Times Sex and the City Was Not Woke

It’s been more than two decades since “Sex and the City” aired, and every time I rewatch the iconic show, I unpack more outdated beliefs and actions that occurred within the problematic series. The controversial ‘90s show has turned into a guilty pleasure of mine as I try to absorb all the New York fashion and social life I can. Characters like Miranda taught me to choose myself and my career over men. Samantha taught me to unapologetically go after what I want both in life and sex. Carrie made me realize it’s okay to be materialistic. Charlotte showed me what I didn’t want to be. Over the summer, I, once again, aimlessly binge-watched “Sex and the City,” hoping to get inspired. The show does many things right: sex, confidence, couture and friendship. Did I mention sex? Yeah, a lot of sex. The concept of a reboot of the infamous sexually liberating show made me quake in the best way possible. Yet, as I rewatched the show with the lens of a 19-year-old college woman in 2021, many things in the show did not sit right with me. I noticed the series wasn’t as progressive as I had remembered. From Carrie boldly showing off her “ghetto gold jewelry” and Samantha thinking it’s okay to wear an afro wig when she loses her hair to chemo to the constant portrayal of actors of color as stereotyped roles, such as the music exec Chivon with a “big black cock” and his sister Adeena as an “angry black woman” because she didn’t want Samantha to date her brother. “Sex and the City” dishes out offenses to many groups of people based on gender, sexuality, culture and religion. I am here to do my civic duty of calling out the microaggressions and inequalities that were glossed over during the promotion of sexually liberated women in New York City. As a fan of Carrie and her squad, I must hold them all accountable for the outdated beliefs they shared over many brunches in the 1990s. The writer and producers of the reboot can thank me later.

In order to accurately talk about what “Sex and the City” failed to address, inclusion of race must be a topic of conversation. The lack of representation is enough to question the show’s modernity, especially given that it took place in America’s ultimate melting pot city. The show also loved to add quick, witty (hold racist) phrases about groups of people, and due to their fun and snappy delivery, the writers believed it was acceptable and cool. In my eyes, there is nothing trendy about Samantha saying, “I don’t see color. I see conquests.” Refinery29 writer Hunter Harris described my thoughts exactly stating, “It was a show that was simultaneously progressive and regressive, where people of color were either stereotypes or punchlines.” Looking past the HBO series, the “Sex and the City” movies ran into similar problems. The best example is the infamous “Sex and the City 2”. Carrie and her squad get the opportunity to travel to the luxurious city of Abu Dhabi and embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience. By the first lunch there, Carrie exclaims that the veils across the woman’s face at the table next to her “freaks her out.” Later on in the movie, Carrie wears the same veil she hated on to blend in with the crowd at the street markets. When Carrie needs to get a cab so her group can quickly escape the men running after Samantha for her condom fiasco, she decides to show her bare leg and, before she knows it, a cab comes. Keep in mind, Carrie is not in a rush because she thinks they’ll miss their flight; her biggest fear is that they’ll get bumped and have to fly coach. “Sex and the City 2” is a movie that Western viewers may see as progressive by calling attention to the woman in the veil being “oppressed.” However, it does the exact opposite. Instead, it contributes to the western narrative of the Middle East that a veil equates to a woman being oppressed. If this show was aired in 2021, it would be canceled faster than you can say Abu Dhabi. Considering the last movie was made in 2010, I don’t think we can use time as an excuse anymore. 

As a woman, the sexism was very loud to me in “Sex and the City.” All of my beliefs and empowering ideals of modern feminism felt gut-punched by the show and how these women treated themselves and each other. If you fast forward past the first episode about 30-year-old women losing their power in the dating scene because they apparently become desperate for marriage, episode two unpacks the serious problems with body image and consent. The episode revolves around Carrie and her group comparing themselves and their dating lives to models in New York City. She interviews multiple men that give her the general consensus that it’s better to get with a woman that is in the ad for the skirt than the woman on the street wearing the skirt. What a beautiful concept: elitism and unattainable beauty standards. Tari Ngangura  states in her article “Looking Back, Sex and the City Was Seriously Problematic for Black Women” that the show framed the model and average New York woman divide “as a product of insecurity and jealousy towards other women, rather than a reflection of the unattainable body standards set by a male gaze.” The worst part, however, is the fact that part of Carrie’s research is to pay a visit to her guy friend that photographs models to investigate the appeal of this specific group of women. He tells Carrie that he has had sex with all of them and films them during it. Carrie then asks him if they know he films them, and he responds, “Not sure.” Instead of stopping this nonconsensual act of filming famous models, Carrie tells him to keep playing the video because she is intrigued. Need I say more? It is important to call attention to the fact that the “Sex and the City” book series was written by Candace Bushnell, while the show was created and directed by Darren Star and Michael Patrick King. This fact leads me to believe many things were lost in translation and that Star and King were portraying the girl group as to how they think women talk and act, not how they actually do. 

Carrie Bradshaw sticks by the strict rules of heterosexuality. Of course, I respect Carrie’s sexual choices; however, the way she treats other people based on their individual choices is unacceptable. The best example of this is when Carrie goes out with a guy that identifies as bisexual, causing her to question everything. “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists,” she complains in the episode “Boy Girl Boy Girl.” “I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown.” Carrie experiences paranoia as she assumes the 26-year-old guy she is seeing is attracted to every person that walks by them at a club. The climax of this episode is when he takes her to a party full of his sexually fluid friends and exes where she plays a game of spin the bottle. When a girl lands on Carrie, she freaks out and leaves the party, never saying anything to the guy. The episode concludes with her saying she’s just “too old to play this game” — as if bisexuality was an ephemeral condition one just grows out of. I understand she is older than the guy she is seeing and that her generation wasn’t raised to be that open, but to decide to judge people for being sexually fluid and blame it on her age? She should be educating herself on sexuality and its range and expressions rather than writing an ignorant article on one experience she had. 

Rewatching the “Sex and the City series and movies was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. The worst part about revisiting the series with an older perspective is coming to terms with the fact that the show is not as socially progressive as I remembered when I first watched it. The creators of this show obviously thought that because they were bringing so much attention to women having and enjoying sex, they were ahead of their time in the ‘90s. Unfortunately, they were mistaken due to their myopic view of white, straight, cisgender women having sex. “Sex in the City” is not the only ‘90s series to have masked misogyny and racism with witty lines. Shows like “Friends” and “Gilmore Girls” mask themselves with a progressive coating as they drop in narrow-minded and outdated phrases. It wasn’t until social movements like the Me Too movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and many more, that people realized what they say and how they act is crucial for achieving equity. Although I still have a special place in my heart for this show because it introduced me to the world of fashion and grown-up female friendships, I demand that changes be made in the reboot of the show. The reboot should consist of a more diverse cast, women that support each other and don’t tear one another down and people more educated in sexuality and sexual orientation. Having female writers and showrunners is a good start.

 

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