Sex and the City Through the Lens of the Bechdel Test

If you have grown up as a woman with exposure to television and the internet, chances are you have watched or heard of Sex and The City. Personally, Sex and The City has played quite a significant role as I charted my ideas of femininity while coming of age- I remember trying to see myself through the lens of the show, wondering if I am a Carrie, or a Samantha, or maybe even a Charlotte. It harnessed my pubescent feelings about love, loss, sex (I would have had a better way of learning about sex if there was sex education in my school, but never mind), and like many other women who swore by this show/film, I took life advice from these four women- how to deal with men, when to give in, when to stand your ground etc. Obviously, it took me a few more years to understand that all that advice was pretty shit, and the only viable source of my ideologies resulted in me into looking more into myself, than into those characters.

Now before I delve into the obvious (and maybe not-so-obvious) problematic parts of the eponymous movie and show (the Sex and the City franchise ie) and why I reached the aforementioned conclusion, I would like to mention something which I believe is of prime importance in this respect- the Bechdel Test. If you don’t know what’s it all about here’s a small intro- the Bechdel-Wallace test or Mo Movie Measure is a media test which was developed by Liz Wallace to test how ‘feminist’ a film actually is. It became widely known after Alison Bechdel featured it in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For, where the character Mo explains why she refuses to watch any film that doesn’t fulfill the following conditions:

  • the movie [media] must have at least two women characters;
  • who talk to each other;
  • about something other than a man.


The sad part of the Bechdel Test is the fact that when you look back at some of your favourite movies through this feminist lens, you realize how problematic they could be. And only when you focus minutely on the third condition of this test, it dawns on you on how some of your favourite on-screen female characters actually have no character arc than one that supports the growth of the male protagonist (refer to how La La Land is a prime example in this post). Now before we go into where Sex and the City fares with respect to this test, we should also remember that this test is not the sole definition of a feminist film. The theory has been visited and revised to serve as a better litmus test, however for this article I shall refer to the three conditions stated above.

At first glance Sex and The City seems to be an empowering if not a feminist film the protagonists are women, the narrator is a woman- the entire narrative is thus for women, by women. It gloriously ticks off the first two conditions of the Bechdel test; it’s a show with more than one female character, and they regularly communicate with each other. What’s interesting is that the characters channel different ideologies whether it be Charlotte, the orthodox woman, Miranda as the type-A workaholic, Samantha as the sexually-liberated one, and Carrie…who doesn’t really know what she wants. You might be appalled at why I described these characters and their stories using merely a few words, but that just brings me to my point- it fails the third condition of the Bechdel Test as the whole of Sex and The City revolves only around these women’s sex lives. This is also illustrated by the first few minutes of the first Sex and The City movie, where Carrie introduces herself and her three friends only with respect to their sex lives as if the other parts of their personalities don’t hold as much significance.

Alright, even if we consider the show to be a chronicle of the complexities of women being in love (as suggested by the name of the show), why are all the characters so sloppy in their ways of dealing with men? Why does the show try so hard to make us root for Carrie and Big- when Big routinely mistreated her, left her at the altar, went on and off the relationship when he seemed fit and chose to reappear in her life every time she is dating other people and is happy without him?  Or Miranda, when she apologises to her husband Steve for being too busy with work when she finds out that he cheated on her? Or why, in the sequel of the Sex and The City movie, was Samantha made fun of for taking pills to keep herself young? And most importantly why is the protagonist of the show/movies such a royal loser? Carrie has no idea what she wants, she fails to stand up for herself when necessary, and she lets the men in her lives get the better of her (one might also wonder how she affords Manolo Blahniks and a Manhattan address at a freelance writer’s salary, but that’s a conversation for later.) You might argue that the creators attempted to represent real women who fuck their lives up, who are indecisive, who make fun of each other, who lose some, but if you do choose to represent flawed characters, you must also show a side to them which one can look up to. Carrie, in this respect, fails, maybe at the cost of the screenwriter’s incapacity to develop a full-blooded character arc for her where she does/thinks of things other than love, sex and shoes; but this is also where the character of Samantha wins. For her character, not only do they show her as a woman with desires, they also show how hard she works to earn what she wants, and how great she is at what she does. Same goes for Miranda to some extent. We can also appreciate the fact that the show maintained the different ideologies of their women, especially Charlotte who believes in traditional marriages and families and is occasionally appalled at Carrie’s decisions.

