Sex and the City (SATC) turned 20 last month. Yes, I’m late to celebrate the party because, life (and the city). But I wanted to acknowledge the milestone with a blog post, as it’s been one of my favourite TV shows over the years and I feel compelled to share some pearls of wisdom from those SATC ladies… 20 years and 2 months later.
A Google search on “lessons from Sex and the City” delivers a whole host of content, both negative and positive over what was, in the late 90s, a ground-breaking show.
Has SATC aged badly?
An anonymous writer for USA Today, in a piece titled 20 years later, ‘Sex and the City’ has aged badly (June 5), says that the show’s sensibility has become “irksome” in view of today’s cultural zeitgeist, and that some episodes now seem homophobic or racist.
“I ate up their romantic and sexual exploits and I listened to Carrie’s’ voiceover with reverence. But two decades after it premiered, I’m not so sure I believe everything the ladies who brunch had to say”.
A 40-something male friend of mine, Raj, agrees it has aged, but thinks the show deserves credit for capturing many of the types of experiences people – especially women – still face on the dating scene. “It’s not as ‘real’ as say, Girls, but there was no way a show like that would’ve been shown at the time (late 90s/early 00s)” he says.
I agree that it’s dated in some ways, but I find repeat viewing still serves up the laughs and some truths about dating 20 years later. And people must still watch it because it was on free-to-air TV last night – for three hours!
SATC was heralded as a controversial new show when it launched, because it portrayed women going for what they want just because they want it, and not having that pursuit be part of the marriage agenda. It portrayed women “having sex like a man”, and talking about – shock – actual sex acts.
Far too outrageous
Before I even saw an episode, I remember thinking that it sounded like it was just not for me and would be far too outrageous. I felt challenged by the concept of it. But then I watched it and loved it. It wasn’t really so much about sex at all, but about friendship, questioning accepted social mores and daring to be true to yourself.
It also served up eye candy every week in the form of the cutting-edge outfits by Patricia Field, aesthetically-pleasing apartments and New York locations. Another friend, Giselle, still loves the show for all of the above and takes from it the idea that, “You don’t need a man to have a good life, but the right man can bring you lots of happiness.”
Who was I at the turn of the millennium?
When Sex and the City was in its hey day, I was in my late 20s and working in publishing. A couple of years into the show’s run, I felt hemmed in by one particular boyfriend. I was just not that into him. But at least I didn’t dump him by Post-it note. I broke the news in person, in a shop doorway in Newtown one Friday night. Or maybe it was at Town Hall Station. Whatever Sydney situation it was , it was Breaking up and the City.
I wanted to be free and single,”…like the Sex and the City girls” I told people. I’d delayed “break-up talks” because I didn’t want to ruin the Olympics (Sydney 2000), although in hindsight it would’ve been preferable to be single for that – look at what the future Princess Mary achieved at Sydney’s Slip Inn.
By now I was working at Weight Watchers magazine with a whole lot of women (we put SJP on the cover of one issue). Whenever we attended events circa 2000 – 01, we needed to take a big spray of Rhinocort to cope with all the oversized flower brooches on the dresses and lapels of the PR and publishing crew. My peers, along with the SATC girls, were out in bars, drinking cocktails, going to launches, lunches, as well as shopping, brunching and chatting.
But back to my boyfriend… although I knew I wanted marriage and a family one day, I realised I didn’t want it with him. I wanted to be single for a while, party at Darling Harbour with athletes and princes (yeah… in my dreams) and not be beholden to anyone. I would find someone else to marry later. But until that time, I would curl up in bed on Monday nights for my double episode of SATC, eating buttered toast and honey (my secret single behaviour).
As for that boyfriend, let’s call him Tim (not his real name). I hope you’re not reading this, Tim. It’s highly unlikely, But if you are, I’m sorry, I couldn’t, don’t hate me. Anyway, I’m sure I saw you pull up next to my car at traffic lights 10 years later, and you looked really happy. So I’m sure it was for the best.
And what was my friend Giselle doing circa 2000? She was waxing celebrity legs by day in one of London’s finest beauty salons, and corrupting her octogenarian Hungarian land lady with episodes of Sex and the City by night. “They’re all sluts!” land lady would exclaim. Slut-shaming aside, as I’ve mentioned, the show was about so much more than sex.
Carrie’s pithy narration and the characters’ one-liners, while clever and funny, sometimes did perpetuate stereotypes, and I concede could seem homophobic and racist at times when viewed through a 2018 gaze. Carrie’s voiceover told us things like, “The gay-straight man was a new strain of heterosexual male spawned in Manhattan as the result of overexposure to fashion, exotic cuisine, musical theatre and antique furniture.”
My friend Raj says he doesn’t recall it as being racist or homophobic but notes, “I’m obviously a fairly privileged middle-age man, because even now, I don’t see it. Modern Family plays up to gay stereotypes as much as Sex and the City ever did, and both do it with affection.”
Not affectionately enough for some. In an attempt to correct the labels, stereotypes and political incorrectness, the people behind the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc created the hashtag #WokeCharlotte. It’s a meme that refocusses the cultural lense to one that’s a bit more socially progressive.
Didn’t Charlotte pull a great array of judgemental and appalled faces on the show? (Often about something Samantha was doing) Which is why it’s so easy to make a meme out of her correcting any political incorrectness.
My mate Raj concedes: “I guess there are some episodes that could be not PC, like the gay-straight man (and the converse) and Samantha’s line to (her actor boyfriend) Smith about “First the gays, then the girls, then the industry…”
“I suppose a lot of Charlotte’s views were very traditional. But she was meant to represent a prude, even then, and much of the show was about her opening her mind.”
