Moms Take on 'Sex and the City'
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mothers support group each week for their common sense and savvy parenting tips. This week the moms talk about "Sex and the City." The film made over $50 million in its opening weekend, a record for a movie with a female lead.
Admit it, many of you called in important babysitter chits so you could catch the return of New York's fab four. The Mochas were there, too, and they join us now to talk about the film, particularly with messages they think the film sends about the lives of women and mothers today. With us are our regular mocha moms Jolene Ivey, Cheli English-Figaro, and Asra Nomani. I'd like to welcome back Leslie Morgan Steiner. She writes a parenting blog for the washingtonpost.com. Hi, ladies, moms.
EVERYONE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: Now, first I have to ask if each of you would have seen the film, if you had not known we were going to talk about it today. Because I know some people say this has nothing to do with me, other people had bought their tickets, you know a week before, and were entering contests to make sure they could be first in line, so I just was curious. Is this something you were in to, eager to see? Leslie?
Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER (Journalist, Washington Post): Absolutely, it is the event of the summer for me.
MARTIN: Cheli, what about you?
Ms. CHELI ENGLISH-FIGARO (Mocha Mom): Absolutely.
Ms. ASRA NOMANI (Mocha Mom): I had "Kung Fu Panda" and "Speed Racer" on my list. This was going to be a no-go for me.
MARTIN: Really? OK, got to hear about that. Jolene?
Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Mocha Mom): Absolutely, couldn't wait to see it and had a ball.
MARTIN: Really? See Asra and I are on the same page, because the only reason I went is because I needed to know what we were talking about. OK, so then since the people who are lined up ready to go, what is it about this film, this story that speaks to you, Leslie?
Ms. STEINER: You know for me, what I love about "Sex and the City," the show and the movie is that it makes women feel good about being imperfect. It makes me feel good about being imperfect. You know, some people say that the women on the show are cartoons, but to me, they're dealing with real issues - infertility, the longing to have children, infidelity, how you pick yourself up after you've failed at love again and again. And I really love to see the stories of my life and my friend's lives reflected on the television and on the movie screen.
MARTIN: Do you pay $500 for some shoes?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: No, although that's one of the great things about it too, is that it's my life, but in New York where I don't live, with unlimited wardrobe and makeup and hair assistance. So it's sort of like my life in my fantasies.
MARTIN: OK. Jolene, why were you hot to trot about "Sex and the City?"
Ms. IVEY: I loved such a great story about friendship. And I think it's so great to see a story of women who have a deep love for each other and don't compete with each other, but support each other.
MARTIN: OK. Cheli, I'm going to skip you for just a minute. Asra, what was it about you that why wasn't this on your dance card until we gave you the assignment?
Ms. NOMANI: Well, a decade ago, I could have had a cameo in "Sex and the City." I mean, I was living in New York City looking for love in all the wrong places and it's been a long, long journey and I feel like it is for everyone of us, but to me, the "Sex and the City" storyline is one that is pretty base.
MARTIN: In what way?
Ms. NOMANI: Well, you know I think that some of the plot line in the movie itself is about trying to, you know, know your higher self and yet this indulgence in commercialism and in designer labels is an obsession that everything that I think is wrong with society today.
MARTIN: Can I tell you that one of the reasons that this would not have been a priority for me, were it not for the fact that we were going to talk about it, is the series always bothered me, the racial politics, the class politics, the gender politics always bothered me.
I get that it's entertainment. It's supposed to be you know, eye candy. It's an escape. But the fact that these women all live in New York City which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, very few people of color seem to be in their lives and the characters who were of color disturbed me in some way, they were to me cartoonish or stereotypical in ways I didn't like. Their behavior was disturbing to me, like the Blair Underwood character played a love interest of Miranda, one of the leads. And first he was perfect, he was Sidney Poitier and then of course, when they broke up he became his hideous Snoop Dog character, like basically a ho. And I just thought, OK what happened here, so I don't - and in fact there was - Jennifer Hudson played a character and she plays Carrie's assistant. Let's me play a short clip.
(Soundbite of movie "Sex and the City")
Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON: (As Louise) He wants me to meet him for drinks?
Ms. SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) At eleven thirty? Oh that's a booty call.
Ms. HUDSON: (As Louise) No it's not, he's a waiter. He just got off work.
Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) Louise, now I may not get texts, I may not send texts, but trust me the subtext of that text bootay!
Ms. HUDSON: (As Louise) But if he meets me then it's not a booty call, right?
Ms. PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) All right then. Enjoy yourself. That's what your twenties are for. Your thirties are to learn the lessons. Your forties are to pay for the drinks.
Ms. HUDSON: (As Louise) Well, in that case, I'll take another one.
