A Dark Side Of Sexual Equality

Skirting Convention

After entertaining us for six years with adventures in sex, friendship and shoe shopping, the critically acclaimed show, “Sex and the City,” will be broadcasting its final four episodes this February. Like many college-aged women, I am sad to see it go. I’ll miss their chic fashion, their nightly escapades in the New York social scene, and their unremitting sexual interactions with a seemingly endless supply of good-looking men. Creating a show that stars attractive, successful and sexually enthusiastic single women is a revolutionary step forward in television broadcasting. And it’s an important advancement for women in general. The show’s four single Manhattanites demonstrate that a woman’s sexual ambitions are far more complex than a simple vision of “happily ever after.” But while the show is progressive in relaying the intricacies of female sexuality, it does little towards advancing the sexual well being of women. “Sex and the City” is certainly sexually liberating, but it is a far cry from sexually empowering.

The show challenges the outdated double standard that has allowed men to be promiscuous but has expected young women to remain sexually passive and prudish. But to achieve this, the female characters employ the same commitment-shy, sexually impersonal behavior that men have been traditionally criticized for displaying. Due to their aversion to intimacy, they tend to consider the men in their lives as disposable as their latest fashion trends. Samantha’s brazen avocation of the “zipless screw” and Carrie’s insensitive decision to put a passionate fling above a serious relationship, both promote a sex life that is unattached, uncaring and unhealthy. While their uninhibited promiscuity does help to mitigate sexual inequality, it is ironically regressive. When the characters treat their sex partners as dispensable, they are stooping to the same lowly player behavior that women have condemned in males for so long.

This is troubling given the numerous media polls that point to the substantial influence the show has on younger females. According to the reports, women are making personal and political decisions based on what they see on the show. Given how popular “Sex and the City” is among college women, the show’s nonchalant outlook on sex could have a negative effect on how its younger viewers perceive their own sex lives. The characters are attractive role models as self-reliant women who are confident in asserting their sexuality and are not dependent on a relationship to keep them happy. But some young women are mistaking their nonchalant attitude towards sex as a reflection of this empowerment and have sacrificed intimacy in an effort to gain sexual equality.

A recent New York Times article pointed to the rising popularity of swinging—or what the promoters like to call “erotic networking”—among a markedly younger crowd in Manhattan. The movement, driven largely by younger women, promotes parties where sex is treated like a sport and girls as young as 18 and 19 take on multiple partners in one night. The women involved claim to feel sexually “empowered” through the activity. A recent college graduate who was interviewed for the article had no qualms about her own behavior. She is quoted in the Times as candidly explaining, “I think sex is cool and people should have a lot of it.” She’s not exaggerating—in her 22 years of existence she has already had sex with over 100 different partners.

“Sex in the City’s” celebration of the single, independent young woman has helped to break down old taboos and stimulate discussion about important aspects of female sexuality. It encourages women to be enthusiastic about their sex lives and enjoy the act on their own terms. In this way, the stars of the show are sexually empowered. But as the characters free themselves of old sexual restrictions, they are creating new ones in the process. What has been deemed the “post-feminism” displayed in “Sex and the City” undermines the value of sexual intimacy and leaves many women with busy—but essentially emotionless—sex lives.

While there shouldn’t be a gender double standard when it comes to proper sexual behavior, this does not mean that women should undermine the sanctity of sex in order to gain equality. There’s a healthy middle ground that the show has failed to promote. Our generation needs to remember that treating a guy like an incidental accessory is not empowering, and being independent does not mean avoiding commitment. While I admit I will still be glued to the television screen when the final episode is aired, I can assure you that I will not be taking notes.

Lia C. Larson ’05 is an economics concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears regularly.