The Sex and the City Aftermath — Misogyny Unleashed

by Melissa Silverstein on June 7, 2010

in Movies,Sexism

No matter whether or not you liked or even saw Sex and the City 2 what you can’t have missed is the cultural conversation that film has caused in all quarters.  We’ve been talking about women aging onscreen, we’ve been talking about women’s rights in the Middle East, we’ve been talking about menopause, and we’ve been talking about American excess.  Not too many films, even really good ones, are able to create conversations about a single topic, yet Sex and the City 2 has touched a nerve on a variety of issues.  It’s too bad that the film didn’t live up to expectations, but still, the revelations it has unearthed has been fascinating.

But what has been so profound to me has been the release of a pent up torrent of misogyny against women and this film has just been a vehicle for that misogyny to be revealed.  Because films allow — and in fact require — critical responses this has seemed to be an invitation to be as mean as possible.  And it’s come from everywhere.  From men from women, and from people who are usually progressive about issues and ideals.

I still don’t understand what this movie has done that is so offensive that it deserved the nastiness of the reviews that it received.  If you don’t like it, don’t go.

As for the numbers, the film has made now $73 million here in the US (and the studio thinks it will have legs here because there are very few movies that will appeal to women opening over the next couple of weeks), but it seems to be doing a lot better overseas where it has made a total of $90 million.  And while it never hit number 1 here in the US, it was number 1 in England, France and Australia.

The good news is that people are firing back and are noticing this nastiness.  Because it’s just not ok.  And when you say nasty things about women in movies, how far are you from saying nasty things about women in general?

Women — and men — need to stand up to this misogyny and show that it is not acceptable about movies or in society in general.  Here are some of the people standing up to this crap.

Bidisha in The Guardian:

It’s jaw-dropping. Reviewers do not appear to despise a real rapist such as Polanski, but they do seem to despise four fictional women who are portraying mildly silly lives.

SATC2 is currently topping the UK box office, above Streetdance 3D, Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Tooth Fairy, Iron Man 2, Space Chimps 2, The Losers, Bad Lieutenant and Four Lions. The Streetdance boys and girls are buff paragons of unalloyed dance ambition. Space Chimps is a searing portrayal of the effects of astral travel on primate development. The other seven films are all standard ignorant, cliched, macho, brutal, brainless, gung-ho, numb-knuckle, totally male-dominated, exhilarating toss. They feature large clubs of self-involved obsessive stupid men and their multiple male nemeses and cronies and one or two completely outnumbered women in demeaning, underscripted roles. All but one or two blockbuster films are about men – many men, sometimes all men – and are often a thousand times more venal, selfish, avaricious, consumerist, ignorant, aspirational, shallow and one-dimensional than Carrie and co. But there is no critical hate for them and their values – or their faces. That is saved for four women in one film no stupider than anything else Hollywood produces.

And I want to thank the stars for Manohla Dargis who probably doesn’t enjoy having to be the gender police at the movie desk for the NY Times but stands up when she needs to (and it seems that she’s needed to a lot lately.) I am grateful that she doesn’t shy away when her voice is needed.

The scene of Samantha in the souk has been branded insulting to Muslims. Certainly it’s insulting to comedy lovers and to the character, a shrewd number sold out by her director for an unfunny gag about the unruly female body. This and other scenes of the women with Muslims are often awkward, though that’s partly a function of Mr. King’s direction. Yet there’s also something touching about a few of these encounters, as when the women wonder how you eat fries when you’re wearing a veil, a question that strikes me as an uncharacteristically honest admission of difference in a mainstream American movie. Too bad the women weren’t guys and went to Las Vegas, where they could have indulged in the kind of critically sanctioned masculine political incorrectness that made “The Hangover” such a darling.

There are others who are thinking about the film in interesting contexts:
Paula Kamen on the Ms. Blog: The Gen X Male-Only Midlife Crisis: Hot Tub v. SATC

Ashley Sayeau in the Nation: When Women Flaunt Their Toys

Jackie Ashley in The Guardian: Sex and shopping are no worse than gadgets or guns

Sex’ still hot worldwide, takes in $45 million (Hollywood Reporter)

Why the Sex and the City 2 reviews were misogynistic (The Guardian)

Un-Innocents Abroad: The Drubbing
(NY Times)

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist June 7, 2010 at 10:26 AM

yeah, I agree. There’s a lot of misogynistic hate for this film. I think one reason is due to the female characters’ obsession for fashion. That pisses off some guys.

People think being fashion obsessed makes you a bimbo, so therefore you’re dumb, but it doesnt. I enjoy fashion and I’m most certainly not a bimbo, thanks.

