Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
性高潮與賦權：Sex and the City 與第三波女性主義 [摘錄]
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In June 1998, Time magazine posed this question: ‘Is Feminism Dead?’ …While Time’s dismissive attitude towards feminism and the women’s movement is hardly new – as Erica Jong has pointed out, TIme has claimed the death of feminism at least 119 times since 1969 (Baumgardner and Richards 2000: 93) – this 1998 story intends to assure its readers of feminism’s demise precisely at the moment in which feminism was being re-energised in a way not seen since the 1970s.
Barely mentioned in the Time article is the fact that, beginning in the early 1990s, a new feminist movement had begun to surface in the United States. Calling themselves feminism’s ‘third wave’, this generation of women writers and activists has claimed feminism as its ‘birthright’, a constant presence in women’s lives (Denfeld 1995: 2). Unlike the feminists who came before them, third wavers have never lived in a world without the women’s movement. But rather than dismissing feminism as unnecessary or outdated, like many of their peers, this group of women has begun to redefine feminism from its own generational perspective. Using the term ‘third wave’ as a way to distinguish themselves – both generationally and ideologically – from second wave feminists, they have fre- quently argued that women in their twenties and thirties have a profoundly different relationship to both feminism and sexuality than did their ‘foremothers’.
A few weeks prior to this infamous Time cover, HBO began airing Sex and the City on 6 June 1998. Central to the show’s appeal among female viewers (and critics) has been its frank discussion of female sexuality and its refreshing representation of the lives of contemporary women. Although none of the creators, writers or directors associated with the programme has directly referred to it as ‘third wave’, or even as ‘feminist’ for that matter, from its inception the show has addressed many of the key issues and themes discussed by third wave writers. In many ways, Sex and the City has functioned as a forum about women’s sexuality as it has been shaped by the feminist movement of the last 30 years.
As Bonnie Dow argues in Prime-Time Feminism, sitcoms are ‘the type of programming in which women are most often and most centrally represented and from which TV’s most resonant feminist representations have emerged’ (1996: xxiii).
Unlike the traditional single-feminist-character sitcom, then, Sex and the City provides four different perspectives on contemporary women’s lives, but unlike in Designing Women, these perspectives are all decidedly feminist, or at least influenced by the feminist movement.
Sex and the City also redefines the traditional sitcom family. Families have always been at the centre of the sitcom: from biolog- ical families (as on The Cosby Show), to work families (as on The Mary Tyler Moore Show), to families of friends (as on, well, Friends). While the ‘family of friends’ concept is hardly a new one for TV, Sex and the City is relatively unique in its focus on women’s friendships. As Dow (1996) argues, it is rare to see representations of female sol- idarity and community on TV; rarer still to see women collectively address social and political concerns.
(In fact, the biological families of each woman are rarely mentioned, let alone seen. At Charlotte’s wedding, for example, her family of origin are not represented at all.) More than that, many of the episodes suggest that platonic female friendships are more important than sexual and romantic love and that women can be each other’s life partners in a way that men cannot.
it never shows them fighting over a man or being competitive with each other, as is routine in most depictions of female friendships on TV.
s Dow argues, ‘television’s repre- sentations of feminism are almost exclusively filtered through white, middle-class, heterosexual, female characters’, creating ‘a racially, sexually, and economically privileged version of feminism, that, for the American public, has come to represent feminism in toto’ (1996:xxiii). In this regard, Sex and the City is no exception. While the programme offers an important alternative to mainstream media images of female sexuality and sexual pleasure, its vision of female empowerment is severely limited by the fact that all four of its pro- tagonists are white, heterosexual, thin, conventionally attractive and, importantly, economically well off. The solipsism of the main characters – the hours spent examining their sex lives – is a privilege of their race and class positions.
This neglect of race and class mirrors a similar lack of attention in contemporary third wave writing.
With this focus on individualism, feminism becomes reduced to one issue: choice.
