Samantha Rocks! In defence of SATC

Posted: May 27, 2010 in Feminism
Tags: , , , , ,

The second Sex In The City Movie has just been released, and judging by my little corner of the interwebz it seems to be causing something of a furore.  I keep being sent links to article after article, blog after blog, all wailing about how utterly awful it is. If the majority of the (feminist in the main) detractors of the film are to be believed, SATC2 is the worst misgogyny to come out of Hollywood since Roman Polanski. The main thrust of these feminist writers’ arguments is that what was once an entertaining, empowering, feminist TV show about independent, career minded women, has now descended into a turgid shopping and fucking fest. With a little bit of racism sprinkled on top for good measure.

I don’t understand these tirades. It feels to me like these people have been watching a completely different show from the one I have. I thought SATC had always been about shopping and fucking. Oh and eating, and drinking cocktails, and most of all talking. Women talking about shopping and fucking. The careers of Samantha, Carrie, Charlotte and Miranda were merely backdrops to their decadent sex-filled lifestyles. A private view at Charlotte’s gallery for example, was just an excuse for the girls to pick up men between the canapes. A new male PA at Samantha’s firm was a lead-in to some hot on-the-desk fucking. And perhaps the iconic image of the show, Carrie typing away on her laptop, wearing only a bra and pants, was always about the bra and pants not the writing.  But I didn’t think we watched SATC for stories of empowered women, making it in the male dominated professional world. We have The West Wing for that don’t we?

God knows there is enough to criticise the TV show for, let alone the films. Its representation of anyone who doesn’t belong to the whiter than white, middle to upper class, all-American Hamptons set was pathetic. The constant refrain from the main characters of ‘I need a fuck/boyfriend/husband’ to complete me, got boring after a while. Though the programme was made by Gay writers and producers, the portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters was cliched and grating. But I forgave it all that and more, because this was the first time in the history of mainstream, primetime TV that women had been shown in leading roles, seeking out, enjoying, and talking about orgasmic, pleasure-filled, exhilarating sex. This is the revolutionary aspect of SATC, and its legacy for feminism. No Hollywood feature length moneyspinner can take that away from us, can it ladies and gents?

Ah, but wait. I am not sure everybody does agree on this one. In reading these diatribes against SATC2 (which by the way I am sure is a terrible film), I have noticed something. The sexy, exuberant, experimental sexuality of the characters in the TV programmes, was not what these feminist critics enjoyed at all. They actually seem to have found it kind of vulgar. Take this quote from a review by Lindy West that has been Retweeted to notoriety on twitter today

‘Samantha, being the prostitute (< crossed out)  sexual revolutionary that she is, rages against the machine by publicly grabbing the engorged penis of a man’

What was that word you crossed out in this new, faux ironic way Lindy? Prostitute. Oh. That word.  Now I am a supporter of sex workers and I would love to see a sex worker character in a hit TV comedy. But Samantha Jones is in no way shape or form a prostitute. Her character has always been based around someone who has assertively sought out sexual experiences, on her own terms, for their own sake, and she has dated men from a range of economic backgrounds. She is the type of woman you could imagine hiring a rent boy for the night, and think nothing of it. Samantha’s longest most serious relationship was with Smith, a young out-of-work actor, whose career she boosted with her PR contacts and marketing know how (and cash). This is not the narrative of Pretty Woman.

Samantha is a feminist hero to me. She is sexy, intelligent, funny, independent, a bit guarded emotionally, but also vulnerable, sexually adventurous and fearless. What’s not to like?

Underneath the veneer of outrage at feminine stereotypes, objectification of women, and needy female heterosexuality, these critiques have revealed themselves to be just another attack on women like Samantha, who enjoy, speak openly about and experiment with their sexuality.

Another feminist hero of mine, Zoe Margolis, has recently won a libel case against the Independent on Sunday newspaper, who, in an article about her latest book: Girl with a one track mind: exposed, called her an ex ‘hooker’. When she won her case, Zoe said that she was celebrating her win as  ‘a small victory for feminism’ because it was a successful challenge of a sexist media, which ‘conflates female sexuality with prostitution’. It is depressing to find that it is not just the media, but also influential feminists, who are making this same, sexist conflation between women’s sexuality and sex work.