It’s also because these 4 women are all over 35, and again, that pisses off some people.

I understand some people’s hatred for this film because of how the movie portrays Middle Easterns and women, but the hatred for the female characters because of their gender, their age, and their physiques, is NOT OK!!!!

Devin McCullen June 7, 2010 at 11:22 AM

I thought this was an interesting & fair (if strongly negative) critique of the film, from NPR’s Linda Holmes:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/06/02/127365301/the-real-housewives-of-abu-dhabi-wealth-and-humiliation-hand-in-hand#more

Anika June 7, 2010 at 11:23 AM

I am so glad someone brought up The Hangover because that is the parallel I saw and could not understand why it is celebrated and SatC2 is reviled.

Thanks for addressing it because the misogyny really has been rampant and uncalled for especially for so frothy a film.

Chris June 7, 2010 at 11:55 AM

The movie is getting heat, from female critics too, because a majority just don’t find it funny or entertaining.

Nor should it be patted on the back for raising issues and then abandoning them or not exploring them properly. I’ve said it elsewhere but the SATC movies have dumbed down alot of the intelligent commentary of the tv series in order to present their version of female fantasy.

Elizabeth June 7, 2010 at 11:57 AM

Agreed, Chris. I’m kind of getting sick of being made to feel like I have to hand in my feminist membership card for not liking this movie.

Melissa Silverstein June 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM

No one is saying you need to turn in your feminist card (do you have a cool one?) if you didn’t like the movie. Most people didn’t. I’m just writing about how people are talking about the film and I think there is a difference between the two.

Elizabeth June 7, 2010 at 12:13 PM

I agree that how people are talking about the film is separate from whether or not people like it or if it’s any good. But you keep saying how “mean” everyone is in their reviews, as if that meanness (who said reviewers needed to be nice, anyway?) is not in any way earned by the film itself.

I’m speaking strictly of negative reviews here; not all the negative reviews are misogynistic although of course most of the misogynistic ones are definitely negative.

Elizabeth June 7, 2010 at 12:38 PM

I guess my main concern is how we frame criticisms around female-oriented films when those films turn out to be just as crappy as many male-oriented films. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because of the new Twilight movie coming out at the end of the month and I suspect that what we’re seeing with SATC2 is exactly what we’ll see with Eclipse, although I suspect I’ll find Eclipse even more indefensible than SATC2 given the content of that film.

There’s definitely a double standard at work: it’s so much easier to defend against misogynistic reviews when the movie itself is one of quality; there’s a built-in need for a higher standard that just doesn’t exist for movies that are male-centric. It just depresses me that at the end of the day I’m not sure what to take from this other than that the equality we might achieve is the proof that movies for women can be as bad as movies for men (Transformers 2, anyone?), which is a dubious honour at best.

Chris Evans June 7, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Err, but I think the point is that, while the film may be bad (I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know), the question is do male-centric films of similar quality receive the same amount of harsh, nasty criticism? Melissa wrote all about this same sort of thing happening with the LAST Sex and the City movie as well. I would suggest reading some of those articles she wrote for clarification.

d June 7, 2010 at 2:27 PM

I can see a possible difference between SATC and the Hangover. I haven’t seen either, so I am judging them from equal measures (plot analysis, commercials, reviews and the like). But when I look at the Hangover, those guys, while they may want to be emulated, are seen as complete idiots! Are we suppose to look at the SATC women as idiots? Don’t comedies of that sort still follow the classic heroic line of the character (in this case an idiot) becomes wiser and different by the end? Do the women change and become more responsible by the end? For me it’s about POV. Are we supposed to be laughing at the women or laughing with them?

Are these films like Confessions of a Shopaholic or The Devil Wears Prada, where the evil is shopping and the protagonists eventually move away from it? Or is it even like Legally Blond, where the protagonist uses fashion to help others and eventually save the day? Do these characters grow? That’s what makes sequels of any kind tough to begin with. In each episode I saw, I felt like there was incremental growth. But it doesn’t sound like that is the case in the films.

BTW – this doesn’t negate the nasty comments that are so obviously sexist ( like leathery skin). And it seems like some stuff is just plain bad. But I wonder too if getting masked is something else that falls in the middle.

Chris Evans June 7, 2010 at 2:32 PM

“But when I look at the Hangover, those guys, while they may want to be emulated, are seen as complete idiots!”

Really? By whom? I definitely think the intended demographic is meant to identify with those characters, and they do.