As Elspeth Probyn and other feminist critics have noted, when feminism has appeared on TV at all, it is usually reduced to this ideology of choice – a ‘choice freed of the necessity of thinking about the political and social ramifications of the act of choosing’ (1990: 156). Throughout Sex and the City’s six seasons, individual life choices have been a staple plot device – from choices regarding sexual partners to sexual acts, marriage, motherhood and careers.
Miranda, Carrie and Samantha do not blindly validate Charlotte’s choice just because ‘she chooses it’. In fact, in both their reactions to Charlotte and their own choices – pursuing careers that give their life meaning – the episode seems implicitly to critique Charlotte’s ‘easy’ choice-based definition of feminism.
As a review of third wave writing makes clear, ‘Sexuality, in all its guises, has become a kind of lightning rod for this generation’s hopes and discontents (and democratic vision) in the same way that civil rights and Vietnam galvanised [a previous] generation in the 1960s’ (Maglin and Perry 1996: xvi).
Rejecting the so-called ‘victim feminism’ of Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, with its focus on the danger of rape and women’s lack of agency and power, third wave feminists have instead celebrated those aspects of second wave thought that focus on a woman’s right to pleasure.
In recent third wave anthologies, we see a focus on women’s pleasure with a healthy disregard for the accusation of selfishness that might have been made in previous decades (Johnson 2002; Damsky 2000). This focus on pleasure – without much attention, if any, to the dangers of sex – is also the principle ethic of Sex and the City. In episode after episode, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte are not punished for being sexually active; they are not treated as ‘fallen women’ who must ultimately encounter some horrible fate. Rather, their sexual ‘selfishness’, if you will, is rewarded and praised, which is highly unusual in either film or TV representations of women’s sexuality.
While the culture at large hardly celebrates women’s right to pleasure – indeed, the charge of selfishness is as common as in the past – many third wave feminists see their sexual freedom as a fundamental right, much like the right to vote. As Paula Kamen chronicles in her study of this generation’s sexual attitudes, young women today ‘feel more comfortable than did earlier generations in aggressively and unapologetically pursuing their own interests in sexual relationships’ (Kamen 2002: 3).
Samantha: I lost my orgasm.
Carrie: In the cab?
Charlotte: What do you mean, lost?
Samantha: I mean, I just spent the last two hours fucking with no
Carrie: It happens. Sometimes you just can’t get there. Samantha: I can always gets there.
Charlotte: Every time you have sex?
Carrie: She’s exaggerating. Please say you’re exaggerating. Samantha: Well, I’ll admit I have had to polish myself off once or
twice, but yes, when I R.S.Y.P. to a party, I make it my business
Charlotte: Sex can still be great without an orgasm. Samantha: That’s a crock of shit.
Carrie: She has a point.
In its insistence on female orgasm as fundamental right and essential part of sex, Sex and the City challenges dominant media images of heterosexuality, such as pornographic ones, in which female orgasm is secondary to male pleasure.
a feminist reclaiming of heterosexuality.
Lynne Segal (1994: 259-60) writes,
All feminists could, and strategically should, participate in attempt- ing to subvert the meaning of ‘heterosexuality’ rather than simply trying to abolish or silence its practice … The challenge all femi- nists face, on top of the need to keep chipping away at men’s continuing social power … is to acknowledge that there are many ‘heterosexualities’.
In one notable scene, during sex Maria ejaculates on Samantha’s face (‘What’s Sex Got to Do With It?’). Given that female ejaculation is relatively unheard of outside lesbian magazines and feminist sex guides -let alone visually depicted in popular culture – the inclusion of this female ‘money shot’ is yet another example of how Sex and the City is broadening cultural representations of female sexuality.
Sex and the City is a clear example of Damsky’s argument of the effects of queer culture on straight sex, an aspect of the programme that some critics have viewed in a decidedly negative fashion.