Monday, October 11

Season Two, Episode Seventeen: Twenty-Something Girls vs. Thirty-Something Women

The Summary:

So, if one of the great divides of the universe (chocolate vs. vanilla, city vs. country, paper vs. plastic, New Jersey vs. the rest of the bloody world, etc.) is twenty-something girls vs. thirty-something women, where does that leave me, as a lass who (in 11 short months) will be crossing over from one state of being to another? Will I suddenly have to detest all of my twenty-something friends? Will my next blog have to be about the show thirtysomething (which I have never seen, and have little interest in ever seeing, as it sounds quite drearily anti-feminist--"Career women are bitter messes! All women ought to find fulfillment in domesticity!" Mercy, what a fresh and original argument THAT one is!)? Hmmm. I suppose we shall just have to wait and see!

But why am I talking about me? Who cares about my 29-year-old self, after all? My own personal perplexities are neither here nor there. Let us turn, then, to the perplexities of our four glamorous, fictional, officially 30-something Leading Ladies.

So, Carrie is pondering the whole 20-something vs. 30-something divide, in part because somewhere along the line she has acquired an extremely dedicated 20-something fan, Laurel, who follows her hither and thither and yon with worshipful puppy-dog eyes. Laurel wants to be a writer, you see, and earnestly (annoyingly, relentlessly) asks for Carrie's guidance about pursuing The Writing Life. Laurel hopes to write a book about 20-something women who have decided to stay virgins until they get married (of which number she is one.)

Gobsmacked by Laurel's virginity and annoyed by her hero worship, Carrie is nonetheless feeling quite benevolent towards women in their 20s... until she sees one (Natasha by name) at a party with (brace yourself for our rare and precious Chris-Noth-Free-Interlude to come crashing to an end)... Big. Turns out, Big met Natasha in Paris! Turns out, Big started dating Natasha in Paris! Turns out, Big is now permanently back from Paris, it seems on Natasha's behalf! Carrie... is not pleased. By which I mean, she throws up after seeing them together. Oh, Big. How I have not missed you! (Jon Bon Jovi may have been a sociopath, but at least he never made Carrie vomit. Also, I feel that he is prettier.)

Anyway, leaving Carrie poised on the brink of yet another Big Disaster, let us turn to the other ladies. Miranda... has nothing going on in this episode. She wears a cute barette in her hair at one point, I seem to recall. And... that's about it! Charlotte starts dating Greg, who is (get ready to be shocked), it transpires, is 26. And Charlotte is, of course, a positively ancient 33. So of course, the other ladies cannot stop harping on how much younger than her he is, how she is cradle-robbing, how it is sooooo odd and inappropriate that she is dating this mere boy, etc. Perhaps in part because of this "unhand his young flesh, thou vile, aged hag!" rhetoric, Charlotte lies about her age, pretending Greg that she is a marginally dewier 27--and is of course promptly punished for said lie, as Greg gives her crabs (one), and dumps her (two.) That'll teach her to dabble with mere children, now, won't it???

While Charlotte is off getting infected and humiliated (did she somehow wander into a Miranda plotline in this episode, or what?), Samantha is totally annoyed by her erstwhile assistant, Nina, who has set up a rival P.R. firm (although she is but a mere slip of a 20-something girl), which initially seems to be quite successful/threatening to the success of Sam's very own P.R. firm. Said annoyance/threat does not last long, however, since Nina's utter cluelessness and raging hubris leads to an event which she has planned collapsing into utter disaster... until Sam steps in to save the day. After which Sam very helpfully introduces Nina to the Crab-Ridden Greg, suggesting to them that they are a match made in heaven. 20-something girls, take note--mess with Ms. Samantha Jones' friends, and she will totally give you V.D.!

The Analysis:

Virgins Are Necessarily Either Tragic or Comic? Watch:
So, in this episode, the writers definitely play the 25-year-old Laurel's assertion that she's decided to remain a virgin until marriage for laughs. Oh, how amusing and bizarre she is, this clueless young girl who is oddly attached to the god Hymen! Carrie also lumps Laurel's decision to stay a virgin into the whole "20-something girls deserve our sympathy and pity, because they are so patently, ineptly unable to run their own lives" conclusions which she draws about the differences between lasses in their 20s and ladies in their 30s in the episode. Hmmmm.

I'm not so fond of this whole Comic/Tragic Virgin angle, as it rather unpleasantly mirrors some attitudes which I've run into in my students--one semester, we were reading Jessica Valenti's The Purity Myth (it is so much fun, do read it if you have not done so already--she discusses abstinence clowns, for Pete's sake, how can one resist such nuttiness?), and the students got into a discussion about the ever-popular topic of "Virginity and the Young Woman of Today."

