When Sex and the city first hit television screens across America in 1998, audiences were presented with the independent and confident woman, Carrie Bradshaw. At first, I indulged in the series – criticizing it throughout but secretly enjoying the ridiculous portrayal of American life and laughing at its blatant gender stereotyping. In the very first episode Carrie demonstrates her sexual freedom, and to begin with I’m thinking “great, good for you” but next it becomes apparent that she is aiming “to have sex like a man” – ie. no attachment, an assumption which says sex is only emotionally important to woman and men inherently just don’t care. So, you can be a sexually liberated woman, so long as you do it “like a man”. The constant signposting of ‘difference’ between men and women only reinforces constructions of masculinity (strong, rational, tough) and femininity (weak, irrational, passive) and shoe horns every character into fitting these stereotypes.
However, Carrie is often depicted as strong so here is a career woman who we can admire and be inspired by – yet she still only represents one type of ‘strong woman’. She is white, American and financially privileged. Just a regular consumer fitting her cog perfectly into the system. Along with the incredibly materialistic nature of the series, one of the main precepts is the search for love. Carrie describes herself as “someone who is looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.” Because everyone knows you can’t be a single woman AND be happy. Oh and the name of the guy she falls head over high heels in love with? “Mr. Big”, Hello masculinity.
I wonder if the message we’re really getting is “You too can be a free, driven and successful woman! (Just so long as you uphold the American Dream, keep buying expensive shoes, designer clothes and find true love)”
However, Carrie Bradshaw is often assertive, outspoken and intelligent – I’ll give her that. She does occasionally question some important aspects of life and acts as the assertive voice of the entire show. But this voice went from being my guilty TV pleasure to leaving me gob smacked. Carrie went from being a part-time friend (we didn’t agree on most values but she was entertaining) to a complete write off when I watched the film follow-up of the series, Sex and The City 2.
It follows the women on a trip to Morocco and the whole film acts as a representation of constructions of the ‘liberated American women’ as opposed to the ‘oppressed Muslim woman’. Ideas of ‘otherness’ permeate the film, first introduced when the fashionable quartet sit down to eat at their posh hotel. Carrie says “The veil across the mouth, it freaks me out.” She objectifies those from the culture she has visited and passes judgment upon the identity of the Muslim women based on an external image of their body. Next Carrie says, “French fries for the lady with the veil – now how is she going to do that? A lift for every fry – that is a major commitment to fried food” and they all laugh. The way she watches the women with speculation and then merely laughs at their cultural practices, says a lot about the patriarchal American capitalist values behind Sex and The City. These are values which rely upon ideas of difference (gender, sexuality, racial, cultural) and assumed superiority in order to thrive.
The very worst part though, is when Samantha, wearing short shorts and a strappy top showing her full cleavage, drops her condoms on the floor in a busy street then starts screaming at Muslim passersby “Yes I have sex”, thrusts aggressively into thin air and puts her middle finger up – America asserting authority over the middle-east via Hollywood film. Next the women run away from a pursuit of angry men and are ushered into a safe hiding place by Muslim women in Burkas. Here the Sex and The City women are at first dubious until they are offered a form of identification with the Moroccan women when they take off their veils and burkas to reveal western designer clothes beneath. Lo and behold, the strange “others” to the white American women are just like them really! And they can all be friends because everyone loves fashion! Yay! This deveiling of Muslim women may hide behind the face of shallow entertainment but beneath the surface are values not so far from colonial ideologies.
So, Carrie, it’s not me, it’s you – we’re over.