Monday, September 13

Season Two, Episode Six: The Cheating Curve

The Summary:

Carrie, as we know, has started up with Big again. Sigh. But the thing is, her friends don't know--she's deliberately not telling them, likely because she knows they'd tell her that he's a wretch whom she should stay far, far away from. The truth comes out eventually, however, and her friends are appalled. Is diving back into some ostensibly casual thing with a man whom you loved, who is as resolutely unavailable as Big is, really that good of an idea? Perhaps not! Stung by her friends' doubts, Carrie asks Big if he's up for really being with her, as part of a real, non-furtive, non-secret, legitimate, actual couple. Admitting that he missed her, and that he's glad she's back in his life, is about as far as he'll go. Perfect.

Meanwhile, Miranda is dating Ethan, who insists on watching porn while they have sex, even though it makes Miranda uncomfortable. And even though he clearly regards Miranda as a pleasant enhancement to his porn, rather than his porn as a pleasant enhancement to Miranda. Miranda finally gives him an ultimatum: either the porn goes from their sex life, or she goes from his life, full stop. I'll give you three guesses who's going, in this scenario... hint: it ain't porn. Buh-bye, Ethan!

Samantha begins sleeping with her trainer at the gym, Thor (seriously?), who shapes her public hair into the shape of a lightning bolt during one of their encounters. (Because, get it, Thor.) This is 1999, after all, so we are still in an era in which the expectation is that, as an adult woman, Samantha might actually still have some public hair to shave! Amazing. Turns out that Thor has, ahem, shaved lots of his other female clients, as well. Ah well.

Charlotte, fed up with the unpleasant men she's been dating, starts spending all of her time with a group of lesbian women she met through her gallery. Carrie dubs said group "Power Lesbians," claiming that they can be spotted because of their possession of "great shoes, killer eyewear, and the secrets to invisible makeup." Charlotte has a lovely time hanging out with these women--they're smart, fun, interesting. But of course, when she "comes out" to them as straight, she gets ejected from the pack. Lesbian women, friends with a straight girl? Clearly, this is impossible. [Goes to lie down.]

The Analysis:

People of Color Watch
: One of the so-called "Power Lesbians," Eileen, is African-American. She has good taste in art. She's not one of the women who ejects Charlotte from their social circle. Nothing bad to say about her, happily, but she's definitely a slight presence in the episode. The so-called "Queen Bee" of the group of friends, Patty, is Asian-American. She's the one who tells Charlotte to get lost, because of her pesky heterosexuality. Thanks a bunch, Patty! There goes Charlotte's last chance in the series to be friends with anyone not white/a woman not straight...

LGBT Folks Watch: We have two women who are real characters here, who self-identify as lesbians--the aforementioned Eileen (Patty basically just shows up, tells Charlotte to scram, and leaves, so I'm not counting her), and her ex-girlfriend/current friend, Lydia. (Who is white, so points for casually alluding to an erstwhile interracial relationship--especially given the headache-making way which the show deals with interracial relationships later in the series.) They're both represented as smart, interesting, attractive, accomplished. And of course, are both conventionally beautiful and feminine. The farthest we stray into not-conventionally-feminine territory is that they're both wearing pants whenever we see them. Pants which are cut in a feminine style and paired with heels, of course. SO subversive!

The Politics of Pubic Hair Watch: In many ways, SATC feels so current and contemporary that I'm often lulled into forgetting that these episodes were filmed more than a decade ago. But then, of course, I'm violently snapped back to attention by something like Samantha discussing the abundance of pubic hair which she has on hand, to be shaped into various festive shapes by her latest gentleman caller. The idea that girls should start to remove all of their pubic hair as soon as they, in fact, have any has gone so mainstream that I find it quite touching that Samantha (all glamour and sophistication, after all) is clearly not waxed into oblivion. Ah, the late twentieth century, it was a more innocent time!

The episode even dips its toe into the politics of pubic hair. When Sam wonders why it is that so many of her beaus have been interested in removing her Hair Down There, Miranda replies "It's obvious, they want a little girl." Wow, look at that there analysis! I have a dear friend who wrote her undergraduate thesis on contemporary perceptions of pubic hair (look for it in book form anon!), and I myself had the great pleasure and privilege of performing the "Hair" monologue in The Vagina Monologues once... so it touches my heart here to see them note that the personal (in this case... the very personal) is political, and that the state of women's pubic hair actually does tell us something abut how women are perceived/what women's bodies are "supposed" to look like. Which is, of course... pre-pubescent, and held to a high and painful standard of rigid personal maintenance. Excellent!