During said discussions, several students (both female and male) voiced the opinion that for a lass to be a virgin past a certain age was rather tragic and sad. Ummm, don't the ladies know that the gentlemen want a girl with a certain amount of experience when it comes to sexual matters? (On that theme, please take note of the following: 1) ladies who sleep with other ladies--DO NOT EXIST, 2) gentlemen--are more interested in how many items ladies have in their Sexual Bag of Tricks than they are in the content of their hearts/minds/spirits, and will find a virginal lass hopelessly gauche and unappealing, and 3) ladies who are virgins are clearly entirely disconnected from any real or meaningful sexuality.) And don't they know that losing your virginity is one of the ways that you know that you've officially become a real adult? ("Driver's license? Check. Ability to vote to determine the future leaders of our country? Check. V-Card disposed of? Check. Now if only I could rent a car/binge drink legally...")

That attitude troubled me at the time, and it troubles me to see it here. Because rather than being a sad, foolishly naive, lost young soul, Laurel actually seems quite happily in control of her body and her life here. The writers mock her Virgin Self, but somehow, she manages to riggle out of their grasp to become a more interesting person than I think they intended her to be. Carrie greets Laurel's comfortable assertion that she's still a virgin by choice with bafflement and contempt, and as an audience I suspect that we are supposed to sympathize with her in said feelings ("Virgins over the age of 21! And here I thought that that two-headed calf I saw at a state fair once was wacky!", etc.), but I personally am signing onto Team Laurel rather than Team Carrie here.

Because Laurel is clearly happy with her life and her decisions--yes, she's desired men in the past, but she wants to be in love with and committed to a gent before she sleeps with him/with anyone. She's clearly not judgmental or preachy/of the "women who have sex with men who are not their husbands are akin to used tissues" stamp--she loves Carrie's column, and is clearly unfazed by its un-virginal content, she's just doing what she wants to do, for her own personal, individual self.

And as I tried to discuss with my students (with what success, I cannot say... I did still get some "In The Purity Myth, Jessica Valenti encourages all girls to be sluts"-type papers, which... sigh) ... isn't the whole point, when it comes to the ladies and their sexuality (and anyone and their sexuality, for that matter), that provided that they are treating themselves and others with respect, and doing/not doing what they genuinely want to do/not do (not doing/refraining from doing anything because of partner or social pressure/cultural expectations) that we should not care in the least what they are up to or not up to, or judge them for what they choose to do or not do? I reckon that that applies just as strongly to the sex which women choose not have as it does to the sex which women choose to have.

I'd like to see us build a world in which women don't get judged for being too sexual, or not sexual enough, or sexual in the "wrong" way. I'd like all girls and women to have the chance to live in a world where they could feel free to pursue their own desires without shame, reproach, or judgment. I'd like to see our world transformed into one in which men didn't point fingers at women/women didn't point fingers at other women for making decisions about their sexual lives which don't fit comfortably into the conventional, expected mould. I'd like to see a world in which there isn't a "right way" or a conventional, expected mould, at all. So... let's get on that, people!

The Age Gap, Er, Gap, How Annoying It Is Watch: So, in addition to Virgin-Gate, the thing that annoys me the most about this episode (apart from Big being back, which--boo, hiss) is the fact that Carrie, Miranda, and Samantha talk so much about the VAST AGE GAP which exists between Charlotte and Greg. In that... he is seven years her junior. Ummm, wait. Isn't that Big over there? Big, who is 43, and dated the 33-year-old Carrie but a short time ago? And... is dating a 26-year-old lass now? And... somehow that is not a vast and unbridgeable gap, but Charlotte dating a 26-year-old is shocking? I know that we've seen this charmless double standard in the series before, and rest assured, gentle reader, that we shall see it again. Oh, charmless double standards. Why must you cling to me as tenaciously as rancid gum to a shoe/as Big to the SATC franchise?

Next Up...?: Our season finale, "Ex and the City." Oh my goodness, have we really made it to the end of Season Two already??? Such excitement! The title of the episode might give you some sense of where we're headed here... exes of all kinds abound--Big is back! (Once again, boo, and hiss.) Steve is back! (Yay, a straight male character who is actually nice!) And Charlotte has some baggage with a horse whom she once loved to grapple with. (Not to worry, no Catherine the Great parallels will be necessary at any point, I promise you...)

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