Where Have All the Loose Women Gone?
The days of Sex and the City's influence are long gone. From Tina Fey's fake prude to Sarah Palin's real power play, here's why strong women just aren't that into having sex with you anymore.
Brilliant, funny, and powerful women are retreating from sex as never before, and if you don't believe it, take the curious case of Liz Lemon. The most complicated and intelligent woman in television comedy barely ever has sex. She doesn't sit on laps, either — "not a lap sitter," she tells one handsome date she brings home in the first season. (He turns out to be her cousin.) She admits to losing her virginity at twenty-five and accidentally reveals that she doesn't believe people can have intercourse standing up. Liz Lemon's low libido is one of 30 Rock's running gags, like the writers' obsession with junk food or Jack Donaghy's use of words like "upward-revenue-stream dynamics." When Jenna asks about sex with her beeper-salesman boyfriend, Liz replies, "Fast and only on Saturdays — it's perfect." That line is a dagger in the heart of every thinking heterosexual man in America, and for Liz and the like-minded career women in The Women, He's Just Not That Into You, Sandra Bullock's latest, The Proposal, or just about any other chick flick of late, it's become achingly clear that sex is usually the last thing on their minds.
How did this happen? A mere decade ago, Seinfeld's Elaine Benes was hilarious, smart, familiar with Russian novelists, an aggressive and demanding professional, and a woman who fooled around a lot. The Sex and the City fantasia of fin de siècle Manhattan broke women's desires into separable components — status, career, money — but sooner or later every conversation between the four principals came back to who's doing what with whom, how well, and how often. Compare that with Liz and her workplace foils: Jenna Maroney, whose attempts to "use her sexuality" ritualistically end in disaster, and the appropriately named Cerie Xerox, full of bra but empty of head. 30 Rock's message wouldn't be out of place in a Bush-era high school abstinence rap session.
And then there's The City, MTV's spin-off of The Hills, which more or less lives up to its name: It's Sex and the City minus the sex. During the first episode, our heroine, Whitney Port, goes home with a shaggy Australian, but that's the only bit of titillation we get.
Whitney always had the best chances among the Hills's characters of escaping the labyrinth of consumerist narcissism and emerging into a real person, but she and her show have been overwhelmed by the homogeneity of the people around her. The teeth are all the same, the noses are all the same (except Diane von Furstenberg's), the tits are all the same, and no doubt the pudenda are all shaved in the same pattern. "You have to figure out pretty quickly where you fit in," Whitney tells us in an opening monologue, and for this striver, having a boyfriend and having sex with him are just other socially expected poses. It's only fitting that the show sometimes features the songs of Lily Allen. On her 2007 debut, "Alright, Still," the English pop star treated the bedroom as a respite from the urban battlefield of poses and diets and shopping. But her new record, It's Not Me, It's You, is colder and less hopeful — on "Not Fair," Allen rhapsodizes about a man who "treats me with respect" but "never make[s] me scream."
For Whitney and Lily, the choice has become stark: good sex or respect.
So if these women don't want sex, what do they want? Freud's immortal question — like "Why is there something instead of nothing?" — isn't so much a request for knowledge as a hope that such knowledge exists. Six hundred years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales told the story of a knight who is sent on a quest to find the answer to that very mystery. For a year, he asks every woman he meets, all of them giving competing and contradictory versions of happiness. When the quest is over and the knight is forced to come up with something, he answers, "Sovereignty." Women want power and to be whom they want to be, and for Chaucer, the first use of that power was power in the sack. The story is told by the Wife of Bath, a good-time girl who wears out five husbands in bed and is hungrily searching for a sixth.
Over the years, as women became educated and gained control over their lives, they wanted more stuff, more choices, more men. If you have a great-grandmother, ask her and she'll tell you: The chance to try people out for a while before you marry them is one of the best things that happened in the twentieth century. But the post-post-feminist maelstrom that is Danica Patrick and the Real Housewives of Wherever and Secretary Clinton versus Beauty Queen Palin means that women can wield real power, but it comes at the cost of confusion — professional, social, and sexual. Sex has become a minefield just too tricky to navigate as they build a career or a family or a reality-TV-show franchise. They go elsewhere.
Which is a disaster for men. Until now, feminism has been the best thing that ever happened to us, because it means we get to sleep with people rather than ciphers. And in some places in the world, feminism is still working that magic. (When the Sri Ram Sena, India's version of the Taliban, started attacking single women in bars for immorality, a women's group called the "Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose, and Forward Women" formed in opposition, flooding the religious fanatics' offices with forty thousand pairs of pink panties.) Here in America, with the battle of the sexes more or less over, women now have to struggle against the tide of money fixation and status obsession that threatens to turn them into mannequins distinct from the plastic variety only insofar as they can pose themselves. And for men, it's a struggle against the despair we face when looking over the pickings of the bar, thinking, "They're all the same" because they are.Source