This past weekend, after witnessing the glittered car wreck that was “Sex and the City 2” — which at over two-and-a-half hours is about two-and-a-half hours too long — I found myself experiencing the menopausal foursome of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha in a startlingly new light. While I was once able to appreciate the over-the-top extravagance that comes with the misadventures of the formerly fab foursome, I found myself fearful this time around. They suddenly represented something far worse than the vagaries of terrorism or the intangible threat of the recession — an event these particular females seem to know nothing about. Everything they stood for this time around, everything the film preached with vigor, suddenly felt dangerous — their hoarding of designer clothes, their desperation to attain a perfect marriage, their insensitivity in regards to Middle Eastern culture. And, in the process, the film justified every negative thought that anti-“Sex” honchos have been shouting for years.
To be fair, “Sex and the City” has always walked the fine line between progressive and oppressive. Often it would find itself faltering in regards to the righteousness of womanhood: more shopping, less roaring. The series’ willingness to display the most profound of secrets — that women, too, enjoy having sex — always made the show seem slightly more interesting, and more important than it really was. But at its core was a story about friendship that runs deeper than relationships, and an inherent desire for female independence. There is some of that this time around in the sequel, but it’s steeped in products, and the film suddenly reeks of capitalist extremism. Solidarity with the single gal was sold in favor of a diamond ring, and any blow for the feminist movement was traded in favor of the latest brand name to hit the catwalk. Why are we allowing a film to preach the necessity of extravagance during a time when its primary audience is thinking twice about being able to afford ticket prices?
Some may cite this reaction as far too vigorous. This is, after all, a series that has always basked in escapism — as a fellow columnist, scenes of Ms. Bradshaw typing away diligently in her multi-million dollar New York City brownstone reeked of fantasy. But, if “City” is allowed to be proclaimed as progressive when it shows the bare basics of female discourse, then its offenses should be taken with that same earnest seriousness.
And this film is offensive. It manipulates the fans who have come to accept these characters as the pinnacle of female liberation, as if admitting a favorite sexual position is the equivalent of “The Feminine Mystique.” These hollow excuses for both characters in any medium and women on any continent serve as cinematic representations of female castration.
Even if the film can claim ignorance in regards to its serious faulting of forty-something womanhood (hell, women of any age should take offense), there is no denying that placing four overgrown Barbie dolls in the trenches of the Middle East (“It’s the new Abu Dhabi,” purrs Samantha, right before a requisite sex pun) is begging for trouble.
In one barely-there subplot, Carrie finds that The New Yorker has panned her latest book, “I Do. Do I?” (a groan-inducing title if there ever was one), and manages to twist the bashing of her authorship into an anti-feminist power play on behalf of… the source is never really explained. She then goes on to align her scathing review with the pains of female oppression at the hands of Islamic fundamentalism, which is quickly followed by the four girls singing a karaoke cover of Hellen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.”
They gasp at the beauty of their surroundings and the kindness of the people they’ve met while strutting across the desert, unaware that husbands are legally allowed to beat their wives in “the new Abu Dhabi.” But I doubt this was included in the girls’ private jet brochures.
Where once there was the hope that these four represented the bourgeois bohemian culture that lamented the very culture they take part in, they have instead, here, been resigned to nothing more than mindless mannequins with an expense account and a hazy view of Middle Eastern relations.
And, in the penultimate blow for womanhood, four veiled Muslim women save the friends from the hordes of angry Muslim men, who are chasing the girls for over sharing their sex lives. Once safe, the women remove their oppressive garb to reveal that underneath, they are just like their new American friends: drenched head-to-toe in designer wear. This is the moment of profound female camaraderie, the realization that they are not that different from the desert sisters after all — I mean, they’re both wearing Chanel. Somewhere I can hear Susan B. Anthony rolling over in her grave.
“At least it saves money on Botox,” murmurs Samantha, giving even the most liberal viewer the thought that maybe this whole “women aren’t allowed to speak” thing might have more weight to it than initially assumed. I am, of course, joking. This film, however, is not. It truly believes that dressing up these Muslim women in Dior and Dolce is a stand against even the darkest corners of female fascism. But all it is is an affirmation of America at its most materialistic, the pinnacle of its absurdest assumption that all women want is to look good and look at things that look good. And this message is simply dangerous.
Is this offensive for women? Women moviegoers? Middle Eastern women? Middle easterners everywhere? To quote Ms. (I’m sorry — Mrs.) Bradshaw herself: “I couldn’t help but wonder.”