Wednesday, October 27

Season Three, Episode Four: Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl...

The Summary:

Brace yourself, my friends, as this one's going to be a doozy--there are direct, sustained discussions of both gender difference and bisexuality in this here episode. Ohhhhhh, dear. If ever anyone was in for it... it is you and I.

All right, so, let's roll up our sleeves and get dirty, shall we? I'll get Samantha out of the way first, because her plotline is the simplest, and the least annoying. (Though to be sure... it is still definitely annoying.) Sam hires a new assistant, Matt, who is young, gorgeous... and hopelessly arrogant and ill-suited to the job. After watching him swagger around the office being domineering and bossy, and entirely disregarding her instructions for awhile, Samantha decides that she has to fire him (because, as Carrie's narration informs us, there's only one "man of the office" at Sam's firm... and that's her. Sigh. Because to be in command of something and yet also still be a woman? Clearly, this is impossible.) Having fired him, she happily decides that she can now sleep with his lovely young self, something which had been verboten when he was actually in her employ. (I guess "the man of the office" has some sense of professional ethics, anyway!)

I'll tackle Miranda next... her plotline is also somewhat annoying, but not quite as headache-making as Charlotte's and Carrie's (and I am trying to be gentle with myself here, people. Like easing into a hot tub, so as to not scald my vulnerable, vulnerable flesh.) So, as we know, Miranda and Steve are back together as a couple, and are actually pretty happy together. Excellent! Except... Steve is making noises about wanting to move in together. And Miranda is not exactly deliriously thrilled with this idea. She actually likes living alone, misses some of the solitude she's lost since they started dating again, and the idea of Steve moving in so soon after they've gotten back together makes her feel "suffocated."

This attitude infuriates Steve (Steve: "Geez, Miranda, it's like you're the guy sometimes." Please take up your omnipresent notebook and pen and write down the following, on the first available page--"In heterosexual romances, it is normal for the gent to seek to avoid commitment/a rapid deepening of a relationship, and for the lady to push for these things. Anything else--not normal."), and they have a big ol' fight about it. After said fight, they have a more measured conversation, in which Miranda notes that she's reluctant to move in together in part because she's terrified of him seeing all of her unpleasant habits and eccentricities. He assures her that he loves her, unpleasant habits and eccentricities and all. And so... looks like Steve is moving in!

Okay, Charlotte next--I am saving Carrie for last because her plotline is the most exasperating. [Blogger wonders to self why self did not open a bottle of wine at the beginning of writing this post, so that by this point her annoyance would be tempered by a pleasant haze of tipsiness. Next time, for. Sure.] So. Charlotte's gallery is hosting an art show entitled "Drag Kings: The Collision of Allusion and Reality." Carrie assures us that it is the most shocking thing EVER. In that... it features drag kings. Remind me again why this is so shocking in New York City in the year of Our Lord 2000...?

Anyway, Charlotte has contracted a huge crush on Baird, the artist behind this SHOCKING show. But... she can't say so, because ladies, as we know, cannot be forward in this way, actually openly expressing interest in men they are, you know... interested in. Unaware of Charlotte's crrrrrush, Baird asks her to pose for him. As a man. Charlotte demurs at first, because clearly, her intense femininity makes the very idea ludicrous. (Charlotte, to Baird, on why she can't even dress as a man: "I'm really bad at math, and I can't change a tire to save my life." Still have that notebook handy? If so, please scribble down the following: "Ladies: Incompetent at mechanical things. Also, bad at math." Which raises some intriguing questions about how Charlotte managed to get a minor in bloody finance when she was in college, which we later learn that she did... I guess she must have gotten a boy to help her!)

Baird eventually manages to overcome Charlotte's maidenly reluctance, however, and, once all gussied up as a man, Charlotte suddenly finds all of the sexual boldness and initiative which, as a woman, she had lacked. She and Baird sleep together... but despite that, and her persistent crush on him, she never sees him again, because such sexual forwardness is clearly unacceptable in Charlotte the Woman, even if is was totally okay in Charlotte the Woman-Playing-the-Man. [Blogger thinks to self that self should definitely seek out that wine right about now.]