MARTIN: Cheli, I wanted to ask you this because we've talked about the role that media plays in shaping the way young women think about themselves and who they are in this world and you've expressed a lot of concern about that. Now obviously you wouldn't be taking your daughter to see this I hope, like some people I saw in the theater, but talk to me about that. What do you think?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I've got to be honest, I mean I'm probably one of the only people in America who didn't watch the series. I lived in New York, I grew up in New York, I practice law in New York, so - and that was in the eighties, you know, so it didn't really speak to me. I'd sort of been there done that, didn't really need that. What struck me is that those women looked so good to be in their forties and I was thinking, oh man if that's what it looks like I better get on the stick, and then I realized you know what, I got to get beyond this because I am just not going to be a size two ever in life, OK. So I think the comparison is just unbelievable. It made me feel worse. I had to have all of my forty plus wisdom around me not to walk out of there and say, oh my gosh I need new clothes, I need new things for my new house, you know, and not feel bad about myself. I needed all of that wisdom, so you know what, it's just fake.
MARTIN: What do you think it says about motherhood? Leslie?
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: You know, I think one of the most interesting things about the movie is that in some ways, and the show too, the main characters each represent to me, a piece of the puzzle of modern American motherhood. So Charlotte is like the traditional wife and mother. Miranda is to me the sensible working mom struggling with balancing everything. Samantha is sexual and financial empowerment, and then Carrie, she's the one who - she's the heart of the show and she brings all of those diverse selves together and she's got a lot of each of them in her.
So to me, and I think that it's important to say that I am white and that this is white modern American motherhood. And I think that the show has really lost a lot of opportunities to present diversity, true diversity, and how that enriches modern American motherhood, but it's a mistake that I think some white producers and writers in the media make, that they assume that kind of the struggles of white women speak for the struggles of all women and the show, especially with the Jennifer Hudson character could have brought a lot more to it, to the relationship between Louise, her black assistant and Carrie, and they missed a big opportunity there, not just in terms of motherhood, but in terms of what life is really like being a modern American woman.
MARTIN: Cheli, what about you?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: One thing that actually bothered me was the fact that Miranda said that basically stay at home moms have nothing to do, but think of stupid things that other moms need to do. And that bothered me because that just played into the whole mommy wars thing which I thought we're trying to get past, and, you know, I don't know about anyone else, but I can tell you something else, I never ever as a stay at home mom want to sew or wear or think about Halloween costumes. That's just not my thing.
Ms. IVEY: But I perceive that differently though because the way I heard that, what she was talking about, she was talking about the women who get to go lunch all the time and get to go to charity balls. Not the women like us who are home with our kids and trying to like get them to learn how to color and go out into the world, into a park.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: She did not make that distinction, but she was complaining about was the fact that she had to wear, had to find a Halloween costume for herself to wear at a party and that was the idea some stupid non-working mom, and I have to tell you every mother works…
MARTIN: She was having a bad day. I don't know, Leslie, go ahead, you've written a whole book about that.
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: I know, I mean, you know, I wrote the whole book "Mommy Wars," about this kind of stuff and what my guess is that Miranda's character probably doesn't know a whole lot of stay at home moms. She's too busy because she's an exhausted working mom and she's just trying to blow off a little bit of steam, but I agree that those offhand comments by working moms can get stay at homes really feeling bad, and vice versa. The stay at home moms, they have their own version of sort of their offhand insults about working motherhood and it doesn't serve anybody well.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News and I'm speaking with the Mocha Moms about "Sex and the City." What are you saying, Asra, as the single mom here?
Ms. NOMANI: Well, I think that while this movie was playing out there was this news clip on YouTube. It was rape.ho. It was put on blogs as a reflection of the youth in African-American society. A news clip from a school dance in which there were young African-American teens having sex, sort of…
MARTIN: They weren't having sex, Asra, they were…
Ms. NOMANI: With their clothes on.
MARTIN: It was a dance, right? And there were some suggestive dance movies that were videotaped at a school dance in Memphis.
Ms. NOMANI: Right. So the bottom line is it's been racing across the internet as horrible and base and look how raunchy these kids are.
MARTIN: Well, how do you connect that to "Sex and the City?"
Ms. NOMANI: Well, what I see is that like "Sex and the City" is basically a white elite version of that kind of moment, honestly.
MARTIN: You think it opens the door to make this kind of overt sexuality cool? Is that your thought?
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. I do. I mean look at the scenes in "Sex and the City" where you see these supposedly beautiful 40, 50 something's engaging in hot sex, very base, and it's supposed to be really great and valued conversations with, you know, five-year-old adopted girls.
MARTIN: Well, just to clarify that one of the characters has a daughter who's three who is present for some of these conversations and they're trying to figure out how to have their girl talk while she's still there.
Ms. NOMANI: So what I see is that both of these images are basically our struggle as a society with issues of how we're going to deal with sexuality. The YouTube clip shows animalistic depiction, right, of sexuality. There's moments in "Sex and the City" where it's that base also and, you know, to me it's like we can laugh and we can sort of enjoy this Hollywood depiction of base sexuality or kind of condemn these kids for what they're doing in the school.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you about this though Asra, because some people would argue that part of what women struggle with is a double standard that when women are in touch with their sexuality ,they're condemned for it in a way that men are not and I think what some people liked about "Sex and the City" is that it allowed these women to own their sexuality, and isn't that different for adult women then what we want our kids to do? I mean isn't the issue here whether parents are giving their kids appropriate boundaries as opposed to what adults do?
