Rewatching Sex and the city at 31.
(Just a little note to say SPOILERS are in this article if you haven't yet become acquainted with Carrie & Co... Also if this is you wow WHERE have you been?!)
Recently an old friend shared how she had been re-watching Sex and City, finding it a very different experience to watching it back when we were just out of school. Back then I’d found it enjoyable - but not relatable, I mean I was 20 years old and the show starts when the girls are 31...obviously I won't be single at 31?. Fast forward 11 years and well, here we are..
Anyway, with an essay to procrastinate on and a lockdown still persisting, I thought I'd take her advice and try again. Needless to say watching it at 31 was a whole lot different from 20 so I thought I'd share a few insights...
We were never supposed to like Carrie Bradshaw.
Over the years, I’ve heard many opinions on Carrie Bradshaw - and many of them have been pretty negative; ‘but she was so self involved!!, ‘she was so annoying’ ‘urgh - not a good role model.’ etc etc. Thing is, I don’t think we were ever supposed to like Carrie and I don’t think she was created to be any sort of role model either. Watching her at 20, I liked her. Watching her at 31, I can see the flaws - and I still like her. Yes she’s self-involved and sometimes very annoying - but who said the show had to be about a perfect, likeable woman doing perfect likeable things because if we're honest that woman does not exist.
Forgiveness and Redemption ran straight through the heart of the whole show.
I recently started watching ‘The Bold Type’ - and after one too many naff girly hugs and whiny ‘I’ve screwed everything up’ sad faces (when she really really hadn’t)- I just couldn’t anymore. Yes it touched on some very real issues - but to me all of those girls were just too perfect, too nice and frankly too unreal - to be truly relatable. There was no humour, no sass and every character was always ‘behaving’ themselves.
Sex and the city kept it real. Granted, there were many things about this show that were completely unreal - but the characters were flawed. They weren’t always nice, they were sometimes irrational, sometimes jealous and sometimes did things that were hurtful. One of the main protagonists’ is a woman who is actively cheating, another character sleeps with married men and another is happy to identify herself as a ‘WASP’. - but we couldn't hate them for those things. You can call it all you want, but that's closer to real life than a lot of what I've seen on television since. People sometimes will let you, and themselves down, but redemption should always be possible, and in SATC, forgiveness was always there.
At present we live in a dangerous, perfectionistic ‘cancel culture’ where if you put one foot wrong, you risk being villainized forever. This is the antithesis of what it means to forgive, let go and move on. SATC was full of fuck-ups; in love and in friendship - but forgiveness was always on the table. People are not perfect and it's no surprise that incidences of depression have risen in the same era we’ve all become obsessed with self-improvement. It may not be immediately obvious, but compassion was a theme that ran straight through the whole 6 series of SATC - and we probably need to bring this back somehow.
Sticking up for yourself may get you dumped, it may send a man running for the hills, but...so what?
At 20 I had sometimes thought ‘oh god I’d never be that rude to a man’. At 31, I understand.
You can be a good person and have a healthy relationship with the expression ‘fuck off’.
I went to a Catholic girls school - which means I was ejected into the world at 18 with the belief I had to be nice and polite to absolutely everyone, in all circumstances, no matter how badly they behaved towards me.
Samantha Jones was the kind of woman I'd been raised to judge, because to be a 'good' person you weren't allowed to behave like that. Fortunately I now know having the tools to defend yourself and express you feelings doesn't make you a terrible person. Samantha Jones was (and still is!) great. She always backed herself, asked for what she needed, said exactly what she thought - and even though sometimes it came off as insensitive, never once did she apologise for who she was or the way she lived her life. At 31 I can see that takes far more balls than I ever realised it did at 20.
Having children should be a choice, not an expectation.
When I first watched this, I remembered thinking ‘oh this won't be me I’ll probably be married with kids by then.!!.’ Obviously - this hasn’t happened, but the reality of having children and how hard family life can be has come into much sharper focus the older I have gotten. Having children shouldn't be something a woman is just ‘expected’ to do. It’s an unbelievable responsibility - you can’t just give them back when you’ve had enough. My own relationship to having children has become very different to what it was at 20, and not rushing into, or wanting to take on that kind of responsibility shouldn’t be something that warrants judgement or questioning from anyone. SATC tackled the topic of motherhood very well because every character felt differently about it, and every character was able to share and explore that in the show. A lot of TV shows frame happily ever after with some sort of realisation that having a family is ‘the answer’, SATC did not - because for some women this simply won't be true and that deserves recognition too.
Being single really can be as good as it looks in SATC.
