Last weekend I was labelled as Samantha, not Carrie, for the first time in my life. I was a little taken aback. Could this be because I was a little older than my dear friend, Charlotte*? I don’t think it was because of a penchant for Botox, expensive handbags and definitely not younger men, although a few minutes ago I was told I should write a blog on Tinder text banter. Sorry to disappoint but what follows is not on the subject of telecommunications sexual innuendo (much).
Samantha Jones is, for the uninitiated, one of the four central characters of Sex and the City, a television series that some may say revolutionised single-white-female-dom. Her character is possibly best captured by this:
Recently, I’ve been watching episodes of Sex and The City back to back. I never watched the series when it was first released (I was after all, only 13 at the time) and as an early-20-something never watched with the same rigour that friends did. But now? NOW I UNDERSTAND. I understand why a friend recently told me that when she was in her mid-20’s and living in London, her colleague lent her the entire box set to watch accompanied by a bottle of wine, a bottle of rum and a box of tissues. The series draws on the dating dramas of four single, affluent, white, 30-something women of New York; dramas that are common to women the (Western) world over. Without going into detail (because I’m not about to splash my love life over the internet), there have been so many episodes where I’ve almost shouted at my laptop, “THAT HAPPENED TO ME TOO!!!”
It’s a shame that men don’t have an equivalent TV show that focused on their dating lives… but then we don’t expect this of them, do we? We’re not acclimatised to think that men discuss emotions, dating and love the same way women do. We’re acclimatised to think men discuss sex, women and sex. And that, dear reader, is shit. Because emotional intelligence in men (in women, in anyone!) and having the balls to talk about feelings is a hugely undervalued trait.
The character of Samantha talked about sex openly and unabashedly, as did her girlfriends Carrie, Miranda and (albeit to a lesser extent) Charlotte. Sex and the City fuelled the growing societal acceptance that women talk about sex, have libidos (it’s not just men) and are not willing to accept the submissive role in a relationship as easily as they previously have done – oh yes, and they have careers, friends, hobbies, homes and more too.
However some thorough research (read: 10 minutes on Google) reveals that many feminists do not share my opinion (examples here and here). Some writers argue that one cannot like Sex and the City and be a feminist because:
- it’s only relevant to single white women
- it’s only relevant to rich, single, thin, white women
- it perpetuated the ‘myth’ that all women want to fall in love (this is not true, see Samantha Jones)
And a litany of other reasons including that the central male character, Carrie’s ‘soulmate’ (does such a thing exist?) who was introduced in the first series, Mr Big, has a name that is obviously honouring the patriarchal phallic vernacular.
Let’s just forget about the fact that it brings sex and relationships (romantic, sexual and platonic friend) to the forefront of the media landscape. Let’s just forget that it gives women a platform from which to discuss their sensuality.
Before “Sex and the City,” the vast majority of iconic “single girl” characters on television, from That Girl to Mary Tyler Moore and Molly Dodd, had been you-go-girl types—which is to say, actual role models. (Ally McBeal was a notable and problematic exception.) They were pioneers who offered many single women the representation they craved, and they were also, crucially, adorable to men: vulnerable and plucky and warm. However varied the layers they displayed over time, they flattered a specific pathology: the cultural requirement that women greet other women with the refrain “Oh, me, too! Me, too!”
In contrast, Carrie and her friends—Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte—were odder birds by far, jagged, aggressive, and sometimes frightening figures, like a makeup mirror lit up in neon.
Source: The New Yorker
The sex lives of all four characters were key to the plot of each episode; Carrie’s romance with Aiden (no, no, just so… boring and really not very intelligent), Samantha’s bedroom conquests, Miranda’s life outside lawyer-dom and well, Charlotte too. Never before had this been so closely examined in a mainstream TV series (Friday night SBS does not count).
Now just for funsies, let’s take the lives of these four characters and place them into a Perth context… Would the sexual independence of the four SATC girls fly in our little city?
I’d hedge a bet that Rockingham redhead and smoking hot supermodel Tiah Eckhardt would say no. And I’d agree with her. Eckhardt was recently named as the face of the 2015 Perth Fashion Festival and, more notably, starred in an advertising campaign for lingerie and sensuality boutique Honey Birdette that was banned by the ASB for being too risqué.
“Sure, put topless chicks on men’s mags in every 7/11 where they are pandering to the typical, male-satisfying ideal of ‘sexy’, yet take images of a confident woman with attitude, wearing underwear that covers more than 90 per cent of swimsuits on the market, in a store that empowers women by taking sexuality out of the hands of men and into their own and it’s somehow lewd?
“Every VS (Victoria’s Secret) catalogue I’ve ever seen is raunchier and more revealing than this, but I guess that brand of sexy is all about submissive smiles and faux-innocent coquetry, so it’s OK. Or was I not blonde and tanned enough for you, Australia?
“Get over it. Women are in charge of their own sexuality and tastes these days and if it lends more towards leather (instead of the typically hypersexualised, teen/ephebophiliac encouragement that mainstream media promotes) then it’s not OK. Yeah, nice example there: Let women appear sexual, but only if it’s in a way deemed appropriate and beneficial to a conventional and patriarchal governing force.”
Could not have said it better myself… Despite Australia’s advances in giving women the right to vote, having a female PM (albeit briefly) and in general, getting somewhat closer to gender equality than some other countries we still have a bit of a problem with how we view female sexuality.
And 50 Shades of Gray did nothing for it. It’s worth noting that the below except from this review of the film was written by a man.
Is our somewhat myopic view of female sexuality so severely shaped by the patriarchy? A patriarchy that seems to suffer from the Madonna/Whore complex; a woman is either put on a pedestal, Madonna-like in her nurturing and child-bearing abilities or viewed as The Whore, a self-explanatory yet exciting persona. The inability of some men to accept that all women have the capacity to be both of these figures (and many more) contributes to a number of marriage breakdowns. Because AskMen.com says so. This clip from Notting Hill illustrates it well:
Thankfully social media and other emerging media help diversify the accepted view of female sensuality and of the accepted ‘normal’ female body. Personally, I follow quite a few lingerie blogs and Instagram pages because, oh so pretty! And it’s not just the look, it’s the feeling (it’s always about the feeling) – the thing with lingerie is that often it’s not for anyone else but the woman wearing it (sorry gents). Many of these blogs are run by women, for women – smart, sassy, sexy and intelligent women. It’s the complete opposite of #yeahshesquats and there’s a huge diversity in body shapes and sizes and that is what is so, so wonderful.
Because it’s diversity – in perspectives, in practices, in people – that makes our world so interesting.
P.S. Our world being so interesting relates to how this blog post started… In the last four months I have been asked four times by four different men, “Emma Williams, why don’t you have a boyfriend?” The last time was by my uncle (he was knowingly winding me up) and my response was, “Laurie, you’re the fourth man in so many months to ask me that. And my response has been the same whether they’ve been standing next to me or lying next to me!!” And thus ended the conversation – and as for my response? Well, there’s some things that don’t go on the internet.