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Slim, selfish, it’s just not me


I wonder why I have become so codependent on “Sex and the City,” a 3-year-old network series nominated for many Emmy Awards about the sexual lives of four professional women. I sit in front of the TV religiously on Sunday nights, next to my husband of almost 15 years, to watch these four women have breakfast, lunch and sex. What is it that I like about these selfish, overindulgent, slim, well-dressed city dwellers in their mid-30s to early 40s, who sleep with a different man almost every episode?

Nara Schoenberg, writer for the Chicago Tribune, states that the series “helped popularize and glamorize the problems of single women in their 30s.” I disagree that these are the general problems of single women in their 30s, unless we continue to think of sex and profession entirely deciding a woman’s mental state. There is, of course, no room for spirituality in any of the four protagonists’ lives. I’m not talking about Sunday attendance and regular churchgoing or even crystal healing, but of any type of spiritual seeking aside from getting a regular orgasm.

Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie the main protagonists, astound us with their open talks about experimental sexuality. Charlotte, the show’s stereotypical “romantic” after almost two seasons, is now a married woman, giving up her profession as a museum curator. She married a millionaire.

Miranda is a cynical lawyer who cannot commit to the only guy who has treated her well, but continues to have sex with him. Samantha is the ideal businesswoman in her early 40s who fights for the rights to her sexuality, including, but not limited to, bisexuality, and parades a different lover or two in every show. And Carrie Bradshaw is the protagonist writer who pens a piece in the New York Observer titled “Sex and the City,” thus the title of the series. Carrie has gone through being in love with “Big,” a rich New York businessman who then marries and commits adultery on his wife with Carrie, whom he is unable to marry or even live with. Carrie runs through a series of “bad” boyfriends: alcoholics, womanizers, asexuals, and finally meets Aidan, the perfect boyfriend, on whom she cheats with Big while Big is still married.

In the last couple of years, anal sex, masturbation, vibrators, adultery and so on have made an original and visual imprint on the viewers. These women have committed every possible sin a woman could commit, except for murder, and yet they act entitled, empowered and superior.

What is incredibly interesting is that even the feminist actresses who portray the protagonists believe that the show is empowering to women. The real purpose of the show is to hook viewers by tantalizing them with sexual themes masked by the “friendship” theme of these four women in the Big Apple. But, any woman with real humane and interesting professional women as friends would not want anything to do with any of these four dysfunctional, self-loathing women. Unfortunately, many young women adore the show because of the “friendship” theme.

People watching the series are confused, I believe, about the real message. In particular, I notice that women in their 20s want to imitate the fashions and even the behavior of these mindless archetypal creatures living in New York who supposedly exemplify the “real” liberated woman of the new millennium. In reality, they merely make a caricature of the solitude of women who have given up family and many other things for profession. Is the glamour of owning a $400 pair of shoes something unique or superior? Are there mantric moments in having to take a taxi across town every day, or in using condoms at all times when you have sex because you don’t know the name of the man you are about to have sex with, maybe for the first and last time?

In an interview with Terri Gross on National Public Radio, actress Sara Jessica Parker denied that the show is about four women “going all over New York looking for an orgasm.” Yet why is it that questions such as this one recur in conversations between the four: Haven’t we all had sex with Danny? In my own life, I know no one like this, and I consider myself a strong professional woman of the world.

My husband says, “Well, who doesn’t feel better about their life after watching such awful individuals?” He is right. We Americans like to watch programs not because of the content so much as the feelings they elicit in us. I like to watch “Sex and the City” for the same reason that millions of Americans like to watch Oprah, Maury Povich and other talk shows. These TV originals either make us feel morally superior or just plain lucky, for not having a super-dysfunctional family, for not having had an enormous tragedy of our own, or for not having walked in on our husband having sex with the neighbor.

But this does not explain it all. Sex is only the trick to lure millions of viewers the first time. America is hungry to watch professional women living independent, successful lives in freedom, prosperity and emancipation from all types of oppressions, and sharing their lives with people other than men. Isn’t that what our mothers, great aunts and grandmothers used to do? No, they didn’t have the high-paying jobs, or the fantastic buying and decision-making power, but they lived healthy lives with other relatives they loved, here in the United States and all over the world. No, they didn’t need to pick up someone at the local art exhibit to feel human warmth or have breakfast at expensive Manhattan restaurants with their girlfriends to feel loved.

I admit that “Sex and the City” is the only illegal sex I am going to have, yet I also realize that it satisfies the box fixation of baby boomers such as myself. “Sex and the City” allows me to continue living my life through boxes: washers, dryers, microwave ovens, TVs, toaster ovens, computers, movie screens. I enjoy the intimate lives of other women while lying on my own box springs.

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, a Latina poet and academic, is assistant professor of foreign languages at Seattle University.

National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2001