It is hardly topical to talk about Sex and the City six years after the show finished and over a year since second movie was released, but that is just the kind of glacial pace it takes for some of my thoughts to form. I haven’t actually seen a great deal of the show, so I am not in the best position to judge, but something that has always irked me about it was the representation of female friendship.
We all enjoy the escapism of some ‘non reality’ viewing. Some of us particularly love a brand of escapism in which the show/movie and its characters are indeed quite accurate portrayals of real, raw and flawed human beings. It feels authentic. We can relate to it, but – and maybe this is best of all – at the end of the day it is still contains enough constructed elements to transport us away from real life and into the world of entertainment (think the movie ‘Sideways’, or the TV series ‘Six Feet Under’).
So perhaps it makes me a bit of a wet blanket to complain about the lack of genuine realism in a show like SATC, but I cant help but feel that a show like this, along with Hollywood and market driven ideas of female friendship, are making some women feel like failures if they cant walk four abreast down a city sidewalk arm in arm with their besties.
Often, not only was SATC applauded for its celebration of female friendship, but it was branded a ‘revelation’ for showing us what it was ‘really like’ for a group of close, genuine female friends.
So if SATC was what it was ‘really like’ to have genuine friendships, what the hell could the rest of us call our friendships that didn’t quite fit the mould?
It was claims like this that left me wondering why instead of an ‘awesome foursome’ I had a group of friends that fit together as well as mismatched pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And it bothers me that, however fleeting, thoughts like this ever came to mind. That, despite having incredible confidence and pride in my friendships, I could still be affected by the way friendship was portrayed by the entertainment industry.
But rather than question where my SATC version of friendship is, I think I’d rather ask to see the real deal for a change. How would it be if instead of four fine fashionistas chinking glasses over a bougie lunch, we got two or three women dressed in Kmart clothes drinking too much at the local pub because one of them still lived at home with an alcoholic father and the other, raised by a mentally unstable mother, drank excessively to mask her inability to forge intimacy any other way?
Because instead of late night phone calls, giggling over champagne, and bonding over sexual story swaps, often the things that bind me to people has far less frill, and in fact, quite a fair bit more mess. But when we are fed images of what friendships, and indeed all relationships, should look like, we rarely see this underbelly.
Once, after weeks on the road together while my friend was attempting to quit smoking our fighting had become so bad that I had gladly screeched to a stop at a train station where, tear stained and red with anger, she screamed that she would find her own fucking way home. And she did.
It is not a pleasant memory but I remember it, and other times like it, because they were turning points in our friendship (we had both come from very enmeshed, and in ways, dysfunctional, families that were what we christened ‘screamers’. The fact that we had come to act in ways with each other that we had only ever previously done inside our family spaces, became a source of intense trust and closeness).
But this acceptance of the raw human being in each of us, this ‘warts and all’ embracing, is never what is celebrated in pop culture. Friendship is repeatedly made to be about the things people do for each other, ‘acts of love’ that are terribly moving up on the big screen, but that rarely happen in real life, or, if they do, are rarely what really counts as closeness.
The gaping hole in this argument is of course that these shows are not real life, granted. But what about how they make real people feel? After we happily gorge on the feast of fantasy and fairytale, are we left feeling empty if our own lives don’t quite look the same?
At 32 years old I do not have a SATC type band of women riding out life’s highs and lows with me while looking fabulous. My friends did not come and do my laundry after my boy was born, they did not whisk me away for a girls only getaway when motherhood was mucking with my mind, and not one of them turned up on my doorstep with a bottle of wine and chocolates after I experienced a traumatic abortion.
So have I failed at friendship?
Of course not.
It is just that what I have looks nothing like the way I see friendship represented in the media, and sadly, that can sometimes lead us to the same kind of conclusions that we arrive at when our bodies are not size 10 and slim line – that we are not normal.
No matter how much we duck the mainstream and buck convention, it is hard to escape the ‘fairytale’ programming we are subjected to from such a young age on everything from charming princes, ravishing beauties and fairytale friends, especially when this is constantly reinforced by an entertainment industry that fails to celebrate real people.
But if they are ever wondering how it is that you do that, all they really need to know is look at something a little darker than the trials and tribulations of finding true love and a pair of Manolos, because ultimately, at the root of my strongest and most enduring friendships, is a little dysfunction.