Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sex & the City Effect

Last week, I was channel-surfing as folded laundry and I landed on E! Entertainment Television. (I'm allowed to watch whatever I want while folding my knickers. Don't judge me.) It was a pseudo-documentary about the making of Sex and the City. The E! show claimed Sex and the City was the first show to unflinchingly reveal how women really talked about men. Then I ran across this article in which the show's creator indicates that the show was less about showing women as they actually are and more about "turning the stereotype on its head," objectifying men instead of women and playing against type.

I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle, that women didn't talk like that nearly as much before Sex and the City gave them permission to be blunt and selfish and sex-obsessed, but that doesn't mean they weren't already thinking that way. And once we got permission... woo, baby, just watch us run with it. Now the Sex and the City version of femininity has wedged itself firmly into our culture. And into the culture of contemporary romance novels.

Hex and the City, Sex and the Immortal Bad Boy, and the similarities don't end with plays on the title. The modern day romance heroine may not even be looking for love unending (though in my favorite romances that's what she ends up with). Nope, in the current generation of romance novels, the heroine is just as likely to start out looking for Mr. Right Now as Mr. Right. Cocktails and confidence, the new romance heroine is a different breed than her virginal predecessors. Did Sex and the City do that?

And what about the increased level of sensuality and sexual frankness? Sex scenes, baby. In recent years, romance novels have been steaming it up. Now that the bedroom door has been thrown wide by Sex and the City, readers seem to be looking for more heat. Metaphors and euphemisms are falling away as the savvy start calling things by their Sex approved names.

Is this a good thing? (Yay, honesty & freedom in sexuality!) A bad thing? (Everyone is just so darned superficial these days! There's more to life than Manolos and Cosmos!) Are we heading toward some Sex & the City-instigated cultural apocalypse or is this just the natural progression of women's lib? Equality or licentiousness? Liberation or just a new method of devaluing emotion in favor of blunt sexuality? What's your take?


Kaye Chambers said...

YAY Vivi! Loved the post.

And you're right. Television and movies have gone a long way to laying everything open for women as a society, especially shows like The Sex & The City.

Society has changed. Today's women are approaching relationships and life differently than they were ten or twenty years ago. Books of all genres reflect that, but none better than romance novels stacking the bookstore shelves at the moment.

Evolution of Women's Lib or just social expectations? for thought, definitely!

Angelia Sparrow said...

Contrary to popular opinion, sex was NOT invented in the 90s. Nor was sexy media.

There was casual nudity in PG movies in the 70s. Nancy Friday published compliations of women's erotic fantasies in 1973.

Things went very Mayberry/lockdown in the 80s so it's like the sexual revolution never happened. Media lost the innocent sexualization and started making the "sex=bad" link much stronger. Movies with nudity got higher ratings.

Women of my generation watched our parents divorce. We watched our mothers pick up the pieces. We know we can't trust men with our lives, our livelihoods or anything, really.

So we tend to be tougher and blunter. The mores of earlier society, including Things of Which We Must Not Speak, went by the wayside. And we talked about sex. We talked about abortion. We named names on sexual and domestic abuse instead of treating it like a dirty secret that was our own fault.

The earlier generations kept quiet and shunned those who spoke. Too many of us spoke to be shunned.

And our literature, what we write, what we read, reflects this.

Vivi Andrews said...

Well, sex certainly wasn't invented in the 90s! :) And I'm in no way trying to say there has never been a period of sexual openness in the past. Just that lately sex seems to me to be going more mainstream.

It's interesting to look at the direction Harlequin has gone in their six decades - kind of as a barometer of what's mainstream in the world of romance fiction. It used to all be behind the bedroom door, but now there's Blaze, an entire line dedicated to the sexy.

Angelia Sparrow said...

I've read a few of the Blaze...
they're not bad but I'd call them "glow."

Then again, I write for Ellora's Cave. "We need another 2000 words of sex in this novel, and all the sex has to be MUCH franker." I wrote back and said "no, no, too late period for Franks to be involved. Besides, all these Saxons wouldn't want that." My editor knows I have a weird sense of humor.

I'm not seeing that sex is all that much more mainstream. What I am seeing is a change in the way it's judged. If someone on a TV show had sex, she was bad. Badbadbad. Alexis Carrington, et al. Now, it's acknowledged that ordinary people have sex and they aren't bad.

Sometimes the sex goes bad (Joss Whedon's 'verse is the only place where it ALWAYS goes bad). Sometimes it's good.

Yes, we're a long way from the days when only Lily and Herman Munster slept in a double bed. But we also don't have a mostly naked Elizabeth Taylor slinking around G rated movies either.

Kate Diamond said...

"Is this a good thing? (Yay, honesty & freedom in sexuality!) A bad thing? (Everyone is just so darned superficial these days! There's more to life than Manolos and Cosmos!)"

You've perfectly captured my ambivalent feelings about some of the chick lit I've read! I love the honesty. Hate the materialism.

Kate Diamond said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vivi Andrews said...

Hmmm. So how do we keep the honesty, but nix the materialism?