The reactions to Sex and the City 2 so far have been perfectly predictable. How could it be otherwise in a country that doesn't like to see women age, er, I mean, grow up?
Roger Ebert, my favorite reviewer, as well as other reviews, proved people haven't begun to get the boldness of SATC2. However, it's real, so it deserves the time. Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Chris Noth and the entire cast is magnificent, but it's the message in the film that is the core of the film's gigantic vision. New Line Cinema and writer, director, and producer Michael Patrick King have entered the culture and political wars, taking on marriage, motherhood, workplace gender discrimination, midlife hormone replacement therapy, and Middle East misogyny, including joining the burqa wars.
To prove how needed SATC2's message is, in the Washington Post two female writers take on the subject of the burqa battle in SATC2, rationalizing the cover and other misogynistic messages from male dominated cultures as if this clothing is the new "rules" of dating.
As one of us discussed in a recent program on National Public Radio, "Modesty and Faith Connected in Many Religions", this couldn't be further from the truth. Covering up often means embracing a paradigm that celebrates female sexuality. Modesty voluntarily undertaken (as in the UAE and, incidentally, in Morocco as well) is often employed by Muslim women to wield greater sexual prowess in the private realm. The burqa can achieve for some women precisely the sort of goal SATC is all about: female sexual independence. Without giving men easy access to the female body -- whether physically or even visually -- women keep their sexuality mysterious and compelling, helping them take control in private interactions with the opposite sex.
Free women don't need help controlling their private interactions with the opposite sex. What these two women are actually suggesting is manipulation in the face of fear, not freedom and female power, which is the essence of SATC2. This isn't a minor distinction, though the writers obviously don't know it.
Wading into a cultural landmine via a pop culture phenomenon like the Sex and the City brand takes real creative courage. But as is being illustrated by the Women Deliver Conference 2010 this week, creative heroines and heroes that do it are doing a service to women around the world. In fact, yesterday listening to the livestreaming of the event, moderated by Christiane Amanpour, a man spoke out. He said that one thing people must do to empower women is to stand up against the cultural pressures women face that are intended to marginalize and keep them down. It's a very smart man that understands that a country is only as strong as the freedom of its women.
When the girls started singing "I am Woman," I did, however, start to worry. Then the other women in the Arab nightclub of differing cultures, shapes and nationalities started standing up to sing with the SATC girls and the whole scene just melded together in an unmistakable message.
SATC2 plays politics from beginning to end, so it's no wonder some people have been put off their visual guilty pleasure. So I'm not surprised it's not being fully appreciated yet. This isn't the first SATC, which was all HBO sitcom, the only social commentary being personal. The entire movie is mapped out differently, making Sex and the City 2 a much more sophisticated entry than it's getting credit for being. In fact, the movie is brilliant, even given the creative license taken on the Morocco setting, as well as the broader burqa battle in which they engage.
As the plot deepens, Carrie has become a nag to Mr. Big about every little domestic thing. Newsflash, ladies. Domestic bliss compared to the emotional high wire can feel a bit mundane for the unprepared. In the end, finding out that as a relationship writer and expert on the topic, the one who knows more about marriage is her man. Aidan enters for the set up. All of this amidst Carrie and Mr. Big's challenge of choosing to be child-free in a world that still expects women to assume there is only one choice.
I can't lose the nanny moments come rarely, but few are funnier. Charlotte feels guilty about wanting to let out a primal mother scream because her girls are driving her insane. But Miranda comes to the rescue knowing how she feels, hoping to help Charlotte admit it over cocktails so she'll survive it all. Both mothers know how lucky they are to have help and take an emotional cocktail moment to salute the mothers who don't.
But this is after Miranda comes to grip with the male misogyny in the law firm where she is not only disrespected, but marginalized among the men.
Are you getting the picture yet?
Then there is Samantha. She steps into her 50s and reveals the hormone replacement jig so many women are learning to meet, face and conquer. That Suzanne Somers gets the credit for her groundbreaking and brutally honest R&D on the subject is a brilliant addition that makes SATC2 even more relevant. Meanwhile, Samantha gets offered a dream trip, complete with enticing big buck biz potential, after being tied to her hunky LA actor hunk. However, landing in Abu Dhabi isn't all it's cracked up to be, even if the conspicuous consumption is.
This is when Sex and the City 2 begins to soar.
The girls find themselves in a country amidst a culture that doesn't take kindly to liberated, independent, free women. Mania ensues and Samantha ends up in real trouble, which is played comically in the movie, but is deadly serious in real life Arab countries across the Middle East and beyond. It's why SATC creators chose the setting, while cutting the seriousness with a creative scalpel. They're taking on the culture of religious patriarchy with the most powerful female forces in film.
The creators decide to take on cultural patriarchy and abysmal misogyny, no holds barred, with nothing spared. They deserve a loud bravo for their efforts, which remain in the realm of fantasy, in true SATC fashion, while making statements of great importance. The breadth, depth, fun quotient mixed with message is nothing short of a film tour de force. It's the most empowering movie for women imaginable.
In Sex and the City 2, the girls aren't simply standing, still delivering cheap and predictable laughs and frivolous fashion entrees, though this is their best fashion extravaganza ever. They're facing real issues women face over forty and sharing some answers along the way. But in this SATC the girls have their eyes on the world and women who don't have Western freedoms. The film charges into the burqa debate without apologies, delivering a message that resonates with all feminists who stand against the forced non-person status patriarchal societies around the globe want to force on women. It's one thing when women choose to be shrouded, but let's not kid ourselves. This begins by taking on the cultures that not only insist on a woman's non-person status, but those countries who pretend to offer women a choice, but whose male society still brings down punishment on the women who dare to challenge male dominance.
It's the 21st century, and women deserve to be free to make their own choices, no matter where on the globe they live. We all have a duty to take on these prejudices that keep women hidden, their voices muted and their choices made by men.
Sex and the City 2 deserves to be hailed for its boldness and unflinching courage to stand up for women, while not shirking the song of how fabulous women are even when we are no longer the same 20-something fab femmes who once took the world by storm.
The SATC ladies prove that getting older can be a hell of a lot of fun while it's happening, but also that women have a duty to our sisters around the world. Many of whom won't be allowed to even see the film, because they live in countries where men are scared of the message Sex and the City 2 delivers.
Taylor Marsh is a political analyst out of Washington, D.C.