Sex and the City just opened, in no place is it as hysterically awaited than here, outside the world where we laugh at words like "feminist", world where such ideas have lost their power and such crusaders become fodder for edgy libertarians. Watching the film is different out there, because in many countries, something happened in the years between Rosie the Riveter to Sigourney Weaver. That thing is that women effectively, largely, gained equality. But only to a point. What happened was that the advances they made directed and controlled, and still shoved women into a box; made them monolithic trends, and not individuals.
And so we come to Sex and the City which I never liked. I always thought it was sexist, I always thought it was stereotyped and over dramatic. Recently I watched an adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and it hit me. You see, I get this weird feeling when I watch Sex and the City and I get this weird feeling reading Jane Austen. It's because in both cases, the central characters are lauded as forerunners of a spreading celebration of femininity, a celebration of liberty from cliché. Here we have thinking women, here we have an autonomous character operating in her own right, using the system for her own gains--which is precisely why she fails to escape it.
In Sex and the City, just like in Austen's works, we have characters operating in a system. In both, these women, these brave new character archetypes come out and--yes, they think, but they do not think about the system. They want all that sexism has to offer. They think about the system, but only about using it to their own advantage. They accept it, and like it, becuase they constantly attack those who refuse it. There is nothing wrong with femininity, but there is everything wrong with being chattel. This is the unadressed darkness of Austen whose characters are, if not property exactly, the means to (other's) attaining it. Marriage, a good match, means that lucre flows via the woman between two men, the father and the husband. And Austen and her characters love it, becuase like the pipes they are, they are regularly cleaned. In Austen's world, the "good match" the dowry paid, the finance secured, is always accompanied by true love, normally at first sight. So to with Sex.
The women in this meat-markety New York operate by controlling men with sex, and making themselved ¨feminine" with pretty dresses, elaborate hair, and apparently, Rauschenberg's last stab at installation art. And for them, too, the system is good and just. They get married, have families or not, but always because they first and foremost manipulate men into perusing and persuing them. Franticly, they buy more shoes to celebrate their clever playing of the human heart, a dowry, they give themselves.
In both instances, there is a darkness lurking outside the system, the darkness of virtual sequestration in the case of Austen, and the darkness of the Sex dowries. While Carrie and Miranda strut the mythical streets of the safe city that never sleeps, those who make their stilletos frequently live in a system much more like austen's, but never finding hapniness in their good matches. The system is kind to Austen's landed aristocracy and to the first-world consumers of Sex and the City. If they were to step into the system as it really is--where the mutilation and humiliation, the punishment for fighting against this imposed order differs only by degree from the mutilation and humiliation normally within it, I doubt they would finish their stories with such wide smiles.