something else. Women don’t have that option. If they did, all they’d have to watch would be Casualty and the Alien saga.

So, any man grumbling about being taken to see the latest Sex and the City film should view the experience as an opportunity. Yes, it’s insulting to both men and women, an exercise in kitsch heterosexual squabbling. But its misandry is no different to the misogyny seen daily on television, in the media, and in politics. Men who rail against the show should remember that this is what it feels like to consume media as a woman—every day.

  1. May 28, 2010

    Esme Vos

    But even many women hate Sex in the City, not just men. I watched 2 episodes of the original TV series and got tired of it quickly. I did not bother to watch SATC 1 (the movie). It’s just boring. I love fashion so theoretically I should like SATC.

  2. May 31, 2010

    mark ramsden

    “If men don’t like Sex and the City, they can always change the channel and find something else. Women don’t have that option.” Yes, let’s have more reality shows and soaps. Decades of sidelining men on the mainstream channels have obviously had no effect. Incidentally, peabrained beanpole Liz ‘homeopathy for horses’ Jones also thinks SATC2 is marvelous. Well done!
    Three brainy beauties on Newsnight trashed it, quite rightly…

    • June 23, 2012

      Rae

      In a society which continues to pressure women to settle down and get married, of all the SITC women, I find Samantha’s character the most liberating.
      Out of all four women, Samantha is the only character that fails to contradict herself. I don’t condone her disposal of men, but I don’t criticise it either. In a male dominated society, I am sick of promiscuous men being hailed as studs by their peers, yet strong sexual women are seen as sluts and are pitied by both sexes.

  3. May 31, 2010

    Maud

    Surely the whole concept of Sex and the City is for women, and if i dare say it \only\. It is a story told by one woman about four women, who urge each other to gossip; as a result men do not turn out to be the heros (like they are in the Bourne films, Lost, The Wire and so on) In a female environment is this really much of a surprise? The show should not be taken seriously of course – it successfully acts as a light form of relaxation and comfort which is why (most) women are hooked – moreover the male point of view is left out. This isn’t reality, let’s not forget.

  4. June 1, 2010

    Robin

    Is this guy or sheila for real?!
    It’s like Gumby becomes a reporter. But the reporter’s semantic gymnastics and breathlessness has left me feeling like that toy Toy Story 2 that had the crane put between a pair of ample female legs.
    It’s my observation that men are not so much angry at females (as opposed to the females who think they’re women); as they are exasperated with having to act like fools to associate with females. Having to treat them like one of the boys.
    Nearly all men admire and revere a real woman. That is, someone who has the capacity to speak without profaning, has respect for themselves and others, isn’t addicted to a career involving headkicking, can actually look after children as opposed to dumping them in child care, (if she hasn’t aborted the foetus previously) wants the marriage and not just ‘the wedding’, can care for her man, can speak for more than sixty seconds without having to send or read a text on her phone. And can be occupied for more than ten minutes without discussing shoes or coffee.
    Men are subconciously repulsed by the she men. Like me they don’t want to date a man with tits.

  5. June 2, 2010

    Tansy

    Hey Laurie,

    \(Male bisexuals, of course, do not exist.)\

    As a SATC geek it is my duty to point out that this isn’t true!
    There is an episode dedicated to a bisexual man that Carrie dates. Discussions are had about how soon sexual labels won’t matter and Samantha declares herself to be a Try-sexual… she’ll try anything once… (cue laughter)

    Whilst SATC can be/is routinely criticised for many things, there are not many sexual stones that it left unturned.

    Tansy.

  6. June 3, 2010

    Peter

    Why is describing the film as “a load of crones cackling about penises” ugly misogyny?

  7. June 3, 2010

    Michelle Graham

    ‘Sex and the City…shows men what it feels like to be a woman

    Men who rail against the show should remember that this is what it feels like to consume media as a woman—every day.’

    Oh, I get it now. When I read that standfirst, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so it took me till the last line to figure out how in any way that ridiculous programme could resemble my experience as a woman! Nice point, if arrived at a little circuitously and at times with questionable supporting arguments, inasmuch as it highlights the subtlety of society’s less than genuine acceptance of women as equals (cf Maud and Robin’s comments).