Okay, so we've arrived at the Carrie plotline. There is no alternative, no escape! Carrie has started dating Sean, who is adorable, sweet, funny, charming. But clearly, we are doomed here, because he is 1) 26 to Carrie's 33--oh, the age gap, how could it ever be bridged?, and 2) he is openly and happily bisexual. (Or as Carrie puts it "a bisexual." Much as she is "a straight," I suppose.)

You may have already gathered from my foot-dragging to even get to this point that the way that the episode handles Sean's bisexuality is, in your humble blogger's opinion, awwwwwwful. Sean himself, to his credit, is quite pleasantly sane, in the midst of all the insanity which the writers immerse him in. He's very comfortable and rational about his sexual past and sexual identity, and clearly expects Carrie to have the same casual "I've been in love with a man/dated men, I've been in love with a woman/dated women... so what?" attitude. (Big. Mistake. There. Buddy.) He responds to Carrie's relentless loopiness (i.e., insistently asking him every time they're out whether he is checking out men or women--Sean, to Carrie: "I'm looking at you, I'm here with you," etc.) with gracious, gentle patience, not slapping her upside the head, as I myself very much wished to do.

Carrie and her friends agree that Sean's bisexuality is a huge problem, and they think she's crazy for dating him at all. (Okay, except for Sam, I'll grant you, but since she's always the "I will accept sexual loopiness which no 'normal' woman would" character here, I'm not counting her.) They doubt that bisexuality even exists. They assert that all ostensibly bisexual men are, in fact, simply confused gay men. They declare that folks who proclaim themselves bisexual are in fact just greedy double-dippers. Ah, that doesn't reinforce any negative stereotypes of bisexuality which I can think of! [Blogger begins to think that something even stronger than wine might be called for here.]

Despite these concerns, Carrie continues to date Sean (reminder: Sean is nice. Sean is fun to be with. Sean is not a sociopath. Sean is therefore a much better bet than 95 percent of the men whom Carrie has dated in the series ere this.) She goes to a party being hosted by his friends--two men who are a couple, one of whom is Sean's ex-boyfriend. Carrie... doesn't handle that too well. The writers... don't handle it too well, either. They go out of their way to represent Sean's friends as flighty, silly, sexually confused young people who don't yet have the common sense to select "real" sexual orientations for themselves.

In the course of her time at said party (which Carrie characterizes as "Alice in Confused Sexual Orientation Land") she ends up in the middle of a game of Spin the Bottle, being kissed by a blue-haired Alanis Morrisette. (A feature of so many parties, these days, it has almost become cliche.) The kiss is okay, but it's also the last straw--Carrie decides that she is "too old to play this game" (meaning, alas, not Spin the Bottle, which we could actually agree on, but, rather, dating a bisexual gent) and leaves the party... and Sean. Gaaaaaaahhhhhhh. Buh-bye, Nice Gent Who Gets Dumped for Truly Lame Reasons! Hope that the next gal/guy in your life has a wee bit more on the ball than our Ms. Bradshaw!

The Analysis:

Vital Points to Hit When Discussing Bisexuality: The SATC Writers' Secret Checklist
(Obtained by Your Humble Blogger, Ask Me Not How):

1) Affirm that bisexuality is in the fact the result of emotional immaturity on the part of those too young to know any better. (Awww, they'll grow out of it, those crazy kids!)

2) Declare that bisexuality is not a "real" sexual orientation, but is either the aforementioned product of youthful flightiness, or the result of confusion on the part of a man who is actually gay, or a woman who is actually a lesbian. (Awww, they just don't know what they want, those crazy gays!)

3) Assert that bisexuality is linked to promiscuity and sexual greed. (Awwww, they just can't seem to keep their hands to themselves, those crazy double-dippers!)

[Deciding that a mere glass worth of alcoholic liquid is not sufficient to dull her pain by this point, blogger starts drinking directly from the bottle.]

Do I Need to Have the Sex vs. Gender vs. Sexual Orientation Talk with Y'All, Much as Though I Were A Mother Sitting You Down to Discuss The Birds and The Bees? Watch: I know that I don't have to give you The Talk, gentle reader. You get that there are, in fact, distinctions between a person's biological sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Heck, my Intro to Women's Studies students (most of whom were eighteen bloody years old at the time) understood that better their first day of class than the supposedly sophisticated and worldly Carrie and Crew do here.

