Monday, July 12

Season One, Episode Four: Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys

... or Did They Seriously Just Imply that Smith Gals Are Sexually Repressed?

The Summary: As the title of this episode would suggest, much of said episode focuses on the implications of dating a twenty-something bloke as a woman in one's thirties. (Oh, the age gap, oh, the horror! Except... Big has quite a few years on Carrie, and this is not an issue...? Ah, but he is a man, I had forgotten! Five year age difference for an "older" lady? Problem. Ten to fifteen year age difference for an "older" gentleman? Who cares?)

Anywhoozle, Carrie has her first date (or rather, not her first date, since he insists on calling it a "thing") with Big. He quasi-stands her up. Miscommunications and ambiguities abound. Does he like her, or does he not? Does he want to go out with her, or does he not? Who knows? Big = Tricky. Baffled by said trickiness, Carrie falls into a flirtation with twenty-something Sam (notably played by Timothy Olyphant, who has gone on to play an impressive parade of sociopaths since then.) Sam is sweet. Sam is uncomplicated. Carrie sleeps with him. (A + B = C.) All is well until she awakes in his twenty-something flat and is appalled by its squalor, and the attendant immaturity which said squalor implies. She ditches Sam and bumps into Big, who promises to call her for an unambiguous, real, actual date. Hmmmm. We'll see about that.

Meanwhile, Miranda is still dating the twenty-something Skipper, even though she clearly doesn't like him that much/finds him extremely irritating. The fact that she calls their attachment a "fuck thing" might give you a sense of her potential motivations there. Samantha is also dating a twenty-something bloke, Jon, whom she dumps the instant he tells her she has the "cutest little wrinkles in your neck." (Reminders of age = unacceptable.) Charlotte is dating a bloke her own age, Brian (whom, Carrie notes, has Charlotte's "big three--looks, manners, money"--way to be shallow, York!), but of course, problems abound there as well. He asks her to have anal sex with him. She is appalled. She discusses it with the girls. They veer between supporting Charlotte and being amused by her bafflement. Charlotte eventually tells Brian she'd prefer not to engage in this particular act. Good for you, Charlotte, for being honest! Good for you, Brian, for being okay with said honesty! Gold stars for everyone!

The Analysis:

"Non-Normative" Sex Watch: One of the centerpieces of this episode is, of course, the discussion which the four women have about anal sex--should Charlotte partake, or not? What happens if Charlotte partakes, or does not? Interestingly, a lot of said discussion is not about pleasure, but about power. It's less "is this something you want/don't want to do, which you might/might not enjoy?" and more "whatever will he think of you if you engage in this 'deviant' act?" Miranda says that the central question at issue is "if he goes up your butt, will he respect you more or respect you less?", and describes it as a potential "shift in power" which is all about "control." Hmmm. Not so fond of that.

The idea that "alternative" sexual practices are more about perception and power than anything else comes up again when Charlotte talks about why she doesn't want to have anal sex with Brian himself. Charlotte tells him that she just can't, because "men don't marry the Up the Butt Girl, who ever heard of Mrs. Up the Butt? No, no, no, I can't--I want children, and nice bedding." Okay, so, just to make sure that I've got this straight:

1) Men don't marry women who have anal sex. Something about said practice is the antithesis of married respectability, it seems? So... this is a kind of extension of the ever-popular "girls you marry vs. girls you sleep with" dichotomy, and a lady instantly puts herself into the latter category if she engages in any such "deviant" sexual behavior?
2) Motherhood and nice sheets, too, are not compatible with anal sex. Do they make you fill out a questionnaire/application before they let you buy sheets above a certain thread count, or something? Is there a passage in What to Expect When You're Expecting which my friends who are mothers never mentioned???

I simply do not care for the "nice girls/potential wives and mothers don't" message here. Noting, of course, that there is nothing wrong with any lady not wanting to engage in this, or any other sexual practice or activity. But I'd rather that she didn't do it, you know, because she didn't want to do it, and not because she was afraid that engaging in said practice/activity would land her in the Slut/Unmarriageable/Bad Mother/Undeserving of Nice Sheets and Men's Respect category.

