Woman in Charge,
Women Who Charge


Judith Warner
June 5, 2008


Is it a coincidence that the bubbling idiocy of “Sex and the City,” the movie, exploded upon the cultural scene at the exact same time that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy imploded?

Literally, of course, it is. Figuratively, I’m not so sure.

And before I set off an avalanche of e-mails explaining why Hillary deserved to lose, I want to make one point clear: I am talking here not about the outcome of her candidacy – mistakes were made, and she faced a formidable opponent in Barack Obama – but rather about the climate in which her campaign was conducted. The zeitgeist in which Hillary floundered and “Sex” is now flourishing.

It’s a cultural moment that Andrew Stephen, writing with an outsider’s eye for the British magazine the New Statesman last month, characterized as a time of “gloating, unshackled sexism of the ugliest kind.” A moment in which things like the formation of a Hillary-bashing political action group, “Citizens United Not Timid,” a “South Park” episode featuring a nuclear weapon hidden in Clinton’s vagina, and Internet sales of a Hillary Clinton nutcracker with shark-like teeth between her legs, passed largely without mainstream media notice, largely, perhaps, because some of the key gatekeepers of mainstream opinion were so busy coming up with various iterations of the nutcracker theme themselves. (Tucker Carlson on Hillary: “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.” For a good cry, watch this incredible montage from the Women’s Media Center.)

Stephen is not the first commentator to note that if similarly hateful racial remarks had been made about Obama, our nation would have turned itself inside out in a paroxysm of soul-searching and shame. Had mainstream commentators in 2000 speculated, say, that Joe Lieberman had a nose for dough, or made funny Shylock references, heads would have rolled – and rightfully so.

But 16 months of sustained misogyny? Hey — she asked for it. With that voice, (“When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, ‘Take out the garbage’ ” Fox News regular Marc Rudov, author of “Under the Clitoral Hood: How to Crank Her Engine Without Cash, Booze, or Jumper Cables,” said in January). With that ambition, and that dogged determination (“like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court,” according to MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle) and, of course, that husband (Chris Matthews: “The reason she’s a U.S. Senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around.”). Clearly, in an age when the dangers and indignities of Driving While Black are well-acknowledged, and properly condemned, Striving While Female – if it goes too far and looks too real — is still held to be a crime.

In a culture that’s reached such a level of ostensible enlightenment as ours, calling a powerful woman “castrating” – however you choose to put it – ought to be seen as just as offensive as rubbing your fingers together to convey a love of gold coinage when you talk about a Jew. It’s nothing other than an expression of woman-hate — and the degree to which such expressions have flourished, in the mainstream media and in the loonier reaches of cyberspace this year, has added up to be a real national shame.

Which brings me back to “Sex and the City.”

How antithetical Hillary’s earnest, electric blue pants-suited whole being is to the frothy cheer of that film, which has women now turning out in droves, a song in their hearts, unified in popcorn-clutching sisterhood to a degree I haven’t seen since the ugly, angry days of Anita Hill and … the first incarnation of Hillary Clinton. How times have changed. How yucky, how baby boomerish, how frowningly pre-Botox were the early 1990s. How brilliantly does “Sex” – however atrocious it may be – surf our current zeitgeist, sugar-coating it all in Blahniks and Westwood, and yummy men and yummier real estate, and squeakingly desperate girl cheer.

Take Miranda: a working mother archetype for an anti-woman age. She’s so callous now that she won’t let her nanny eat a decent meal, and so defiantly sexless that she’s let her pubic hair grow in. Take Charlotte: the Good Mommy, with an angel’s face and no employment, a seemingly limitless credit line and an adoring troglodyte of a husband (so short, so bald, and yet so good with the gelt). And then – please – take Samantha. At 50, she’s the one girlfriend aged enough to bear the baggage of old-time, Clinton-era feminist sentiment. She’s a self-centered heart-breaker, a real man-eater — you should see how she rejects a drooping roll of sushi — her corruption made manifest by the fact that, at film’s end, she develops (gasp!) a gut.

Yes, a gut, girls, like yours and mine and that of virtually any real woman who’s over 35, or has had children, or has something more important to do than full-time Pilates.

“Sex and the City” is the perfect movie for our allegedly ever-so-promising post-feminist era, when “angry” is out and Restalyne is in, and virtually all our country’s most powerful women look younger now than they did 20 years ago.

Oh, lighten up, I can hear you say. Don’t get your knickers in a twist.

Earnestness is so unattractive (in a woman).