I support sex workers. And I support women who want to enjoy and discuss their sexuality, without being labelled prostitutes or hookers. I am sure sex workers themselves do not want to be defined only in terms of their job, and that they would like also to be treated as women with sex lives,  women who watch SATC  maybe, and laugh and talk about sex with their mates as we all do.

So basically, what I am saying is, fuck you neo-puritans. Samantha rocks!

  1. Cathy says:

    Thank you! This post sums up exactly how I feel about the drivel that has been written about SATC2.

    ‘It feels to me like these people have been watching a completely different show from the one I have. I thought SATC had always been about shopping and fucking. Oh and eating, and drinking cocktails, and most of all talking. Women talking about shopping and fucking.’

    I’m so with you – and the other point I have been banging home is – why does SATC has to be ‘feminist’ or meaningful in any way? Can’t it just be popcorn fun? Is Entourage ’empowering to men’? Is 24, the Sopranos, The Wire, all about males in society today? No, they’re fun. Just because SATC stars women, and features women talking about things women talk about, why does it get dissected and pulled apart, as if its aim is not to entertain, but to be some kind of feminist statement?

  2. Allie says:

    I am so in love with this piece.

    I read that review also and winced at the use of the term. I’m fully in support of sex workers and reading a woman spit out that word by way of an insult towards another, especially when Samantha does everything but charge for sex, completely irks me.

    SATC is such a guilty pleasure, I can’t wait to see her shag her way about Abu Dhabi and make no apologies for it.

  3. sianushka says:

    i don’t know anything about SATC i’m afraid, but read this because i really want to support your statement about how we still judge women who approach sex in a positive, liberated manner. just as zoe margolis says, being a sexual woman does not equate to you being a prostitute. i think in this moment, where we see women as sexual objects, sexual commodities (lad’s mag culture, naked women in every advert) we forget that women are sexually autonomous beings who feel desire and act on it. it’s so sad that we’re still there! so hurrah for women celebrating their sexualities! what is really wrong, really vulgar and shameful is shaming women for doing so.

  4. quiet riot girl / Elly says:

    Thanks for all your comments. Brilliant. It is good to challenge assumptions as they happen and we are doing that!

  5. Rather shy says:

    Thank you for this post. I find it hard sometimes to be sex-positive and pro sex workers’ rights whilst also objecting to people being described as prostitutes or whores in derogatory ways, but here I think you deal with it really well.

  6. quiet riot girl / Elly says:

    Thanks for your comment, Rather Shy.

    I have struggled with that exact issue as well. It is hard to make a distinction between supporting sex workers, and defending women against accusations of being ‘a hooker’. But I think we can do it which is ace.

  7. Fauxnoc says:

    I’m kinda new to this whole discrimination/feminist/activism thing but I personally always found Sam to be the least objectionable of the SATC girls.

  8. soirore says:

    Love this. I’ve never been mad about SATC because of its consumerist culture which is pretty alienating. But Samantha was always fun to watch.

  9. Alexandra says:

    Great post. Seriously. Lindy’s rant was offensive on so many levels, but what she seems to miss is that seeking out “engorged penis” on one’s own terms is indeed a feminist act. Taking joy in your sexual choices is a feminist act. Allowing the proverbial penis of the patriarchy to fuck you in ways you don’t like is obviously sad, but that’s not who or what Samantha is at all.

    I am so annoyed when people who claim to be feminists throw the old virgin/whore dichotomy right back in our faces. Samantha can’t be a player or a stud or even self-realized. She’s just a prostitute — which is false, but doesn’t strike me the way Lindy wants it to anyway. Rock on to any prostitutes who are doing what they do out of their own volition.

  10. Love love love these comments. Rock on sisters!

  11. Yewtree says:

    I don’t watch SATC but I agree that women should be able to celebrate our sexuality and enjoy having sex without being labelled a “whore”, especially not by other feminists. I also don’t find this inconsistent with supporting sex workers in their quest for a safe working environment to do what they do.

  12. […] Quiet Riot Girl offers a different perspective on the whole thing.  She does make some good points, but I still think SATC is imperialistic, classist, consumerist dreck masquerading as liberation. Not that justified being misogynistic when reviewing it of course. […]

  13. RoseMurasaki says:

    Yep, you’re spot on about that (mis)use of the word “prostitute”.

