thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Outfitting the Consumer Feminist in “Sex and the City 2”

In fashion, feminism, Film on June 22, 2012 at 9:14 am

Phoebe B.

I recently had the desire to hate-watch my way through a parade of Manolo Blahniks, fancy bags, and bad acting—otherwise known as Sex and the City 2 (word to the wise: don’t watch SATC 2! It is terrible. It is almost too bad for hate watching.). The movie takes Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda out of Manhattan and into Abu Dhabi for a girls vacation, where they cause quite a lot of trouble with their American ways.

Amidst the recession and two wars in the Middle East the film proclaims a clear pro-America stance that figures the Middle East as repressive and oppressive. The ladies, on the other hand, are supposedly the picture of liberated white womanhood—defined per SATC 2 by super expensive fashion and sexual liberation. SATC 2 seems to imagine itself as on the progressive edge of feminism. But in fact, it trades in some of the worst stereotypes about both Middle Eastern cultures and Western, white feminists in the name of progressive politics.

The ladies on their way to ride camels

Samantha, the leader of the trip to Abu Dhabi, is certain that her American way is the right way. She refuses to cover her shoulders or legs, behaves inappropriately, and flouts the rules. For example, Samantha and her architect date kiss on the beach after some overly sexual hookah smoking, despite prohibitions against public displays of affection and the clear discomfort they cause a nearby couple. Then she is arrested and quite miffed and surprised that she’s punished for her behavior. Not to fear though, back in America at the end of the film, she and her architect can have sex on a beach (not the drink) without legal interference. Oh freedom, how great you are!

After her arrest but before Samantha demonstrates the beauty of American freedom, she first has a big breakdown in the middle of the Abu Dhabi marketplace. What begins this tussle is that Samantha’s real Berkin bag is mistaken by some marketplace merchants as one of their fakes. They grab the bag, she grabs it back, the bag breaks, and then all the contents fall to the ground. Samantha frantically tries to pick things up, including a healthy amount of condoms, as a group of men gather round pointing. And then it seems she breaks. Samantha begins shoving the condoms in the men’s faces, making thrusting movements and shouting about how she has sex. Here the movie suggests that the supposedly repressive environment in Abu Dhabi has the power to make Samantha, the liberated American woman, go crazy. And crazy she does go. But that Samantha and SATC 2‘s view of liberation is tied only to her desire to wear what she wants when she wants and have sex where and when she wants as well seems, well, a bit reductionist. And this seems particularly problematic as this formulation invokes the Middle East once again as repressive, backwards, and behind and shows no respect for the culture of Abu Dhabi.

Oddly SATC 2 positions Samantha’s outburst as a form of courageous rebellion and as some kind of revolutionary moment. After a few local women guide her and her friends to safety in a flowershop, the women of Abu Dhabi praise Samantha’s outlandish performance. Then the women reveal the outlandish and expensive outfits hidden beneath their veils. Solidarity happens here through high end Western fashion. And that fashion solidarity assures the SATC ladies that feminism is a one size fits all kind of style.

While fashion is and can be a form of powerful rebellion, it seems that high-end couture in SATC 2 is not really the image of liberatory politics. The film suggests that they and we are supposed to see Samantha as a free and in-your-face Western woman who champions sex and fashion. And the film equates this sensibility with what all women must want. Here is the image of freedom. Here is the image of feminism. Here is the image of revolution. Nope. I don’t think so.  In the film’s vision, sexually liberated white women living a consumer fantasy (mid recession) become the emblem of a Middle Eastern feminism. (Aside: this image also reiterates problematic Western and white feminist discourses that presume that a) all women are the same and b) mimics a kind of imperialist sensibility that the West knows best.)

SATC 2’s glitz, glamour, and embracing of the high life not only seems poorly timed in the rough economic waters of 2010, but also indicative of a horribly regressive politics masquerading as progressive and liberatory. That their feminism is equated with consumerism through their super high fashion feels not only increasingly out of touch with a recession-driven reality but also problematic. Seemingly the SATC ladies are fighting for their right to shop on Madison Avenue and have sex in public. The underlying message of SATC 2 seems to be that a one size-fits-all women’s liberation movement, as outfitted in Birkin bags, Jimmy Choos, and American propaganda, can save the women of the world.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of SATC 2 offensiveness and annoyance and general bad-movie-ness, and so I wondered has anyone else seen it? Do you have more or other thoughts?

  1. I couldn’t do it because I loved the series but HATED the first movie and heard the sequel was even worse. I know Katie R. has seen SATC2, and has interesting thoughts on other components of its general wretchedness.

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