Again, going back to 20, I definitely believed the ultimate happiness arrived when you found ‘The One’. (I know, I know, thank god I grew up...),
But life often has other plans, and things not working out how I had planned has really taught me that happiness is not as dependent on external factors as we are told it is - particularly in love and marriage. Sure, having can be great, but finding a bit of peace and contentment is available to any person, at any time in their life, regardless of what milestones they have or have not hit. There is another way - it's not a myth and even if they are fictional characters, the ability to find happiness outside of traditional pathways - that's not fictional at all.
They all had the courage to be vulnerable when they needed to be.
When Charlotte tells Harry she can’t have children.
When Carrie turns up at Aidens' house saying she wants him back.
When Samantha has to tell Smith (her much younger boyfriend) she has cancer.
Miranda when she tells Steve she still loves him when he’s already in a relationship..
All of these conversations ran the risk of loss, hurt, humiliation, and an inevitable change in the dynamic of the relationship - but they had them anyway. Obviously, real life is rarely this neat, and as much as SATC had its' moments of outrageous immorality, I think it got vulnerability right.
It was pretty fair on men.
Firstly, I know NOT ALL MEN, but at 20 I definitely wasn’t worldly enough to accept men can really be this badly behaved - watching it again with a decade behind me - it wasn't so shocking.
However, I also know that men are lovely and the world is full of Steves, Smiths, Harrys and Aidens, but I'm not sure many shows have portrayed relationships so accurately since. Very often the male love interests are either Mr Sickly Perfect (who doesn’t exist) or Mr Truly Terrible (who also doesn’t exist). Most men lay somewhere in the middle, and just like us women - they have their ‘stuff’ which can sometimes make relationships a struggle. Not every bit of bad behaviour by a man is done with EastEnders-style calculated malice, and sometimes it happens awkwardly, unexpectedly and entirely by mistake. What I loved most about the way SATC portrays men is that we’re never going to suddenly find out someone is a villain. SATC didn't do ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ in the context of relationships, it dealt in nuance.
Richard Wright may have cheated on Samantha, but he regretted it - and yes Big never knew what he wanted, but he was never happy about the way he treated Carrie. When someone hurts us it's not always done in malice, or because that person is actually terrible and ta-da! now we’ve just found them out!, there's often layers to the story, and in comparison to a lot of other modern TV shows, I think SATC showed this well.
It didn't take itself too seriously.
For a start, the CLOTHES. The characters could never be taken too seriously in some of the outfits they wore. The show was always visually colourful, and Samanthas’ level of ridiculous was off the charts. So much television now is ‘grey’. The characters are in sensible clothes, in drab surroundings, with dark and troubled pasts - and as much I appreciate the exposure that mental illness is getting we also need to remember not everyone. A character can be colourful, interesting and entertaining without having a secret drug problem. Also, SATC was about female friendships and sexual liberation - but it didn’t do this at the expense of making you laugh or trying to be too politically correct, it was supposed to have an element of the ridiculous. There are a lot of troubles in the world right now (it's a bit grim out there isn't it?) but re-watching SATC felt like I was just being entertained. We can’t spend 24 hours a day focussing on the worlds problems or we’ll go mad, and I think the way the show juxtaposed serious issues likes infertility, divorce and cancer with shallower, more fun elements of life - is something we probably need a lot more of right now.
However..it definitely was not perfect.
For all of the good things I've noticed watching it again in 2021, the one thing I can't ignore is how the whole show is laced with casual racism. Chinese nail technicians, Mexican nannies, Indian taxi drivers - and the fact that throughout the whole 6 seasons, there are only ever two black male love interests, and no black friends in any of their social circles. In this respect it made me cringe, and I couldn't write this blog post without acknowledging such prevalent use of damaging stereotypes. So in that respect, its a bit of a let down.
However, and not to play down the importance of that last point, SATC still has its merits in 2021. Thanks to social media and technology in general, we're experiencing a pandemic of perfectionism. Psychotherapist Esther Perel talks about the importance of 'rupture and repair' in the building and maintaining of long-term friendships and relationships, which is essentially the ability to talk, understand, forgive and move on. The more obsessed with perfection we become, the further away we are moving from our ability to do this. Life's messy, and the ability to constantly peak at the progress of other peoples lives, whilst remaining so aware of the messy reality of our own, is skewing our expectations of others and ourselves. Good people sometimes do not so good things and this is something that is fundamentally human. None of the characters on SATC were even remotely perfect, but in love and life they persisted anyway - and because of this I haven't found a TV show so relatable in a very long time.