It's also worth noting here, I think, that Samantha is a cheerleader for anal sex, calling it "a physical expression the body was designed to experience." Two things to note here, I reckon--1) Charlotte's response to said observation, "What are you talking about, I went to Smith!" never fails to crack me up. Because as we all know, the sexual culture at Smith is renowned for its stuffiness and repression, and 2) it troubles me that this remark kicks off a trend which persists throughout the series--said trend being, that any "shocking" sexual practice is one which Samantha, and only Samantha, is seen to endorse/engage in. (Samantha is the one who has the drawer full of sex toys. Samantha is the one who is unfazed by BDSM. And so on, and so forth.) And since Samantha is always positioned as the "shocking" and "extreme" character, while the other three are the "relatable," "normal" ones, as an audience I reckon we're supposed to look to Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte for a sense of what proper, normative (hetero)sexuality is supposed to look like. And when these three react with a mix of amusement, distaste, and horror when a topic like anal sex comes up, I don't think that this helps matters, but instead pushes us back into a place in which definitions of what "normal" sex is becomes very narrow, indeed.

Person of Color Watch: One of the twenty-something men whom Carrie talks to about why they date women in their thirties, Tim, is African-American. He has, like, two lines, neither of which is particularly offensive or interesting. But still, add him to the tally of People of Color Who Are Visible, and Who Speak!

Random Things of No Particular Interest:
1) I love that Carrie sleeps in an eye mask. Eye masks are pretty. They also seem totally unnecessary in an already dim apartment, but no matter.
2) Technology, my but it does move fast. The computers on display here appear to have been constructed circa 1890.

Notable Quotables: Salesguy, to Carrie and Sam when he catches them making out in a Banana Republic changing room: "Please. This isn't the Gap." (Fascinating, is Gap known as an assignation site???)

Carrie, musing on the likeness of men to addictive substances, as she walks away from Big at the end of the episode: "Maybe all men are a drug. Sometimes they bring you down. But sometimes (like now) they get you so high."

Next Up...?: An episode entitled "The Power of Female Sex" which is, um, about female sexuality and power. Did you see that one coming? I'll bet that you did!

5 comments:

  1. I love your anal-ysis here (pun intended)!

    I've always felt that the 4 women in SATC are supposed to represent facets of Everywoman - although most tend to relate most to one, it's hard to completely pigeonhole oneself - you can't *always* be a Miranda, or a Charlotte, but maybe sometimes...

    However, hardly any woman I've ever talked to about the series has ever (or ever wanted to) relate to Samantha. Nobody wants to relate to the "slut." On one hand, kudos to the show for featuring a sexual woman who makes no apologies for wanting what she wants.......but then the show depicts her as, well, a slut! Totally not the norm for proper, normal heterosexual behavior, as you mentioned. Alas, the show comes 2 steps forward, then 2 steps back. Sure, you can be a Samantha....but you're still a whore.

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  2. Exactly! The show has such a weird attitude towards her. On the one hand, they show (especially as the series progresses) that she's this smart, compassionate, interesting person, argue that she shouldn't be defined purely in terms of her sexuality, and says that there's nothing wrong with her sexual modus operandi, in the first place. And on the other hand, there's always that note of judgment there, and even her friends make slightly derogatory comments about her "promiscuity." Hmmm. Tricky.

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  3. This is great cyber conversation! Yep, once again, and I know it pretty much happens throughout the entire series, shows the double standards.

    And Lisa, I can TOTALLY relate to Samantha, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Every "which SATC girl are you?" quiz confirms it, lol, and my friends, and people I've been with would testify to that. I see nothing wrong with it, and yeah it is a shame that she seems like the outcast sometimes.

    and Holly, there is one episode that reveals that Miranda keeps sex toys, too, until her maid clears out her happy drawer the one day, and puts some kind of religious thing in there, remember that one?

    and I've been dating (or whatever you wanna call it) people in their twenties pretty much since I turned 30. Men don't seem to care about the age thing, why should we?

    and the whole "deviant" sexual behavior thing I find kind of funny especially since a lot of people tend to get that way when they are older after years of "vanilla sex", being bored with their sex lives/partner/s or go cheat on their wives with the hooker that will tie them up and spank them because their wives won't do it, and then all of a sudden it's okay, but they would never admit it.

    I have to admit though, I still refer (even if it's just in my head at the time) to women I go out with as the marrying kind, and...not. Although, in the past, I've also done that with men. So, I think I'm pretty equal opportunity in my biases.

    and eye masks, yeah those are pretty neat. I used to wear those to sleep. Maybe I'll get one again...

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  4. Oh my goodness, that is a fine episode, indeed - where Magda replaces Miranda's vibrator with a statue of the Virgin Mary. "Who is this lady and what is she doing in my drawer?"

    Love those "which SATC lady are you?" quizzes... I need to take one again, haven't done so in ages!

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