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How 'Sex And The City' Shaped A Generation

Culture

The first time I saw Sarah Jessica Parker sauntering across a New York City sidewalk in a tulle ballerina skirt, I was starstruck. It was something about the bounce in her step, the quirkiness of her outfit, and her fierce challenge of convention that spoke to me- and actually influenced my future choices. After inhaling season after season on an epic weekend binge, I knew two things:


1. I had to move to New York and 2. I wanted to be a writer. The show also chipped away at the dating process that had been instilled in me- meet a man, go steady, get married, procreate. I suddenly felt that it was OK, and even enviable, to find yourself single in your thirties. In many ways, Sex and The City took the pressure off, and reminded me to worry about me.

In the years after SATC, the themes covered in the show are now commonplace. Women are getting married later than ever (on average at age 27), earning more than ever (despite there still being a gender gap, which is a different story), and the female movement is raging intensely. For those young Gen Xs/mature millennials (pick your poison) like me, the impact made by our favorite show was a deep one. Thanks to an imperfect set of protagonists, provocative fashions, and relatable story lines inspired by the actual lives of female writers, women my age have been free to seek satisfaction through self development, careers and friendships, rather than a relationship.

SJP filming the intro for SATC

SATC gave women a chance to openly express what they were going through and what they were thinking," says the show's illustrious fashion designer, Patricia Field, who famously paid only $5 for that opening credits tulle skirt. “It was liberating to achieve this. It was a show that put women on the center stage."

Field, the recipient of an Emmy (and no less than five additional nominations for multiple SATC episodes) and a number of Costume Designers Guild Awards for her work on the series, told SWAAY she did her best to use the distinctive personalities of the four main characters to imbue the series with a focus on the self.

“I wanted to communicate the idea that women can discover their own originality in the way they dress themselves," says Field. “Women identified with the four individual characters, and tended to pick up iconic cues from their styles. I continued to present edited ideas, always focusing on the character identity."

The show's focus on individualism was perhaps best illustrated through the protagonists themselves, each living a life so directional and differentiated that one could discern personality traits even from an outfit choice or apartment decor. When asked to describe the look of each main character in one word, Field laughs: “Not sure I can really stick to just one word, [but here goes:] Carrie - eclectic and original; Samantha - sexy and outspoken; Charlotte - the girl men take home to mother (7 words, haha); and Miranda - assertive." Bottom line, there was always a style, and a character, to relate to.

“As costume designer I like to look forward to look ahead. I think the SATC girls illustrated [what was happening in New York City fashion] in the most perfect way." -Patricia Field

Fashion aside, the show's main characters were also intrinsically vulnerable. The character arcs were such that through the course of an episode we would see one of them on the highest of highs (say, a chance meeting with a handsome stranger, only to fall back to earth by the end of it (when you realize he's a compulsive book thief). Through the humor we learned to laugh at the absurdities of life and through Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte's imperfections, we learned to embrace our own.

Carrie, who asks a total of 92 questions throughout the series, is perhaps the one who draws us in the most. Covering everything from religion to social status to motherhood, these open-ended thought-starters echoed our own experiences and helped us prepare for what was to come.

"The monologues invite you in," says internet personality, Dan Clay, AKA Carrie Dragshaw, highlighting that the many questions of the series further make the show take hold. "They anchor in Carrie's specific experience, but quickly shift to the language of 'we' and 'some girls.' They ask a lot of questions that force the audience to shake their heads. They rarely make statements, but end with 'maybes...' and force you to agree to complete the thought; they demand involvement. It requires your perspective. And your perspective might change through the years, so the episodes, in a way, do too."

Clay, who by day works in strategy and innovation consulting for financial firms, says he stumbled upon his Carrie Bradshaw moonlighting side gig after dressing as her for Halloween one year. "I posted a picture of my costume on Instagram, with no aspirations of Insta-fame, just expecting to make a few friends smile," says Clay, who has built a cult following of more than 70K through his head-turning side-by-side Carrie photos. "Somehow, someway, the picture went 'viral,' was reposted by a few Sex and the City fan sites, and a lot of people said really really nice things (including SJP!) [The account] seemed like a delightful way for me to push a little positivity into the world."

Clay as Bradshaw

“They are these four complicated characters grounded in simple archetypes: The cynical careerist, the unfiltered libertine, the in-love-with-love prude, and the fabulous romantic. You can reduce it all to, "Are you a Carrie / Charlotte / Miranda / Samantha?" That simplicity is huge to draw you in."

-Dan Clay

Even 13 years after the show went of the air, Carrie and her posse are still capturing the imaginations of Gen Xers and Millennials alike. Instagram accounts like @everyoutfitonSATC and @sexandthecity_newyork entertain millions of women with modern day musings on the show's iconic fashion statements and little known factoids, while others like Clay focus on recreation. To nail each photo, Clay enlists a trusted group of friends who help him style and shoot his uncanny images, as a homage to the emotional impact he says was given to him by the series.