Consuming any historical text through current eyes highlights the differences in thinking between now and then. But SATC does stand the test of time in its central tenet – to remind us that women should be able to live their lives however they like, without judgement, and that they have the right not only to choose, but to shoes! But more on that later.
Sex and the City was ultimately intended to portray the lives of women living the single life and not being in the waiting room for marriage. Although Charlotte was always wanting to get married. But that was her choice. As she repeated in one episode, desperate for a critical Miranda to approve of her, “I choose my choice!”, when Miranda accused her of succumbing to traditional female roles by deciding to quit her job and not work, so she could focus on becoming pregnant.
Miranda, eventually comes around, as they all do in different situations, and while they would often make different choices from one another, after some discussion, debate (and a teensy bit of judgement in some cases) they were always there in the end, supporting each other’s choices.
Another female choice was illustrated in the episode “A woman’s right to shoes”, where Carrie made the point that for years she and her single friends had subsidised the lives of married friends by buying them expensive wedding and baby shower gifts. Yet, now she was being judged by a married woman for spending money on expensive shoes. Carrie points out that she has a right to choose, and she chooses her shoes ($485 Manolo Blahniks in this case). The anonymous writer for USA Today who asserts the show has aged badly, concedes that this is one episode that does stand the test of time.
“I liked A woman’s right to Shoes at the time, but if anything, I find that episode has aged” Raj offers. “It has a message, but it’s pushed to the point where I now find it manipulative.” Manipulative maybe, or perhaps the writers were making a point about something they’d heard their single friends complain about.
Criticisms aside, many, including me, still view the show with fondness. Years later, my friends and I still enjoy it as it raises questions and issues that we all remember and in some cases still relate to. And it’s funny. I love that I can still watch this show with my friends (even if it’s just over text) and we can still find humour and relatability in in.
“I still love Sex and the City, I think it’s still relevant today… I relate to Charlotte being such a romantic and love how Samantha acts like a man. I wish I could think like her!” says Giselle. And she loves the show for it’s focus on the female friendships.
My friend Nadia’s takeaway from Sex and the City is that “Women and men will always be the same, even though times have changed. We all want to love someone and to be loved.” She loves that it talked so openly about sex, as well as the depictions of some of the crazy situations they got into. “Especially Samantha! Samantha is a legend! I love how she goes for her man and is proud of her sexuality.”
My sister, Senorita Margarita, who was in her early twenties when the show was about to air, recalls she had just arrived in New York at the time… “I remember when I first got to New York from JFK airport and was catching the bus into town in June 1998, I saw a massive billboard with SJP on it in that nude-coloured cami dress with the words “Sex and the City on HBO” on it. It made a big impression as I had no idea what it was and obviously didn’t know how it would impact on and reflect culture and our societal ethos.”
29 lessons in life and dating from the women of Sex and the City
1. Despite what Donald Trump tweeted above, it’s OK to eat chocolate cake from the bin (Miranda). I’ve done it once or twice and even thought of Miranda while doing it.
2. If you don’t want to be dumped by a Post-it, then don’t leave them lying around. Invest in some stylish stationery and leave that lying around instead.
3. The gem that helped women just hand their worry over to the universe… If he doesn’t text you back, or call after a date and a week has gone by… he’s not sick, he probably hasn’t lost all his phone contacts… he’s probably just not that into you (which is a relief because now you can move on).
4. To avoid the risk of being fashion road-kill, just don’t walk the catwalk
5. If you must choose to walk the catwalk and risk being fashion roadkill, make sure you’re wearing spangled Dolce and Gabbana undies.
6. Remember, even Heidi Klum feels the need to ask “Do I look OK?” before walking the catwalk.
7. Don’t party at 2am on a Tuesday if you don’t want to look like sh*t at your magazine cover photo shoot the next day. Especially if it’s an article on how being single is so hot right now.
8. Don’t use the F-word in Vera Wang.
9. But do swear on Chanel.
10. Just don’t get drunk at Vogue.
11. Men in their 30s who live with their parents, smoke weed and run a comic book store, are only for Summer.
12. If your boyfriend delivers you a pizza-sized chocolate chip cookie with the words “I love you” on it, just eat it really quickly in one go so it doesn’t exist and you don’t have to deal with it. Emotional eating at its finest, thank you Miranda.
13. That as long as you can breathe, and kneel, you should be able to do whatever mutually consenting act you like without being judged by someone who happens to walk in on you.
14. Online shopping will never completely replace bricks and mortar retail, as shopping IS many people’s cardio.
15. If you’re forced to take your $485 Manolos off at a party and leave them in the host’s designated shoe area, chances are they won’t be there when it’s time to go home.
16. Furthermore, if you’re a freelance writer who spends $40,000 on shoes, you won’t have enough for a deposit on your rented apartment you want to buy and you will literally be the old woman who lived in a shoe (or shoes).
Shooting from the lip… in their own words
17. “Men in their forties are like the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle: tricky, complicated, and you’re never really sure you got the right answer.” (Carrie)
18. “Ball parks are great places to chat with your girlfriends, flirt with sportsmen and smoke and drink at two in the afternoon without judgment.” (Carrie)
19. “I’ve been dating since I was fifteen! I’m exhausted! Where is he?” (Charlotte)
29. “Nipples are HUGE right now!”(Samantha, wearing fake nipples)
What did you learn from SATC? Do you still watch it? Tell me, I’d love to know!