Throughout the episode, the writers/characters conflate sex with gender with sexual orientation in some truly headache-making ways. I.e., (1), when Stanford finds himself attracted to some of the drag kings in Baird's art show, he concludes that, ipso facto, he must be a lesbian. (???) I.e. (2) in thinking about Sean and his friends (many of whom are also bisexual/have had sexual experiences outside of the gay vs. straight binary), Carrie wonders when "the sexes got all confused." Ummm, Carrie, sweetheart, folks being bisexual/label free does not mean that "the sexes" got confused. You're talking about sexual orientation here, not biological sex or gender identity, okay? Can you tell me what the difference is between those three things is? No? Here, go read this in the corner, and then we'll come back and talk about it, okay? [Blogger goes to lie down, taking her rapidly emptying bottle with her for comfort/company.]

"I Guess I Really Am a Woman": Yet More Gender Stereotyping and Essentialism Watch, It Simply Does Not Seem to End Watch: In addition to Bisexual Madness, also annoying in this episode is all of the (brace yourself to not be shocked by what I am about to say)... Gender Stereotyping and Essentialism Madness! This episode is chock full of yet more "insights" into What Women Are Like and What Men Are Like which are, as is typical of our friends in the SATC-verse, totally irritating and inaccurate. Points for consistency, anyway, SATC peeps!

For example. Charlotte's patently ridiculous spouting-off about why she'd make a terrible man (her ostensibly feminine lack of
mathematical ability and mechanical prowess), which, sadly, the episode does not treat as patently ridiculous. (Ummm, I'm hopeless at mechanical things, too... but you know who I inherited that from? My delightful--but ten-thumbed--father. Oh, the gender subversion!)

And for another example. Sam's definition of herself as "the man of the office" because she is the one who makes the decisions, gives the orders, and generally rules the roost there. (Because, you know... it's her firm.) Men? Properly exercise such control over their businesses/lives. Women? If they do, are necessarily "acting like men." Sigh.

And for yet another example. When Miranda does things like hog the remote when she and Steve are watching TV, or express reluctance about moving in together, she is being "the guy" in their relationship. Her femininity is only restored when the episode ends, and she is crying into Steve's shoulder. Tears=womanly. Desire to be in charge of the remote/to not instantly be eager to move in with your boyfriend=not womanly. Fantastic.

"I Need My Space": Somewhat Complex Representations of Co-Habitation Watch

Pity that the writers had to go this route, because otherwise the Miranda-Steve plotline had the potential to not be "you are going to drive me to drink with this craziness" style annoying. Too bad that they poisoned the well by suggesting that Steve's push to move in together (and Miranda's reluctance to do so) was a fundamental disruption of the proper gendered order because, otherwise, it could have been quite pleasant, to note that maybe (just maybe) in some heterosexual relationships, the gent wants to move faster/is more interested in formal commitment than the lady. SHOCKING, I know, but I think it just might be possible.

I also think that the writers let an opportunity slip by with Miranda's rather nice "living together seems scary to me in part because you'll see that I'm not perfect/am very far from the ideal of female domestic competence" speech. Bringing the unromantic, un-Hollywood aspects of living together--fears of new levels of intimacy and vulnerability, etc.--nice! Not having Steve express any such fears in return--perhaps not as nice? Perhaps he might also have one or two worries about Miranda discovering his imperfections, much as she fears him discovering hers...? Ah, it seems not! My mistake! Moving on!

Notable Quotables: Miranda, to Steve, on why the prospect of moving in together is in some ways such a daunting one: "I do love you, but I've never lived with anyone before, and I'm stubborn, and I can't cook, and I don't do laundry sometimes for, like, two weeks, and my sponges smell, and you're going to see all that. And I'm scared."

Next Up...?:
"No Ifs, Ands, or Butts" (which happily refers to CIGARETTE butts, in case you were concerned--and I know that I was.) Said episode features two African-American characters who actually play a substantial role in the episode... which you might think is a good thing, but allow me to assure you that it is not. Sigh. Much as is the case when we explicitly grappled with class politics last season, may I recommend having a cold compress on hand for Friday, when we shall discuss Sam's relationship with an African-American gent? Trust me, you're going to need it!

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