“I was in the closet during the original airing of Sex and the City," Clay tells SWAAY. "Because the show is so glittery and fashion-based and classically feminine, I never really allowed myself to like it. So when I did come around to it, simply the act of enjoying Sex and the City felt like a minor expression of self-love. It also reminded me to focus as much on my friends as I do on my love life."

For Clay, who admits he watches episodes ''the way an MFA student analyzes Eugene O'Neill,' one of the biggest draws towards the Carrie Bradshaw persona is the fact that in many ways she is an anti-hero, and her mistakes make us say 'Same.' Among Clay's most cringe-worthy Carrie blunders is the moment Carrie interrupts Natasha's lunch to apologize for her affair with Big. "She is so so self-centered in this interaction, she even steals Natasha's water," says Clay. "It's uncomfortable, but it's what makes Carrie not just relatable but interesting."

“Sure, she has some great things to say about friendship, and self-love, and embracing imperfection, and moving on, but she has a lot of very human flaws: the neediness, the self-centeredness," says Clay. “She's not always a great friend, she's certainly not always a great girlfriend, and in a sometimes uncomfortable way that causes you to question your connection to her. That, to me, is what makes her a fascinating character. She's wrestling with love's biggest questions, and not always responding in an admirable way. Human flaws in fabulous shoes."

Dan Clay as Carrie Dragshaw

So on a larger scale, how far does Carrie's reach actually go? According to Antonia Hall, MA., psychologist, relationship expert and author of the Sexy Little Guide books and The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life, Carrie, like That Girl's Marlo Thomas, Murphy Brown's Candice Bergen (also a Sex and The City star) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show's eponymous main character, effectively pushes boundaries via an honest relationship with the viewer. Although none of these game-changing protagonists were perfect, they served as personifications of safe space, and we sympathized enough to come back to them by the end of each episode.

“One show can definitely have an impact on a generation," says Hall, naming The Mary Tyler Moore Show as revolutionary when it came out in 1970, as it showcased a woman in the workplace, and addressed issues like abortion and birth control pills.

"More women entering the workplace saw Mary as a role model, envying her cozy apartment and vibrant friendships," wrote Hope Reese in The Atlantic. "The show moved away from the domestic sphere, featuring a woman in an office."

Thanks to Mary, womankind would never be the same. And thanks to Carrie, the torch was passed on.

“My favorite moments in Sex and the City are when the characters express their independence, and demonstrate that you can be perfectly happy and fulfilled even when you're single. (When Samantha says, 'I love you. But I love me more.')"

-Dan Clay

A compelling protagonist is not the only thing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Sex And The City have in common. Perhaps the most notable commonality is the fact that there were actual women behind the scenes crafting episodes based on their personal experiences. For MTM's part, 25 of the show's 75 writers were women (a progressive ratio at the time), while at Sex And The City, a rotating team of writers (comprised heavily of women) interpreted Candice Bushnell's best-selling tome via the lens of their own lives.

"There were so many subjects explored that really hit home, many of them still so relevant," says Jasmine Lobe, the writer who "inherited" Carrie's column AKA Bushnell's sex column at The Observer which she called “The J-Spot." "The column and the show certainly impacted my life in a very big way. It was quite intimidating at first, so I really had to make it my own."

Lobe, who worked as an actor before stepping into Carrie's proverbial Manolos, says that although she was was hesitant to talk about sex and dating on the record, she eventually found the process cathartic, and empowering. "[The show] paved the way for writers like me to explore sex, relationships and social satire without it being taboo," says Lobe. "I was able to take more chances because of it. And while it is never easy to write about one's own sex life publicly, it was more of a personal challenge for me than societal. My readers are receptive and often very supportive so that made it easier to really put myself out there, and in part, that's because of Candace Bushnell and also Lena Dunham."

Covering topics that range from matchmaking to egg donation to dating while feminist, Lobe is dedicated to using her voice to bring important issues to light, and facilitate conversation among women. And, while there may be some conflicting views on whether bedding 94 men in a 94-episode series is egregious or empowering, for Lobe, an avid crusader for women's rights, open dialogue about sex frees women, and ultimately uplifts them.

"I think overall [the show] helped the women's movement because when women come together, that's a powerful thing," she says. "That's how great change is made. Look at what's happening right now with the sexual harassment stories. It's women banding together, and speaking their truth that's creating such waves. These harassment stories have shown how very toxic patriarchy can be. Although it's a painful moment in history, I think ultimately, we will all be so much healthier for it, as men and women come together in more loving and empowered ways."


"Each of the women was trying to find fulfillment in life and the bedroom in their own ways, which is very relatable." -Antonia Hall

Would the Women's Movement have charged on without Ms. Bradshaw? Maybe. But, we cannot deny that Carrie and her three soul mates helped push once unacceptable conversation topics out of the shadows and into the forefront. Thanks to episodes that explored modern life from the lens of a woman's satisfaction with it, the world saw that women more than passive images of sexuality. Instead, we seek lives that fulfill us on a deep level, and we embrace the ability to condemn or walk way from anything that displeases us.

When I look back on my college-age decision to follow in the footsteps of the fashionable columnist, I can't help but wonder: "Is there a little Carrie in all of us?"

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.