I was only a few months old when Sex and the City premiered, and I just watched it for the first time
My quest to understand a cultural touchstone
by Una Dabiero
I wasn't even two when Sex and the City premiered in 1998, but I feel like I was born into the collective consciousness of the show. And I mean, that makes sense. People are still asking BuzzFeed 20 years later if they're a Samantha or a Charlotte. They're writing think pieces about it. They're trying to resurrect the Cosmopolitan, or blaming the show for ruining their lives.
But despite being a constant reference point for virtually every woman I know, I still hadn't watched it. I guess I had it in my mind that I wasn't allowed to watch it? My mom said so when I was little, anyway. But now that I'm 21 and a regular Game of Thrones-watcher, living in New York City by myself and trying to come up with content everyday of my life for babe dot net, I decided I needed to watch Sex and The City.
Everyone in the babe office adamantly agreed
Before I began the first episode, my editor Amanda asked me to pull out my headphones. She had to let me know that in the pilot, characters break the fourth wall in weird to-camera asides, but she PROMISED the show gets way less cringe after that. What I'm trying to say is everyone here is very invested in me watching the whole show. So I can write some SATC slams, I'm sure. But also because I'm a culture junky, and I NEED to understand that woke Charlotte account. This is my coming of age.
I was immediately overcome by how dated it looked
I mean, obviously. It was two decades ago! But Sarah Jessica Parker in a tutu and curls that would make those creepy competitive cheerleaders from Texas who wear bejeweled sports bras INCREDIBLY jealous was still shocking. And the only thing more shocking was the severe overuse of blush by Carrie's makeup artists.
The 90s were a different time, I suppose. That look was in. Now, if someone's covered in makeup, you assume they either A) don't know what Glossier is or B) want to start a YouTube channel. Good luck with that, sweetie.
But as soon as I got over the 90s aesthetic and the general blurriness of the whole thing, I started to love the show
Carrie was just as unbelievable and breathy as everyone promised. Samantha was the woman I wanted to be at 30, you know, if I don't move back to the suburbs by then. I'm not sure I'm her kind of fun. Miranda was a badass, with that title strengthened in my mind by the context that Cynthia Nixon is running for governor. It feels canon to me. And Charlotte? She seemed like a Disney princess, but a new-aged one with a career. Like Ariel or Anna, she was "tough" enough to be appealing to today's woman, but she still wanted the guy.
I felt some kind of weird nostalgia watching the characters — watching Carrie type and Samantha flirt and Miranda blow a guy off. Because even though I had never watched the show, I was participating in some American tradition that like, a fuck ton of women before me had participated in. Somehow, I felt I had a new group of female friends to share navigating this world with.
But naturally, I had some serious cultural questions while watching the episode
First, I want to know HOW and WHY dying your hair raspberry red was legal? I felt like I kept seeing Reba in the corner of my eye. And that was… traumatizing, if we're being honest. I also want to understand how and why people in their 30s were clubbing on this show? Especially at a place called Chaos? I understand New York was different back then, and picking a guy up at the club in your leopard dress was the cool thing to do. But nowadays, not even my Instagram famous 21-year-old friends hit up clubs. Up & Down just isn't worth it — clubs are reserved for college kids with their fake IDs, or girls who have a few sugar daddies and are just "figuring things out."
And how does every character know so much about art? Is this some skill I will acquire when I reach my 30s? Or is it a superpower I acquire when I finally swallow my pride and subscribe to the New Yorker rather than stealing it from my roommate? Will I walk into people's homes and ask them to see their newest painting, like Samantha does to Duncan at the end of the episode? Or by 2028, will I ask to see their new robot? Honestly, who knows.
Of course, the sex in the show raised one of the biggest questions for me: Is there sex after age 35?
I will apologize for sounding like an out-of-touch, shitty 20 year old for saying this before I say it: I guess I didn't understand that people in their 30s and 40s and 50s have casual sex. I've grown up in towns where the hallmark "romantic" event of the year is the PTA gala and a hot date is at The Melting Pot — for both for high schoolers and their parents. It's nice for me to read that your vagina doesn't fall off once you turn 35. That's not something I ever really believed. But I like to see evidence that that conception is wrong.
We don't have to get married at 28 or 38 or ever, really. And I've never REALLY had popular culture tell me that before. Even in 2018.
I can't help but think about how much things have changed in the last 20 years
And it's interesting to see that change as an outsider, rather than someone who participated in it. Well, I'm a half-participant. I will say I helped the proliferation of Silly Bandz, Justin Bieber, and YouTubers. I'm so sorry. In the pilot, Samantha refers to Mr. Big as "the future Donald Trump" and it's not even a drag. Skipper calls himself "too nice" unironically and Carrie doesn't roll her eyes and tweet about the experience. And computers have gotten a lot, lot smaller.
But one thing that has definitely stayed the same? The fundamental questions we're asking about sex
Let's be honest, when this show first aired, the whole "wow we're white women having casual sex, cumming, and trying to figure out what men think about it!" thing was really new. And that's amazing! I like to know where I come from. But now, we hardly bat an eye at public discussions of vaginas and orgasms. And thanks to the work of non-binary activists, trans activists, and activists of color, we're realizing how important it is to talk about the nuances of sexual experiences for people of all genders, sexualities, races, and abilities. In that way, our discussions of sex are much more developed and inclusive than those in Sex and The City, even if they still have a long way to go.
But still, we seem to be asking similar questions to those Carrie asked 20 years ago. Who really has power in casual sex? Who really has power in formalized sexual relationships? What does it mean to have ownership of your body and your sexuality? Those are questions I'll probably still be asking when I am in my 30s, whether or not I have a sex column.
But I guess it's nice to know there's not a deadline where women have to have everything figured out — even if there's definitely a deadline on your trendy hairstyle and clothes and makeup. Carrie, sweetie. I'm glad you were an style icon 20 years ago, because the teens would laugh at you today. And trust me, they're scary.