  8. June 3, 2010

    bv

    This article never actually addresses the question in its title.
    It asks “Why men hate Sex in the City”, but then concludes by saying “[the movie] is insulting to men and women”.

    So men hate the movie for the same reason women do – which is that it is a rubbish movie.

  9. June 3, 2010

    Colin McNeill

    Laurie Penny has got this so wrong. I love Sex and the City. It must be great to be a woman. All that chatter with your mates sharing real experiences about any bizarre aspect of personal life you care to address. And they all look so good. So full of life and energy, so attractive in their variety of loveliness. All that emotional buzz and tortured libido. I just love being in their space without having to cope with the inevitable interpersonal conflict over dealing with a male presence. I can be attracted to all or none in the ‘celluloid domain’. I could go on but I just wanted to point up the fact that we live in a post-modern era in which most of the old stereotypic ideas presented here have been deconstructed. Except for my own frustrations of course which are about the absolute preponderance of female presenters on Bloomberg and other financial channels, sports channels,entertainment channels, everywhere on TV you look the female form dominates or must have a presence. How the hell am I expected to concentrate on the value of what is being said when my perception and take on this is being fuzzed up by beautifully engineered and doctored female forms which is so much more interesting than the male form. Thank God for plain and intelligent women with something worthwhile to say; and what a relief. “What it feels like to be a woman watching TV.” What modernist feminist ideological nonsense in a post modernist era. Get a life. I’m off to book two cinema seats one for me and one for my lovely wife of many years standing.

  10. June 4, 2010

    David Jefferis

    Well I’m a (mature) man and I love it – or at least, I enjoyed the first series, which was very well observed and with production values that made it a delight to watch.

    The article is a reminder to catch up on the show, though it’s fair to say that the trail for the movie is not very alluring.

  11. June 7, 2010

    Scotty

    Sex in the City is the ultimate realisation of over a century of advertising and media very successfully targeting women and appealing to our deep desire to rebel. This is how companies sell consumer rubbish to women, and women have swallowed it all, they’ve been completely conned.
    All values and decency, which used to define a ‘good women’, i.e. putting the interests of the family and home-life before individual gains and desires – these values have been inverted and kicked around the floor! Women of the Western world, you have been conned!
    The family has been the centrepiece of civilisations all across the world for most of human history. Now the family has been dismantled and rubbished, everything else in society will just collapse, as we are witnessing.
    The new mantra for the modern Western women is ‘do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the law’

  12. June 7, 2010

    Honey

    I have never watched a single T.V program, read a book or done anything ‘as a woman’ conscious of my femininity and how it relates to what I am doing. This to me is irrelevant, I agree with Scotty’s point that women nowadays are conned into a vapid consumerism that threatens to undermine their respectability in society. Sex and the City just confirms and supports this mindless submission to the ‘laws’ of fashion.
    The occupation of caring for the family has been destroyed as an honourable career choice. Why is selfishness the highest form of femininity?

    Also, to defend ‘The Lord of the Rings’: the film simply re-creates the feminine aspect of the book. There are no conversations between females and no descriptions of female characters that do not refer to their ‘peerless beauty’ or measure their worth as a woman by their ‘fair’ness. This book was written by a man, about the things that he wished to write about – where women are foreign things, yet often powerful in their own right. It is not fair to retrospectively apply today’s values on a book written in 1940s or 1950s. A person should not be expected to write a book sensitive to all aspects of his readership: that would be a task more immense than even poor Tolkein could manage.

    It tickled me that women be forced to watch Casualty and the Alien films in order to find themselves fairly represented in the narrative – what a violent combination;
    what an unnecessarily sweeping generalisation.

  13. June 20, 2010

    YChao

    Funny. I am male and hated Sex & the City for exactly the reason that it demeans women. Does Sex & the City really pass the Bechdel test, with women \talk to each other about something other than a man\?

  14. June 21, 2010

    Jane

    I imagine many men hate this horrid movie mostly for the same reasons that I, a woman, do: They are the same reasons intelligent,
    men and women hate “the Man Show” and “Hooters”. No one likes to watch shallow selfish and utterly un self-respecting people of either gender indulging themselves so gratuitously.