Ms. NOMANI: I think it's trickle down though. For us to look at these kids in this Memphis high school as a depiction of, you know, a problem that we've got as a society, but not honestly examine how "Sex and the City" contributes to it.
MARTIN: That's an interesting point. Anybody else want to participate? Jolene, you about to jump out of your chair? Cheli? I think Asra is making an interesting point though because this is one of the things that some people didn't like about this. They said that sex without love makes it very kind of carefree in a way that in the real world there are far more consequences, so I don't know, what do you think, Cheli?
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Well, I mean a couple of things. First of all, with "Sex and the City" they were having sex in the privacy of their home and, you know, most of these, and I didn't see the series, so I'm not really sure about this Samantha character, but at least in the movie she was in the committed relationship. With the children in Memphis, I think Asra is right in the sense that there's a trickle down. I think when I was in high school I would not have known how to dance like that because I would have never see anything like the MTV videos. I would not have known that so I think the trickledown effect is true, but in terms of the sexuality I think girls are doing this in part because of low self esteem and they obviously feel that this is the only thing that makes them important.
MARTIN: But there's always been girls with low self esteem, just like there's always been boys with low self esteem. I think her point, and I'd love to hear other points of view on this, her point is, is this kind of overt, you know, women put your stuff out there, act like a man basically sexuality piece is being glorified for some people in the media whereas when other people. When as she puts it, trickle down, it has consequences that we should be - it's an interesting. I don't know. It's interesting. Leslie?
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Yeah. This is Leslie here. I don't see any connection at all between "Sex and the City" and the Memphis dirty dancing, and I saw the YouTube clip and it is legitimately seriously offensive, but you know, we were all teenagers once, and I don't know about you all, but I did some really, really dumb things when I was a teenager and I just think the Memphis case, what's called for here is for an adult to the community to point out to the children, and they are children, that this is totally inappropriate.
In "Sex and the City" I see it different. There's - Samantha is the only character is who just crazily into her libido, and that's her. And she is like a man and she takes care of herself financially and other ways and she's a great friend and I don't see anything wrong with that. And the other characters, I think they had much more nuanced relationships and their grappling with kind of more real issues, and I would never take my daughters to see this "Sex and the City" and I would be horrified if I saw them dirty dancing like that, and I think that just shows, you know, that judgment is a big part of it. That adult judgment is a big part of raising kids and telling them what's right and what's wrong.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: And I do want to add just one thing about the YouTube. It really doesn't depict black society.
Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. You know, my struggle, you know, came at a time when I then discovered that I was pregnant, right. Well, I was trying to find love and found out that I was pregnant, and to me, rape.ho and "Sex and the City" are parallel universes in this struggle for understanding what's important in our lives. I mean those children in teen years are consumed with sexuality as affirmation. Some of these adult women in "Sex and the City" are doing the same.
MARTIN: Wanted to ask you a sort of final question though, and, you know, I'm appreciating everybody's perspective on this which is why we have a diverse panel so we can get the different perspectives and I find myself thinking about it again in a way that I hadn't because of all your conversations, but I wanted to ask you that one of the points though is that films these days very much are about the teenage boy blowing things up, car chases. Does this film create space for more, because in part it's been so successful, create space for more films about adult people about adult issues or do you think this is basically just the grownup girl version of like a car chase? So I don't know. I'm just curious. What do you think, Jolene?
Ms. IVEY: I hope we'll have more movies like this, and when I say like this I mean about friendship, about valuing what's important in your life from a grownup perspective as you said, but from a women's perspective.
MARTIN: Asra, what do you think?
Ms. NOMANI: No. I think it's great because we should not see any of this as just entertainment is what I think is important though because we need to have some really important conversations about our society and how we deal with issues of sexuality and love and the messages that trickle down and how we survive in this world. And once in a while we need to pull out our fancy shoes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: I mean I think the bottom line in the society, at least in terms of the movie industry is money, and so they saw that it made over 55.7 million dollars in the first weekend, so hey, cha-ching. Now they see that women will come out in droves and they'll make their money back in spades.
MARTIN: OK. Leslie?
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Yeah. And I agree too. I think this I really good for women overall to see the issues of our lives reflected on the screen and I think that Hollywood will take notice. I want to see more movies like "Sex and the City." Friendship, love, betrayal, you know, just the guts of our lives and I hope that Hollywood takes the message that they should go deeper into the reality of women's lives and stay away from the cartoons.
MARTIN: The Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey, Asra Nomani, Cheli English-Figaro, Leslie Morgan Steiner, they were all here in our studios in Washington. Ladies, thank you.
Ms. MORGAN-STEINER: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. ENGLISH-FIGARO: Thanks, Michel.
Ms. IVEY: Thank you.
Ms. MORGAN STEINER: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.