This week, my daughter’s sixth-grade class visited a mosque. In advance, the teacher prepared instructions about how to dress and behave. At home, we talked about respecting others’ faith (even when
we find things difficult to understand), expectations of religious modesty, and
differing roles for men and women in Christianity and Islam. On trip day, my Episcopal girl went to school in long pants and a long sleeved shirt
with a floral headscarf tucked in her backpack.
And, with an unusual day off, I went to see the new movie Sex and the City 2. I confess: as a woman of a “certain age,” I’m pretty
much the target audience for the old HBO show and its movie spin-offs.
Sex and the City 2 does
not take place in New York; rather, Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte
find themselves on an adventure in Abu Dhabi at the behest of a
publicity-seeking hotelier who wants to show off the “new Middle East” to
them. Set at a glamorous
western-style resort, the Sex ladies
think they have discovered an exotic paradise that mixes high fashion with
ancient culture and meticulous hospitality. But they quickly find themselves in any number of
cross-cultural mishaps, the most damaging (spoiler alert!) being Samantha’s
inability to fit into the sexual mores of even the “new” Middle East.
All of this sounds as if it might make a good movie–the sort
of comedic road picture send-up of the mid-20th century in a
post-feminist form–and I was prepared to laugh. But I didn’t.
At least not very much. It
just wasn’t very funny to see four smart American women parading western
consumerism and sexualized identity in blatantly insensitive and anti-religious
ways in a traditional world. I
knew that they wouldn’t be robed in burqas (and wouldn’t want them to be), but
I didn’t quite expect the Sex and the
City women to lead a religious-style revival meeting for America in the
United Arab Emirates while gyrating to “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.”
Throughout the picture, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are
all trivialized. Christianity is,
as it has been in the whole series, mostly invisible and seen only through the
lens of materialist culture; Judaism received strange treatment during a gay
wedding scene and through Charlotte’s conversion; and well, there are no words
to describe the mean-spirited stereotypes heaped upon Islam. I wasn’t sure what was more
offensive–having American ideals of freedom depicted by freewheeling sex-on-the-beach
or having Muslims pictured as rich sheikhs, women-hating fundamentalists, and repressed female sexual power. What was this? The 1940s? Not
even a vague attempt at post-9/11 Abrahamic interreligious understanding?
The filmmakers were quick to point out the
inconsistencies–or rather hypocrisies–of Islam while saying nary a negative
word about western cultural colonialism or corporate consumerism. Non-western cultures were joyfully trashed
and western materialism was equally joyfully celebrated. As one of Carrie’s tee-shirts
proclaimed proudly in the middle of a traditional souk, “J’Adore Dior.”
In the end, Carrie and girls flee the new Middle East back
to the safe embrace of old New York. They return from their journey untouched, relieved to have escaped
with their Birkin bags intact. You
know, I like Dior, too. But the Sex girls, like their loyal fans, are
now forty- and fifty-something women.
And this whole film was vaguely insulting to the journey of womanhood
that the film (I think) intended to celebrate. Mature women need to laugh–we like escapism and we can sigh over
beautiful clothes. But our
journeys have taught us a thing or two–like it is good to be sensitive, open,
and curious about the world, beliefs, and politics. That respect and modesty are not bad words and that
sometimes you really need your sixth grade teacher to send along a set of instructions
for the trip. Going outside your comfort
zone can be a good thing only if you choose to learn from the journey.
In the next movie, I wish Carrie and the girls would
discover that growing-up isn’t a curse. Just once I’d
like to see the sadly self-centered ladies of Sex and the City wearing tee-shirts saying “J’Adore My Neighbor as