Have you ever looked at your favorite scary movie from a feminist perspective?
Last week Sarah Jessica Parker sent out a cryptic Instagram, hinting that there might be a third Sex and the City movie. The Internet lit up—could it be that the girls will come back one last time?
Please let me be the first to say: I hope not. I really, really don’t want there to be a third Sex and the City movie.
Let me start out by saying: I love Sex and the City. It’s been a guilty pleasure of mine since I was in high school. But when I was watching it as a teenager, I hated how much uncertainty there was in the show. Characters decide, then un-decide, then re-decide things all the time. Miranda loves Steve, but breaks up with him anyhow. Charlotte gets married, and then has it all fall apart. Carrie is constantly asking questions she never gets answers to in “I couldn’t help but wonder” cutaways. Half the time, she decides what the answer is only to have her decision completely contradicted in the next scene.
As someone who was used to the thirty-minute, three-act structure of 90’s TV gems like Clueless and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, having a plot finish without absolute resolution was incredibly frustrating. These were grown-ups, after all—weren’t they supposed to know what they were doing? Isn’t that how the world works—you get to a certain age and suddenly you just know what’s going on?
Well, no, as it turns out. You don’t just turn a certain age and become anything. Growth comes in stages (something I feel I’m still learning).
That’s what was amazing about Sex and the City. These women were stumbling through life, sometimes unhappy, often wrong, but learning as they went and making the best of what they had. Whether it was friendship, careers, relationships or sex—no one had any of the answers, or knew what rules they should follow. As a teen, that’s a really hard pill to swallow, because you think: “Surely, in the ‘real world,’ there must be absolutes. For every question, there’s got to be an answer, right?”
Carrie was a writer who was OK with asking questions about things that couldn’t really have concrete answers. Lots and lot of questions. Can you make a mistake and miss your fate? Why do we pick the wrong men? How do we know when enough is enough?
There’s part of me that really admires that, because the questions that I ask myself terrify me. Where am I going to go after this job? After this apartment? Is it weird that all my friends have five-year plans and I don’t? Should I be dating more? They all usually boil down to the same thing, whether you call it FOMO or imposter syndrome: I’m constantly asking, Am I doing this right?
The SATC girls asked themselves—and each other—this constantly. Is it OK to get my boyfriend a threesome for his birthday? Should I marry Aiden even though the thought of marriage is giving me hives? What should I do if my husband can’t get it up? Questions. Lots of them.
You had to admire them for it—for the unabashed way they discussed their problems. And you couldn’t help compare yourself to them, too. I don’t know anyone who watched the show and didn’t think—am I a “Charlotte”? Who do I know who’s a “Samantha”? What if I want to be a “Carrie” but I turn out to be a “Miranda”?
These women weren’t perfect, but they were real. And their general lack of assuredness, and at times dubious choices, made them all the more real to me growing up—like the one grown-up who will tell you they tried pot, who you respect more for being honest with you. The ending of the show, while a great season finale, left me with the kind of sad-happy that was reminiscent of breaking up with someone I’d decided I felt platonically about. Sure, it was a sad goodbye—but I knew it was for the best and wished him well, safe in the knowledge that I’d be OK without him.
Then three years later, the first Sex and the City movie arrived. I was so excited for it, and it wasn’t half bad; it gave us the fashion and friendship content we wanted while moving forward the stories of all the main characters. But something was missing.
First and most importantly, I felt the sex was missing. Miranda gets cheated on because she and Steve aren’t sleeping together, while Samantha’s not having enough sex and it’s killing her. Charlotte and Carrie keep mum about their sex lives, with Carrie making a point to not talk about what Big is like in bed over brunch.
Of course, this is to be expected. People change; people grow. The turbulence of on-again-off-again relationships, thriving nightlife, and a rotation of guys to sleep with couldn’t last forever. Everyone feels settled—which, if you’re a character, is great.
But as a spectator, this doesn’t make for a great continuation of the series. I came for the sex, and it’s been replaced with apartment hunting and relationship counseling. Which is fine, if that’s what you like. But as far as I’m concerned, you can’t replace a cab ride around the city discussing the ins and outs of anal sex with a conversation about how Big was always “the One” for Carrie, and then call it the same thing.
Then two years later, the second film came out—this time, centered around Carrie’s desire to keep the sparkle in her relationship alive. And I felt this way, too—the sparkle of the will-they-won’t-they, the thrill of the chase (and of Big’s antics) that SATC always had was gone by this point. Carrie was right when she said something was missing.
It’s worth noting too, that the City—a key part of the series—has been all but erased at this point. The backdrop of the show used to be New York City—the Big Apple, the place a million girls dream of landing and making a name for themselves. In the first film, we get a fashion show and the Brooklyn Bridge, but where are the parties they used to go to now? The hottest clubs, the latest restaurant openings? The show felt so alive, like its heart was beating with the pulse of the city’s. What happens when something the show is so deeply rooted in starts to slip away?
But the biggest thing that’s missing from the movies, that was so prevalent in the show, was the lack of questions. Carrie stopped asking questions about relationships. She stopped being insecure. She stopped questioning what she was and wasn’t supposed to do, who to love, how much to put up with. Because in a way, she was done with questions. She’d gotten to the place where she had what she wanted. The string of seemingly endless questions built a road to a life with Big, where she was married and is a successful author and had a great, big closet. The series had to move on, and take Carrie to a new part of her life.
And if I’m being honest, I’m happy for her. That’s what we all want, right? To look back on the path we’ve taken and be happy with where we’ve ended up. It might make her less relatable to me, but I’m assuming that there are plenty of women who were older when the series started, and are happy with the transition.
But it’s not enough for me anymore. The show that was built on sex, New York City, and the universal truth that none of us knows what we’re doing has morphed into a movie series about the comforts of partnership or lack thereof and getting what you want in the end. It’s been 20 years since the first episode aired, and it makes sense that the formula for the show has moved on. But I want to see strong women ask tough questions of themselves and of each other, and help me figure out the life I’m living.
Anyone want to binge-watch Girls with me?