Monday, October 25

Season Three, Episode Three: Attack of the 5'10" Woman

The Summary:

Finally, an episode all about women my height! About how hard it is for us to find pants that fit properly! About how annoying it is to constantly have strangers tell you "You're very tall" (Am I?!? I hadn't noticed, since I hit my full height sixteen bloody years ago) or ask you whether or not you played basketball in high school (if by that you mean, "got hit by errant basketballs in gym class," then... yes, I did.) Or wait... sorry, the episode actually has nothing to do with Ladies' Height Issues, whatsoever. But still... glad to see a shout-out to the 5'10" women of the world in the title, nonetheless!

OKAY. To the actual episode. Carrie discovers that Big and Natasha are officially married (via "the single women's sports pages"--i.e., the Weddings and Celebrations section of The New York Times. They are fun to read, I will admit, but I'd still choose the Book Review over both forms of "sports" pages any day, thankyouverymuch.) She is, as you can imagine, very upset by this news--less because she herself wishes to be The Bride of Big (GOOD, I am officially counting this as progress), and more because Natasha (who is very young, very beautiful, and always immaculately polished) makes her feel so darned inferior.

She spends a good bit of the episode readying herself to impress Natasha at a "Women in the Arts" luncheon they are both signed up to attend--only to have Natasha not show up. Darn it! Happily, by that point, Carrie has realized that trying to impress/one-up Natasha is a fruitless, ultimately self-destructive endeavor, and that she's the one who needs to learn to be happy with herself, flaws, imperfections, and all. Yay!

And what of our other three womenfolk? Samantha's plot line is the most straightforward, so let's get that sucker out of the way first. Sam learns that a very beautiful gentleman masseur at the spa which she goes to is well known for treating his lady clients to what I believe the kids on the street nowadays call "a happy ending"? Possessing this information, Sam books an appointment with this "spreading sunshine wherever he goes... and he goes lots of places" gentleman. (Which... why, does this not strike you as creepy in any way, Ms. Jones, what with the whole "paying for sex" angle here...?)

But, when the day of her appointment arrives... go down on her he does not. When Sam, ahem, encourages him to do so, he complains that she's harrassing him. She, in turn, complains that she only booked an appointment with him because he had such a good reputation for things other than massage... which, unsurprisingly, results in the beautiful masseur getting fired. (Because maybe... sex with clients... violates one or two eensy, weensy regulations?) Hope that he severely revises his cover letter/resume before sending those puppies out again. "Among my particular interests and skills are violating the most basic ethical codes of my profession." Now THAT'LL get you a callback!

Charlotte is also having spa-centric problems (heck, we've all been there, haven't we, ladies? Oh, right... I, and lots of other women in these United States of ours, can't so much afford to go to spas/to have spa-related problems!) The idea of hanging out in the steam room or locker room sans clothes makes Charlotte intensely uncomfortable, because she feels so self-conscious about her body/thinks her thighs, specifically, are so very, very ugly. She eventually faces her fears, however, and settles in for a steam sans towel--yay for victories over body self-hatred! Now can I have a free spa pass? I'm not really comfortable being naked in front of strangers, either, but if you gave me a free massage (not a happy one, mind, I'm not Samantha) and festive seaweed-themed treatments, that might help me get over it!

Miranda, meanwhile, has problems which are not related to the spa in any way. Instead, they are related to her new cleaning lady/housekeeper. (I have plenty of problems with mine, too, specifically with how darned lazy and incompetent she is--but I can't so much fire her because I am her.) Glad to know that this episode is rapidly transforming into the "Problems Directly Connected to Your Economic Privilege, Mercy, How Bad I Feel For You, Get Ready to Witness My Tears" hour!