    The difference, of course, is that these women are getting no real pleasure from “their” sexuality, but are merely caught up in a numb hysteria of attention seeking.

    Society has given us a choice between being the kind of doormat woman Robin advocates who has no control over her own body, whose only virtue is her ability to “mother” her man, acting as a perpetually “pure” and submissive symbol for him, and the kind of woman in this horrid franchise, who has no real character or desires of her own.

    SATC is the Whore side of the Madonna/Whore complex, which is disheartening to anyone with any human sensibility.

  15. June 24, 2010

    Julie_Moseley

    I so want to add to the debate as a new subscriber…but having seen the trailer I took it to be a re-vamp of ‘Carrie On Up The Khyber’ and left it right there! Even more depressing than the genderal interplay is the probability of hoards of ‘ladies of a certain age’ sporting turbans en masse next summer!

  16. June 28, 2010

    Alice

    SATC is supposed to be (lighthearted) entertainment and not documentary. It bothers me that a sizeable proportion of the society expects SATC to represents reality and then proceeds on hating it because it doesn’t.

    • July 1, 2012

      anonymous

      I used to watch this show when I was twelve years old. At such an age everything is reality. I live in the Netherlands and apparently they don’t mind showing such sexually explicit scenes at seven thirty (p.m). I’m seventeen now, and I honestly cannot believe I used to watch this crappy, extremely disgusting show.

  17. July 5, 2010

    Jason

    I hate sex and the city as a man because it portrays all women as greedy sluts, who will do anything for money and yes of course…more sex! It makes me think less of women who like this show. The women only want perfectly carved young, white rich men. The show is ridiculous. The show also portrays men as the type of people who will sleep with anyone (in some cases true, but in most cases this is not true) The main women hardly ever get rejected on there cougar missions and there is always some man chasing them (which is obviously unbelievable if you have ever seen Sarah Jessica Parker’s face). So all of these reasons for me build up to a huge hatred of this terrible show.

  18. November 11, 2010

    Simon

    Well I am a straight man who suffered through four seasons of Sex in The City. I will give anything HBO produces a fair watching. I wholeheartedly agree with many of the statements in the above article.I am hard pressed to remember a show on TV that demeans women more than Sex in The City. Every man has to be an investment banker, if things go bad just sleep with a stranger and buy a pair of shoes and all is well again and my favorite..Sitting around in a bar complaining that their lives are not complete without a man whilst reiterating the tired old mantra that ‘all men are bastards’…what does one expect when the only men they date are investment bankers.
    The male characters are two dimensional and are essentially props on the show and the underlying message of the series is; its OK to be shallow, vain and useless, a woman is nothing without a man thus making men superior to women and above all that all women are for sale.

    Wake up Girls. This show does not empower you. It screams that women are indeed the weaker sex.

  19. June 2, 2011

    matthew anderson

    Uhhh – maybe because it shows women for what they are NOT. Most women are typically working class mothers and most men are typically working class fathers. For the most part neither are high flying executives living in cocktail bars.

  20. June 13, 2011

    Kayle

    @Colin: YES!!! Men who hate SATC generally ignore the fact that all 4 women are INTENTIONAL STEREOTYPES. I can’t believe they miss it, I mean Charlotte is under 40 and wears a traditinal PEARL NECKLACE in NYC, for goodness sake. It’s ridiculously uncritical and really unforgiveable in a critical article. That the male characters follow suit should be no surprise or offense, given the context the show set up. In real life, thaws women would rarely speak to each other, let alone meet for weekly brunches and drinks. Duh. The whole point of setting the characters up the way they have is to address the “types of men” these “types of women” can (and do, real life) encounter in their mating arcs. In other words, everything patriarchal is 1. Shallow, intentionally one-dimensional and 2. Already true. (when do they complain about a guy doing something that wasn’t actually asinine or brutally selfish??? Crickets, I’m sure. That they talk about it is not necessarily gossip…especially in the case of say, Berger, who “broke up” by post-it. I never saw them talk about someone who had not committed any personal injustice, without receiving some form of comeuppance for doing so.) All the “new” ideas-that one can afford a high end shoe fetish and more than a closet in Manhattan on a salary like Carrie’s, for instance- is just fantasy fulfillment aimed at likewise stereotypical female audience. And I have no idea what the issue is against Charlotte’s husband. Anyone who can teach an already docile, loving, and committed female MORE about love than she already knew is quite outstanding. Is it his looks that bother or that his demeanor is likewise docile? If it’s the latter, or either, I’d check the back of your feminist card for some qualifying stickers.
    This article is talking past the entire show and its target market in order to make a rather wobbly point. I’m beginning to wonder if really, it’s the terror that women really are thinking these thinks that is getting to people. If they are, they didn’t need SATC to tutor them on it.

