For further emphasis, I’d suggest you read this paragraph in the “Carrie Bradshaw starts a ‘Sex and the City’ episode” voice.
I’ve been noticing that lately the line between a need for criticism and a need for canceling has been blurred, specifically with content that was only understood to be inappropriate years after the fact. I started watching “Sex and the City” over the last month or so, and if anyone’s started it in the last five to 10 years, I think they’d agree it was not necessarily made to age into the 2020s. From internalized misogyny to microaggressive forms of homophobia and heteronormativity, this is loaded with lots of political no-nos. Speaking of politics, there’s a good amount of political apathy thrown in there when the main character, Carrie, dates a politician as well, which feels like some serious privilege to me. There’s a lot to unpack here, but my main concern for the purpose of this article is that homophobia.
Let’s start with, spoiler alert, the time when Samantha dated a woman. Now for those who don’t watch the show, Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, is known as the promiscuous character who is sex-obsessed and commitment-averse. She has always been the token hot blonde, if you will, who all the men liked, and up until this point there were no indications for her to be either gay or bisexual. This isn’t to say it’s unexpected because she’s homophobic — far from it. It’s just that in the past, Samantha had been involved in strictly heterosexual interactions and talked about those interactions freely, so it, at first, comes as a bit of a shock that she now has a female partner to talk about with the girls, who are very surprised.
I don’t personally think it’s uncommon to be surprised when someone comes out to their friends, but the real importance lies in the response — making sure the person feels safe and supported, and treating their relationship, if they have one, as just as important and exciting as a heterosexual relationship. The women didn’t take Samantha’s relationship seriously, and they especially didn’t take it seriously because it was with another woman, acting as if it was a phase and there’s no point in taking interest because it will likely end soon. The group might not have been suspecting this because Samantha’s not usually so sensitive, but she was offended by how little interest they took in her relationship.
I think this behavior might just be a sign of the times, a reflection on the fact that homosexuality on TV wasn’t treated as “normal” at that point in time. To be honest, though, I’m still wondering how we differentiate between the homophobia and the timing of the show’s production not lining up with today’s zeitgeist.
The thing is, Samantha never really got into relationships in the first place, and this time it was with a woman. Not only did they react poorly to her coming out, but they also didn’t ask her about her girlfriend or her relationship. I know it’s only a character, but what they’re essentially saying about Samantha is that if she is outspoken about her heterosexual activity, it’s automatically unrealistic for her to be doing anything homosexual. They’re saying that she couldn’t have possibly thought about having a same-sex partner in the past, and that it’s definitely a phase.
They said that she “woke up and decided she was a lesbian,” but at the end of the day, how would they know? They know her life’s course since they’ve been friends, but they don’t know what’s happened before that, what will happen after and, in my opinion most importantly, what she hasn’t done. They had no way of knowing if this relationship came up all of a sudden, so it’s really unfortunate that this is how they behaved. In response to Samantha sharing that she was pursuing a relationship with a woman, her friends started to say, “I’m a fire hydrant,” “I’m a shoe,” as if anyone can decide to be anything, as if it’s a choice and there’s no limit to the terms one can use to identify their sexuality or orientation. To them, the relationship signaled that Samantha woke up one day and decided to get in a relationship with a woman, and it’s a satire about, or frankly an attack on, sexual fluidity and the idea that anyone can be attracted to anyone. I think those comments were crazy offensive, not to mention oversimplifying the process by which one realizes, comes to terms with and outwardly admits their sexuality, by making it seem much more quick and thoughtless than it is. I won’t even get into the fact that they aren’t such great friends for talking about her this way the moment she leaves their vicinity.
I also think there’s something to be said about the fact that Samantha was the one to be in the homosexual relationship. Her character often represents openness and lust, so I wonder if this was why the writers chose her to take on the task of introducing LGBTQ+ narratives into the show. I think this contributes to our often negative perception of LGBTQ+ individuals and their sex lives, subconsciously thinking of them as more promiscuous, although our conscious minds can confirm that sexuality and libido are not linked. I wonder how much of this perception is due to influential shows like this. It goes along with the idea of fetishization of homosexuality and bisexuality, which is still so prevalent in the current culture.
I also think it’s interesting that the rigid but optimistic, stick-up-her-ass, WASPY — White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, if you will — Charlotte York, played by Kristin Davis, represents the internalized misogyny in this show. Her first line in the whole show is, “Most men are threatened by successful women. If you want to get these guys, you have to keep your mouth shut and play by the rules.”
Now, I’m not saying we should judge a turn-of-the-millennium series by 2021 standards, but I’m just pointing out the interesting things I’ve noticed in a show that’s truly not so old, that wouldn’t fly today. I also believe in the value of judging content in the context of the time it was produced, but there’s a duality there. There’s the ability to recognize that this isn’t something that would happen today and therefore cut it slack, and there’s the personal decision of whether or not that means we shouldn’t consume the content.
It also makes you think about how our perception of ourselves as women has changed over the past 20 or so years. I don’t think I’m holding these women to a 2021 standard by saying they shouldn’t be telling each other to “shut up” or “play by the rules” when it comes to the pursuit of men. I also think it’s an interesting dichotomy in which these women are both submissive to men and hate men. They are submissive to men in saying women should act in these submissive ways, yet they’re always talking about their disdain for men, about how their dating practices are bad or making generalizations about their actions. Classic stuff we still see today, to be honest.
At the end of the day, I, someone who considers herself a feminist and someone who tries to be inclusive, still likes to watch this show. It’s comforting, and it makes me think. Sometimes, it makes me think, “Man, I’m happy that I live in 2021 and not in 2000,” that I’m happy to be in college at a time when our society has progressed to this point and I’m excited to see it progress more as I reach the ages of the women in the show. It also makes me think that many women experienced some of the things they went through, namely sexism and homophobia, in order for women like me to live the way I do now. I appreciate that in a way, as much as it shouldn’t have had to happen. I’d still recommend the show, but I’d take the zeitgeist into account while watching.
Ariel Wajnrajch is a sophomore majoring in psychology.