What's wrong with this new cleaning lady (one Magda by name) you ask? She has a very specific vision of How Ladies Should Lead Their Lives, and Miranda does not live up to this vision in any way, shape, or form. Ladies should drink tea. Miranda drinks coffee. Ladies should spend their leisure moments making pies. Miranda has no interest whatsoever in making her own baked goods. (Miranda, to Carrie, after Magda has made her feel badly about her lack of Baking Prowess: "Do you have a rolling pin?" Carrie, to Miranda: "Are you kidding? I use my oven for storage.") Ladies should set their sights on getting themselves a good fella and marrying him, pronto. Miranda has the good fella, but isn't sure that she wants to get married to him or to anyone, pronto or at any other time.

Ladies should not be possessed of a sexuality which exists independently of (and might be potentially threatening to) their men. Miranda has a vibrator by her bedside and uses it, even when her man is nowhere in sight. Magda, seeking to "help" correct this "problem" replaces said vibrator with a statue of the Virgin Mary. (Not to be confused with vibrators shaped like the Virgin Mary, or similar.) Oh dear.

After this incident ("Mary-gate"?) Miranda finally snaps, and tells Magda that she likes her coffee, she likes her store-bought baked goods, she likes her vibrator, and that if Magda can't handle the fact that she's working for an unmarried, undomestic, actively sexual lady... then it's buh-bye, Magda. Magda decides that she can handle it. So Magda stays, and the Virgin Mary goes. Buh-bye, VM!

The Analysis:

Uninteresting Fact I Am Going To Tell You Even Though You Doubtless Do Not Wish to Hear It Watch:
So, I feel compelled to tell you that I saw the fantastic actress who plays Magda, Lynn Cohen, on the subway in New York soon after SATC 2 came out, and it was totally. Cool. She is stunning (if my hair can look anything like hers when I go gray, I'll be one happy lady), and was super nice to a girl who came up to her and gushed at length about how much she loved SATC. If I'd been her, I would have been all "I also played Golda-Frickin' Meir, in case you're interested," but she was all things kind and gracious. Also--love that she takes the subway just like non-actress-y New Yorkers.

People of Color Watch:
One of the women, Mimi, whom Carrie talks to at the "Women in the Arts" lunch she attends is African-American. Mimi gets in a pretty good Joyce Carol Oates joke, which I appreciated (love the random literary humor--wish they'd thrown in more of that to warm my erstwhile English major heart)... but alas, she is but a minor part of the episode.

One of the fired masseur's former clients, Katie, is also African-American. Apart from being ticked with Samantha for getting her very favorite Happy Ending Bestower fired, she, too, plays a very small part in the episode. Nice work as usual here, people!

Bludgeoning Us With "Ethnic-Ness" Watch: This is the first time that the Ukrainian Magda appears in the series, and just in case we missed the fact that she is an Ethnic Cleaning Lady, the episode plays Russian-y type folk music every time she appears. Why not just show her wearing a kerchief and doing Ukrainian folk dances every time we see her, and have done with it? We get it--she is the charmingly out-of-date Old World, Miranda is the modern and sophisticated New World. Now, bring me some kolach, and get out of here!

Who Cares About the Youth of Tomorrow or Serving the Community in Any Way? Watch: So, at the Women in the Arts lunch that Carrie attends, she falls into a conversation with a woman who asks her to volunteer some of her time to work with disadvantaged youth who want to become writers. How charming! As a freelance writer, Carrie certainly has the time, and sometimes nothing pulls one out of one's own petty problems than getting involved in one's community... except, of course, Carrie bites the woman's head off (Carrie: "I write about sex... is that something they'd like to learn, these kids? How to write about blow jobs, and stuff?") and dismisses her. Buh-bye, opportunity to use one's time and talents to benefit someone who is not one's self!

Now, I get that SATC is escapist in many ways and that we, as viewers, would as such rather see the ladies chatting as they make their way through the gorgeous shoes at Manolo Blahnik than ladling out soup at a dingy, underfunded homeless shelter, but... is it too much to ask that Carrie not heap coals of fire on the head of a woman who suggests that she actually become positively involved in the community in some way? I suppose that it is. My apologies.