  21. August 12, 2011

    A

    There is one key difference: SITC puts down men forcefully, and does so with the approval of the script.
    This never happens in the reverse. When sexist men neither disapproved of or ridiculed in modern fiction, all hell breaks loose.

  22. December 11, 2011

    julia

    I do not like Sex and the city, and I’m a woman, cause it’s simply ridiculous. My life is not about shoes and men and them waiting for another man to come my way to complete me and then maybe some other and so on forever… Some of the dialogs make me feel embarrassed just to think any man could think women are just like that, think like that or feel like that. It is simply a fake world where promiscuity has no consequences, or they barely do, and the worst thing is the influence this actually has on some women… and I’m not only talking young women, which makes it even worse.
    The only thing worth in it is Samantha Jones, which is so exagerately promiscuous and sex oriented, that one has t take it with a smile. Simply grothesque.

  23. July 12, 2012

    Christopher

    I consider myself to be a very open minded person. When SATC first came out. I curiously watched the show at the time being a 17 year old male who lives in NYC. The show had alot of buzz and it was fascinating to see what women thought and what they are attracted to. Even my own mother was deeply into the show. However, in time I realized the show is a giant hipocrisy! There is nothing empowering about being independant women and yet constantly complaining and whining about a lack of men. The main character Carrie Bradshaw is the simple reason why I hated the show and decided to stop watching it. Carrie Bradshaw is the definition of a useless, vain women. She has not one quality that any sane man would want in a female partner. She is unattractive and anorexic, self centered and at the same time insecure. She is constantly complaining to her friends about her partners and always over analyzing her current relationships like she is a psycho therapist. Even some of the simple things like cooking a meal she is unable to do. She lives on cosmos and resturant food. The show sells fashion, NYC to scores of women. Alot of women came to NYC simply because of the false ideas that was sold to them by this show. Just an over indulgence in fashion, cosmopolitans, gossip and complaning about men. At the same time these women simply cannot function without the men in their lives. The show degrades women and shows them as being a weaker minded gender. In general Men hate this show on many levels but the main reason is that it promotes a lifestyle to young women that degrades their qualities. The fact the a women can openly talk about her sexual escapades in a cafe in NYC represents the overall degradation of American Society.

  24. July 26, 2012

    Grace

    Actually, the show sex and the city makes woman look more like men too often- obsessed with the opposite sex only because they’re interested in using them as sex dolls, and happily engaging in numerous one night stands. The show makes Charlotte look like the girly naive prude, Samantha like a whore (but if she was a man and equally attractive, a playboy), Miranda bottomlessly cynical and Carrie the girl next door with spunky energy. I don’t think all the men are perfect looking or shallow/lacking character, and the show is very addicting being a teen girl because it glamourizes life in NY for soon to be middle aged women, but retains the moral being your genuine best friends will always be there for you.
    Such a critical review, and keep in mind men might enjoy this show as much as women enjoy south park or transformers.

  25. April 15, 2013

    SAT~C

    One of the worst shows ever created. Unwatcheable from a man’s perspective.

  26. December 29, 2013

    tifa07

    Watched a couple of the episodes at a Salon and I hated it. If this show was supposed to empower women … yep I agree it’s used to con women of their empowerment. “They” allowed this show to become popular so that women will think having sex with any men will give them the same power as men.

    But that’s not true at all. If women really want to be treated equally, do so by being smart, have a career that is considered for men only and never sell your body for sex. Because isn’t that the female stereotype? That women are only used for sex and nothing else? Why are they perpetuating that idea? Women who love watching this show is stupid and I wonder how they are living their lives now. Seriously!!

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