Alex June 7, 2010 at 2:52 PM

I have to agree with Melissa. I read some of the comments on Nikki Finke’s site re: SATC 2 and there is definitely a misogynist bent to them; Claims that the film is a massive bomb and proof that adult women don’t go to the movies, thus justifying not making any films for women. It’s a bad Hollywood film in a sea of bad Hollywood films. They all suck, the scripts make no sense, the stories cliched…what else is new?

Elizabeth June 7, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Err, but I think the point is that, while the film may be bad (I haven’t seen it yet so I don’t know), the question is do male-centric films of similar quality receive the same amount of harsh, nasty criticism?

I’ve been following Melissa’s other articles and the difficulty I’ve been having with them is that they don’t address these things as separate issues. Every time someone criticizes the film, the discussion doesn’t revolve solely around whether or not male-centric films get the same amount of nasty criticism; the discussion comes with “I don’t think it’s that bad”, “I don’t see why people hate it”, “everyone is so mean”, or other comments that at worst actively deny that it’s bad and at best don’t address the issue. Which is fine, since Melissa’s allowed to have an opinion on the quality of the film (especially on her own site!), but I’m finding that it misdirects the real issue at hand, which is indeed that male-centric films do not get nearly as much criticism. And they should, because frankly I thought The Hangover was almost as bad as SATC2! (I think I’m more critical of SATC2 because I’ve become much more critical about films in the last year, so SATC suffers from timing more than content for me.)

Opinioness of the World June 7, 2010 at 5:31 PM

Melissa, I could not agree more with your assessment of the misogyny surrounding SATC2. If people don’t like the film, than so be it (and Elizabeth, you don’t have to…being a feminist is all about choice). The problem is that most critics have chosen to spew their vitriol in criticizing the women’s ages, physical appearances or lavish spending habits rather than the film’s dialogue or plot.

While it’s not as good as the show, it’s still a lighthearted, campy ride. The problem is that while men are allowed escapist fun in films, women (in the eyes of critics) are often not. In addition to Melissa’s wonderful articles, Scott Mendelson wrote a great piece on the difference between women and men’s fantasy films. While audiences forgive male characters who are selfish and juvenile as in ‘The Hangover,’ women are not afforded that luxury. They are not supposed to pamper themselves but rather put everyone else in their lives first. In films and in reality, women are always held to a higher standard.

Elizabeth June 7, 2010 at 6:15 PM

Mendelson makes great points. I’m just depressed that in order for women’s fantasy and escapism to get made into a movie like this, it manifests itself as shopping and consumerist excess. Is this the only fantasy we have?

Sally June 7, 2010 at 7:59 PM

I wanted the women in SITC to be MORE playgirls than they were. The director has commented that he wanted the movie to be the escapist excess of the movies during the depression and had to take it out of the country. I loved that there were direct commmentary on how women are subjected abroad, and I thought they weren’t cutting enough. I think Ab Fab would have been more biting and honest. I’m so over the “cultural difference” argument of women being ground into a one-down position to men and I don’t buy that because women dress creatively under their veils, they are free.

A lot of the hatred is knee-jerk. The hating by male reviewers is an obligation to their douche club of “only serious movies are about the male gaze – through male eyes.” But I think the hating by women reviewers – some have been nearly Uncle Tom. Now – I understand criticism – I thought they could have souped up the plot. But women reviewers who get into snarky ageism should have that review live on in caches until they are older. It’s as charming as Miley’s robotic lesbian stage kiss for approval and is cringe worthy. Also the women who use the movie as a measure of “what women should be.” You know, writing that they are a shame to regular mothers and regular working women…. Come on. And these are movie reviewers – you know, about works of fiction. Every woman on the screen should be an “example” according to them – I can ‘t believe that women film reviewers would be that way. It’s fiction.

I think most men who review and even some women have a madonna/whore complex. Women should be the anxiously thin, hard working, humorless (except to laugh at a guy), and a prop to the story of a man. Women have limited lives, where their plots can only be driven by marriage, baby, and certainly, they can’t have friends, except disapproving ones who they dump for the man. Their interest in sex is really solely about pleasing and competing for men (hence dumping the girlfriends) and can’t be about their pleasure. If they earn their own money, they must, in the end, learn that baby and man require them to either quit or feel deep, deep, guilt. Their little minds don’t generate lives that aren’t independently driven – sexually, ambition-wise, or pleasure-wise. They are driven by what man and baby wants from them. Independence is threatening.

By the way, I wondered this weekend if there could ever be a movie about “Get Him to the Greek” about a chubby married woman who must escort a wild woman rock star. First of all, chubby women aren’t main characters on screen (just slugged at the door by Heigel in her new movie), second, wild women who party and rock are the “cautionary tales.”