Yay for A Distinct Lack of Female Bitchiness, and For a Generous Helping of Female Friendship and Solidarity Watch: One might well be concerned that this episode--which, after all, centers on Carrie's feelings of rivalry with/inferiority to Natasha--might easily have become one of those ever-popular "women are naturally catty bitches, who always have their knives at each other's throats" fests. But, happily, it doesn't. Even Natasha herself doesn't come off at all badly here. When we see her interact with Carrie, she's actually really nice. The writers could easily have made her a nasty piece of goods who does all in her power to make Carrie feel badly about herself... but they don't, and she isn't. She's a kindly person who just happens to (without in any way seeking or desiring to) stir up all of Carrie's (pre-existing) anxieties and insecurities. And by the end of the episode, Carrie has realized that she can't blame Natasha for being (or herself for not being) model-gorgeous and effortlessly graceful. She needs to let her feelings of resentment and inferiority go, wish Natasha well, and learn to appreciate herself as she is. Which... she does. (Or at least, starts to do.) Lovely.

The episode also racks up some points on the "highlighting women's support and love for each other, rather than their nastiness to each other" scale in its representations of Carrie and Charlotte lovingly talking one another through their respective crises. Charlotte assures Carrie that feeling inferior to Natasha is ridiculous--that Carrie must be blind not to recognize her own wit, intelligence, and general amazingness. Carrie assures Charlotte that feeling bad about her body is ridiculous--that Charlotte must blind not to recognize her own beauty, and crazy to not give herself the same kind of loving respect and affirming encouragement which she always gives so generously to her friends. Goody.

Dealing with Body Image Issues Pretty Respectfully and Thoughtfully For Once, Thank Goodness for That Watch: And speaking of Charlotte's anxieties about her body... I think the episode does a pretty good job of grappling with them here. Even though Charlotte fits the mainstream beauty ideal quite neatly (being white, thin, fit, able-bodied, etc.), she still clearly feels that she is unacceptably flawed, imperfect, and un-beautiful. Sad to see this, but, alas, it does seem to conform quite well to the realities of how many American women relate to their bodies.

Acknowledging these insecurities, the episode then proceeds to work to undermine them, with Charlotte being offered the support of her friends and Charlotte herself choosing to face her fears about baring her imperfect body, in the quasi-public space of the spa. It seems as though she's found at least some measure of peace by the end of the episode (ah, would that it were always this simple!), recognizing that all women, regardless of what they look like, have anxieties about their bodies, and that she needs to stop beating herself up for not being "perfect." Smells like progress to me--I'll take it!

Is the Whole "Blurring the Line Between Sex Work and Non-Sex Work" Thing a Little Creepy Here, Or Is It Just Me?: Now, I do not want to pull a SATC Season One "ahhhh, sex work, how immoral and awful it always and inevitably is!" type thing on you here, but I do have some concerns about how the episode develops the "masseur who gives his lady clients a little--okay, a lot--something extra" plot line here. I dunno, something about it just doesn't sit quite right with me.

I know that the show is in many ways a comedy, but I s'pose the fact that it plays this scenario purely for laughs troubles me a little. "Ha ha, rich women casually paying a not-rich man for his sexual services, with the man in question seeming uncomfortable with the expectation that sexual service is now a default part of his job! Tee hee!" Sam getting him fired because he doesn't provide her with the sexual service she was expecting from him (and that he clearly does not want to give her) makes me a little uncomfortable. She can just casually walk away from the whole situation, but he is still very much fired, and I'd reckon the chance of him getting another job, given the circumstances... not so great.

It's true that it seems as though he himself opened the door to this kind of thing happening, if he illicitly started adding sexual services to his repetoire... but do we know that he did so purely out of free choice? Or was doing so part of his seeking to keep his job by keeping certain female clients of his happy? The power/money imbalance between client and masseur, the ambiguity about what the masseur did and did not freely choose to do... I like it not. Let's have fewer plot lines centered around the casual bartering of masculine (or feminine, for that matter) flesh in future, now, shall we?