"You're Nothing But a Big Clit Tease": Friendships Between Straight and Queer Women As Impossible? Watch: Clearly, the most ridiculous/exasperating element of this episode is the whole "lesbian women and straight women can't be just friends" angle. The episode indicates that 1) if Charlotte remains friends with this group of lesbian women, she will in fact herself also become a lesbian (and the lesbian ladies will earn themselves a pacel of toasters, one assumes), and 2) the only reason these women were interested in being friends with Charlotte in the first place was that they wanted to sleep with her. [Shakes first towards the heavens in a frustrated, lamenting fashion.]

I find this insulting and ludicrous in ways which I'm sure are obvious to you, but allow me to enumerate them, nonetheless:

1) Suggesting that being queer is a kind of "infection" which one might catch through prolonged exposure... plays into homophobic fears and panic which are as old as the hills just a smidge, does it not? Run away from the gays, away, I say! Heterosexual women of America, save yourselves! Live in a reinforced concrete bunker alone, subsisting off of beans in cans if this is what it takes to avoid The Gay Ladies and their contagion!

2) Suggesting that the only interest lesbian women might have in straight women is sexual... ever so slightly simplistic and reductive, no? Are lesbian women sometimes attracted to straight women? Sure. But then, I, as a straight lady, have been known to be attracted to gay gentlemen, from time to time. [Naming no names... okay, okay, if you must know...STEPHEN FRY. Have you seen him as Jeeves? Holy slicked back hair, insane intelligence, considerable height, and British hauteur. Hellooooo.] And heck, sometimes straight women are attracted to queer women, and queer women to straight men, and so on and so forth, into infinity... turns out, life is complicated, and we can't always predict who we'll be attracted to, or will fall in love with. But does that mean that lesbian women are always on the prowl , hoping to entrap clueless straight women into their web of deceit and lies? You will forgive me if I feel that it does not.

3) The notion that straight women and lesbian women can't be friends without sex entering into the equation I also find troubling, as it seems very much akin to the ever-popular "straight women and straight men can' t be friends without sex entering into the equation, and if you think otherwise, than I pity your poor, deluded, naive self." And I think both of these notions are rubbish. Boo on you, SATC writers, for trading in such rubbish.

Ah, Nasty Gender Essentialism, We Meet Again! Watch: So when the ladies are discussing cheating and its nature/its potential inevitability/the flexibility of its definitions, Sam declares that women just need to suck it up and accept that the men are going to cheat on them because (all together now) THAT IS JUST WHAT MEN DO. (Sam: "Men cheat for the same reason that dogs lick their balls--because they can. It's part of their biology.") Oh, biological excuses for bad behavior, it's always a pleasure to see you!

Here's the thing. We are all capable of cheating, regardless of our gender. And we are all capable of choosing not to do so, whether we are female, male, or anything in between. To give men a free pass on the cheating question because they are ostensibly "hard-wired" to do so--I disapprove of it. Because any time ostensibly unchangeable, inevitable biological "facts" are brought in to support a dominant group's dominance ("Hey, I would LOVE to join you out in the fields, but as a white person, I'm just not as well suited to hard labor as you are. What can I say, it's biology! Have fun, slaves!"), I think we are right to be suspicious. I would like to pass Sam a note here which says, "Is it just possible that, historically, women have been encouraged to 'look the other way' when it comes to their gent's infidelity/men have been given more of a cultural carte blanche to cheat, is because they have had (and continue to have) more social, economic, political, and financial power than women? Just a thought!"

Oh, and P.S., at the end of this discussion, Charlotte declares that the main difference between women and men is that women are driven by their emotions, whereas men are driven by testosterone. [Retires to fainting couch with a violent headache.]

Next Up...?:
"The Chicken Dance," which, yay, is another episode which centers around a wedding. Those always warm the cockles of my heart, whatever/wherever the heck cockles are, exactly.

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