    I realise Roman Polanski is persona non grata these days, but please can I just put in a word for him on a creative level? he has consistently featured strong female roles in his films. OK, they’re not all positive role models (Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion springs to mind) but they’re always real and complicated people, never mindless eye candy, or WAGs.

    And with Faye Dunaway in Chinatown he (and screenwriter Robert Towne) completely subverted the 1940s/1950s film noir view of the femme fatale as the sexual predator who drags the flawed hero to his doom.

  14. Hi Rose!
    Yes in gender representation terms, I think Polanski’s films are a damn sight more challenging than Sex in the City! I mentioned him as he has received an equal amount of simplistic media attention as the SATC film, with articles drawing on gender stereotypes left right and centre.

    As a friend of mine said, ‘some of my favourite artists/writers are Nazi bastards’! I don’t judge art by the politics/morals of the artist.

  15. Sex and the City to me, whole not a very good movie, is satisfying to lots of women. Our expectations for escapist summer fantasies from a female perspective are off the chart just because we hardly see them at all.

    I am tired of films that star women being held up to higher expectations than films that star men.

    While this film is no masterpiece by far, it does raise issues that I am glad to see in a film.

  16. Billie says:

    I think the problem with SATC movies is what works in a half-hour doesn’t work in two. The fast-pace of the show left you wanting more. The first SATC (haven’t seen the 2nd) was a mindless clothing fest with a (very) little plot. It was not smart and witty as the TV show and frankly a yawn. I will see the new one in case it is better but suspect I will wonder why I wasted my money when I exit the theater. Some things do not cross genres well, and I suspect this is one of them.

  17. Samantha totally rocks! No, Sex and the City was not perfect regarding its portrayal of race and class. But, NEWSFLASH, neither Nancy Pelosi nor Hilary Clinton are above reproach in this regard – not even close! Let’s not kid ourselves, Pelosi/Clinton spend most of their time with VERY wealthy campaign contributors who are destroying the planet. Samantha et al may be elitist, but they aren’t the ones giving away my tax dollars to Goldman Sacks, Haliburton, Blackwater, etc. Heck, Nancy Pelosi once screamed at female protesters who dared to hold up peace signs while standing on a sidewalk outside of her house! Yet, Pelosi and Clinton are held up as great feminist heroes by the same people who deride the Sex & the City characters as vapid, elitist, rich women. And, just for the record, Pelosi has had a TON of Botox, so there!

  18. Melissa, Billie, Fangirl, thank you for your comments! It is so refreshing to get past the ‘Samantha’s a whore/the film is worthless’ ‘critiques’ to actually talk about the movie, like we might talk about any other.

    I agree with pretty much all your points, especially what Billy said about translating a TV show into a movie and the difficulties involved. I don’t know so much about Ms Pelosi-she doesn’t sound that nice!

  19. diane says:

    Hi, and a belated thank you kindly for RT-ing my critique of Lindy West’s misogynistic review. You’re totally right that the show was never that different from the first film. It was better, but it wasn’t some feminist utopia. It was consumerist, and often shallow, and boundary-pushing in some ways but deeply conventional in others.

    I hadn’t thought before reading your post that calling women prostitutes is also an insult to sex workers, but you’re right. Why should that be the ultimate insult? Sex workers are just trying to get by, they’re not bad people and they shouldn’t be defined by their job.

    However… I don’t support the sex industry. I think it’s a symptom of a society whose ideas about gender and sexuality are really effed up, where men see women as body parts rather than people and think sex whenever they feel like it is a right rather than a privilege.

  20. annie says:

    Rather late to this, but so much to agree with, where to start…?! Basically, what everyone else has already said.

    Much of the criticism seems to be that it is shallow, portraying women as only concerned with relationships… but the clue is in the title. What do you expect from something called Sex & the City? That’s its focus. It’s like criticising Match of the Day for containing too much football. Or Gardener’s World for being all about the plants. Good grief.

  21. […] formidable power. I wonder if Kim Catrell got some inspiration from Debbie Harry for her role as  Samantha in Sex And The City. They both exude female active sexuality to me. And Samantha shows how that […]

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