"Who Is This, and What Is She Doing In My Bedroom?": One Point to Autonomous Female Sexuality Watch: I also quite enjoy the Miranda plot line here (putting aside the problematic, "let me not in any way examine the class privilege which enables me to hire a full-time housekeeper, but just whine about her imperfections to my similarly-privileged girlfriends instead," of course.) Kind of nice to see Miranda so fiercely defending her life as it is, and insisting that she shouldn't be made to feel badly because she's not domestically inclined or necessarily interested in making wifehood a central (or indeed, any) part of her life.

I particularly enjoy watching Miranda deliver her "Shockingly, I am a sexual person independently of my boyfriend, and that is perfectly okay" speech. Given the way that the show has handled women's pursuit of sexual pleasure independent of partnered sex in the past, it's especially nice to see Miranda defend her right to her vibrator, specifically, and to a sexuality not exclusively centered on Steve/any other gent, generally here. How pleasant it is, to not have them give me migraines, for a change! Clearly, this is destined to not last.

Notable Quotables: Carrie, on embracing her own imperfections: "I will never be the woman with the perfect hair, who can wear white and not spill on it." (Me. Neither.)

Next Up...?:
On tap for Wednesday? "Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl...", in which Carrie dates a laidback, charming gent who is demonstrably neither emotionally abusive nor insane. Yay! Except... wait, nope, sorry, spoke too soon--there are HUGE PROBLEMS afoot there, in that he is slightly younger than she is (HORRORS), and bisexual. Clearly even though he is also a smart, charming, and interesting person... these are massive, probably insurmountable obstacles? (Why do I feel a headache of the magnitude of the one which I got when Charlotte dumped a sweet-natured pastry chef purely because he was "too feminine" coming on...?)


  1. Just came across your blog and although I really like the intent of it (I'm a big 'Sex and The City' fan as well as a feminist), it seems like you often ask to much of the show. It's one thing to critique the way it handles the subjects it does address, but another to seemingly require it to confront every area of feminist thought in each episode. I'll agree with your implications that the show is very narrow-minded in terms of class, race, and other divisions, but the main characters of the show are rich, white ladies. They cannot analyze their way of life every single episode. If Miranda can afford a housekeeper, it's not appalling that she hire a housekeeper, expect her to respect her life choices, and display frustration when she doesn't.

  2. Thank you for your comment, and for reading! Your point that expecting a popular TV show focused on women's romantic and sexual lives to consistently be a sophisticated, comprehensive feminist critique of all of our society's inequities is unrealistic is certainly a good one.

    I guess that one of my problems with the show is that the privilege of its central female characters is always made invisible. The show never really admits, "Hey, we're focused on wealthy white women, that's the particular group we're centering on, we don't presume to speak for all women here," but instead tries to present these women (okay, except for Samantha) as "Everywomen," whom we as viewers are supposed to identify with, and consequently turns all other women (who aren't wealthy, white, straight, etc.)into an "Other."

    It's like that infuriating moment in the second film (which I am psyching myself up to discuss anon), when Charlotte and Miranda have this really moving heart-to-heart about the challenges of motherhood, ending the conversation by saying something along the lines of "Gosh, and it must be even harder for women without nannies! I don't know what I'd do without mine! Let's toast to those women... and then get right back to enjoying the fact that we're not them."

    For me, that moment encapsulates some of my problems with the show and the way it engages (or rather, fails to engage) with class politics--that acceptance that some women being able to afford nannies and some not is just "the way things are," and the best we can do is acknowledge that this is unfair, but accept it as the status quo, and move on. It also turns women who don't have the privilege to afford professional child-care into a distant "they," whose magical coping skills are a mystery to our heroines.

    I think the show lets some of these moments, which are opportunities to introduce something a little more complex and subversive about class and privilege in, slip by, which I find very disappointing, since the show does so much to challenge dominant understandings of gender and sexuality. If only they could have turned a little of that sharp acuity onto race and class, than I'd be one happy blogger!

    Thanks again for reading, your comment really got me thinking!