Film making female June 7, 2010 at 9:25 PM

Hmmmm….Are the attacks solely on the actresses and the characters they portray? On the audience? Or do they equally go after the male director? the male writer? the males who produced, edited, and the mostly male crew? how bout the male dominated studio system that created it? the male photoshop artist that went way to far in the posters? the male creative director at the male owned marketing firm that ordered said poster?
check it out:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1261945/fullcredits#cast
mostly male names there.

I’m not a fan of the franchise, but, I don’t think it’s any worse than most of the big studio films out there (granted I haven’t seen the 2nd one). It can’t be as bad as Transformers or Iron Man (blech) or any fricken film that doesn’t even pass the most basic Bechdel test. People puhlease (snap).

Film making female June 7, 2010 at 11:17 PM

@ Elizabeth-
this film goes for the mainstream. It was not written or directed or produced by women (the lead actress who got one of the 8 producer credits didn’t really do that much as an actual producer).
Most mainstream films aimed at the male audience, that are geared toward a giant box office smash hit return, are as vapid if not worse. No it isn’t shoe buying, ex sex, and cosmo’s but, it’s equally moronic stuff.

We’ll know we are equal when we too are allowed to fail.

peace out fellow feminist film enthusiast. You don’t have to agree with every woman to be a woman or to wish and fight for equality, hence earning the title “feminist”. Yeah, that’s all it takes, a desire for equality in our world. Keep your card and get it lamnated.

d June 7, 2010 at 11:49 PM

“Really? By whom? I definitely think the intended demographic is meant to identify with those characters, and they do.”

It’s the POV. You can identify with a character w/o wanting to be and/or do what the person does. Do guys really want to get tased in the face, get punched out by Mike Tyson, wear tighty whiteys, or lose a tooth? These characters would appear to be made to be either laughed at, or sympathized w/ as you laugh at them (like say Vinny from My Cousin Vinny). But these characters are certainly not like say Indiana Jones, Liam (in Taken), or James Bond, where it does seem closer to fantasy wish-fulfillment and they may want to do the cool things these characters do.

But yeah, many of the guys around me thought they were beyond stupid, and avoided the film; only now are some of them giving it a chance since it came out on dvd.

Sally June 8, 2010 at 12:43 AM

There is some wish fulfillment in SATC – imagine being a writer who can make a living writing and buy wonderful fashion. THAT’s a fantasy. And the backdrop of Carrie’s monologue – what a fantasy that you can make sense of your life and your monologue is the star. This doesn’t happen too often and even fewer times for women – I mean, you have High Fidelity. How many times do we get the message that a guy’s anxiety is endlessly facinating?

And imagine being 50, having a successful business, being such a leader that you get a free trip and you have an active sex life and your life is not defined by kids. Or imagine being the Elle Home mistress of her domain with the nice kids and hub affording a beautiful life and special schooling for the kids – although they have crazy-making qualities, if you’re into that thing, it’s a fantasy. Miranda is the only one who is less than fantasy – although if you wanted to be a lawyer with a kid and three friends, it could be a dream of yours to be able to make bank. Then there is the non-backstabbing friends who aren’t set aside for a man or kids (how often do you see that?). The trip that is just the women – not with husbands or kids – just for their enjoyment – how many women allow themselves that? Even in imagination?

Alex June 8, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Filmmaking female, you have a point. I believe it would have been a much better film if it was made by a female writer and director. And it probably would have made a lot more money. I LOVED the first season of Sex & the City. It was directed by all my favorite indie female directors and closely followed the tone of the original book. It had woman’s point of view, so rare unfortunately.

Dame Theory June 14, 2010 at 4:11 AM

Melissa,

Your blogposts on SATC2 bought me to your blog and I became an instant subscriber. I am glad I did because I found out about Agora, which looks like a fantastic movie that I plan on seeing this weekend.

I agree with what you and many other commenters have said regarding the sexist and hypocritical nature of the criticisms of the movie. I have no problem with discussing the writing, direction, plot, etc. but the focus has mainly been on the women’s ages, clothing, and physical appearance. Comments like that get the immediate facepalm from me.

There also has been much talk of how materialistic, consumerist, and “unrealistic” this movie is. I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I go to the movies to get a break from the mundane and stressful parts of life. If men can have their shoot em up T and A flicks, why aren’t we allowed some escape?

Honestly I think that the fabulous lifestyles of Carrie and Company offend so many people so much is because too often we identify the female experience with suffering. Maybe we are simply not comfortable with seeing powerful, sexy, rich women without a care in the world. We need to examine why that makes us uncomfortable. Would a movie about wealthy men be as offensive. I don’t think so.

Anyway that’s my two cents. I love the work you are doing with this blog!

Amaka

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