In Defense of the Popcorn Clutching Sisterhood

A few days ago, Judith Warner wrote a post called Women in Charge/Women Who Charge in her Domestic Disturbance blog for the NY Times. She examines the current environment in which the downfall of Hillary Clinton’s campaign can occur simultaneously with the popularity of the Sex and the City movie. And in referring to the movie as “bubbling idiocy”, this is a co-existance that apparently displeases her.

She first recommends a video that compiles much of the sexist media circus surrounding Clinton’s campaign. I loved/hated the video and recommend it as well. I was well aware of the anti-Hillary attacks throughout her campaign, but this is a sickening and powerful anti-tribute to the reality of how far we haven’t come as women.

BUT, I do take issue with coupling a discussion of the climate of Hillary’s candidacy with the fame of Sex and the City. If the movie were a particularly fluffy and unrealistic storyline about a female politician, I could understand the critique. But to question the attractiveness of this movie with the insinuation that it is the downfall of intelligent female culture (“when ‘angry’ is out and Restalyne is in”) is, in my opinion, as direct of an attack against women as calling Mrs. Clinton a bitch.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I did watch several episodes of the series. Despite the obvious lack of representation of women of color and the lower/middle class, they were spot on about relationships or lack there of, about emotions, and spoke frankly about a women’s role in sex. I liked the show. I wasn’t alone.   

Why? Although it does not meet all the requirements of a soap opera, Sex and the City may be loosely classified as such. There is a narrative link between episodes, and viewers understand and enjoy each episode based on their knowledge of the characters from previous episodes. Each episode leaves some loose ends. We come back for more.

A “woman’s” genre, the soap opera originated with the radio dramas of the 1930s. Soap operas are the most popular genre of television in the world, and probably in the history of world broadcasting. And like most soap operas, stories like Sex and the City come with a bad rep. They carry a “cultural and aesthetic label of being inconsequential and unworthy”. It is assumed, (usually by those who don’t watch the shows), that the audience has superficial tastes and limited capacities. It appears Judith Warner assumes this about the “popcorn clutching sisterhood” who flocked to see Sex this summer.

What she may not know is that soap operas are defined as one of the most “narratively complex genres” of drama, have consistently appealed to their audiences for over 70 years, cut across social and demographic lines, have demonstrated they are the “most effective and enduring broadcast advertising vehicle ever devised” and are proven to be the “extraordinarily malleable and responsive to a wide variety of local institutional and social requirements”. Perhaps Clinton should have taken a few lessons from As the World Turns.

What Warner is denying is that women don’t always want to fight the power. We are well aware that sexism runs rampant in our world, that we still make 70% of what men do in parallel careers, and that we are one of the few developed nations left to elect a female leader. We COULD be angry all the time, if focusing on the ever-dismal political and social climate of our time. But we are so very busy working, studying, running households, raising children, dealing with faulty toilets, educating ourselves, getting our families, our businesses, and our lives organized, walking the dog, staying healthy, running errands, and maintaining relationships. Most of us ARE working hard to positively impact our lives, even if it’s only within our own realm. And we will stop, thank god, for a minute to breathe and see how Carrie Bradshaw is faring.

Because Sex and the City is a guilty pleasure. For hundreds of thousands of women. Highly intelligent, liberal Hillary-voting women. Well-spoken Republican women. Single mothers. Cosmo sipping AND beer guzzling women. Women working on their GEDs. Wal-Mart employees. Strippers. We come in all shapes and sizes and political commentary is not always our forte. Most of us can’t even afford Blahniks and Botox. We go to the movie in wrinkles, Target and New Balance.

And what we do for pleasure should not be a commentary on our intelligence.

We are drawn to the characters that have been so entertainingly developed. They are over-the-top, fictional characters, not us. But we like watching them. It is a show that speaks to us about struggling with companionship. Aging. Being single. Being married. Being sexy. Or being scared. Because yes, those are important topics in our lives too. It does not mean we are “dumbing down”. It means we are taking a break.  

And that, Ms. Warner, is exactly why Sex and the City  NEEDS to exist in the same environment as the misogynist climate of Clinton’s campaign. And why stories like it have endured the test of our rocky times.

Women discovered an effective escape into stories in the 1930s. And for over 70+ years, we have relied on them to take us away, if only for an hour or so, from the insanity that is our lives.