Bechdel Test aside, a critique of the Sex and  The City franchise is incomplete without mentioning the inherent elitism and privilege of the female protagonists, and their whiteness– even the significant others of these women are predominantly white. What about work-life balance and the responsibility Sex and the City to advertise and promote alternative careers that aren’t as shiny and in the limelight as Samantha’s celebrity publicist gig is? How can Carrie afford a closet full of labels and an apartment in Manhattan? Why does Charlotte choose her men keeping their financial backgrounds in mind? All these prove the show’s willing suspension of disbelief but is very unrealistic especially when you realise how formative this show is for female prepubescent and pubescent audiences.

In conclusion, I would like to state that for future references, the Bechdel Test is not the end all of feminist film readings. If we go by this test, feminist readings become impossible for certain films which are widely known and academically proven to have taken a stance for the representation of women, like Ray’s Charulata which quite prominently addresses the 19th Century women’s question in Bengal. It is safe to say however that this test can work for easy, primary readings of any film and presents to us the bigger picture of sexism in the media.



Christmas In Calcutta

There goes a saying among devout Bengalis, ‘Bangali’r baaro maashey tero parbon’; which when translated essentially throws some light on how much the Bengalis love embracing and celebrating festivals since time immemorial. Be it Durga Puja, Holi, or even Eid, if there is a festival, Bengalis shall celebrate it with full fervour. And in keeping with the jubilant Bengali souls and their love for festivities, how can the Yuletide spirit be left behind?
If we look back on history, we’ll see that Christmas became an essential component of the winter festivities in Calcutta primarily during the British Raj. Calcutta being the primary hub of socio-political activity of the British, it was also the major site for their recreation and festivities, and Christmas was no exception. Christmas was among the most important religious festivals and congregations for the British and Jew community that inhabited the city back then, and it is only imperative for Christmas to be celebrated with enormous fervour and dedication. The city would be bedecked with lights, the churches would partake in service, and the British and Bengali-Christian communities would celebrate the day with traditional Christmas gatherings all across town.
After the departure of the British, Christmas declined in importance as a religious festival in most parts of India. The small Anglo-Indian community in India still celebrates Christmas in a big way, even in Calcutta where they still observe midnight mass and take part in elaborate cake-mixing ceremonies. To the non-Christian community in Calcutta however, although it is not of much cultural importance to them, they celebrate it as a festival which they dedicate to homecoming and uniting with family and friends in the Yuletide spirit.The nip in the air sets the mood as the Bengalis set out to spend Christmas in their own glorious ways. It is interesting to note the ease with which the Bengalis have incorporated a festival so deeply rooted in religious history, and made it into a festival of their own, when old friends meet, families come together, and take part in charitable activities, traditional Christmas feasts, parties and what not. Christmas has been adapted by the Calcuttans as a festival of reconciliation, of charity and good work, and most importantly as a time when one would leave behind the monotonous hustle of their daily lives and partake in whatever that would make them happy. It is not just another holiday in the calendar, it is a day when Bengalis would also fully celebrate the pleasant chill in the Calcutta weather, go out in all their finery, and channel their festive spirit with as much fervour as someone who belongs to the community where Christmas holds a cultural importance. Many Calcuttans also pay their respects to traditional Christmas practices by going to the Church, seeking authentic English confectionaries especially from British confectioners Flurys and Jewish confectioners Nahoum’s, decking up their homes with red and green adornments, giving each other presents and the likes. Christmas thus serves as a glorious example to how culturally inclusive Bengalis have always been, to be able to adapt themselves to cultures and practices not their own, but to unite in festive spirit and spread happiness and love around them.

Deconstructing the Nuances of Fandom Culture

In the contemporary marketplace of popular film and media, with its strong reliance on adaptations of comic book superheroes, best-selling young adult novels, and decades-old television shows, the concept of fandom becomes something of a complex, hybridized connection between fan consciousness, nostalgia, and the life extension of contemporary studio– and producer-driven media. Being a fan in this generation entails subscribing to a cult, that digs its roots among similar demographics all around the world, a community of like-minded individuals with a strong passion for a popular sensation. Now with the advent of social media, the fandom culture has grown, and it continues to grow as an essential part of the lives of these people.
    Fandoms are essentially what transform cinematic and literary works into multimillion-dollar franchises with millions of followers across the globe. The enormous power that these franchises have harnessed on account of their popularity, of shaping and moulding the lives of people, cannot be undermined. What is said and done by these popular sensations influence the sense of right and wrong in the people who follow it. It is subtle, and never shoved in people’s faces, which is also what makes the inadvertent teachings of these sensations so hard to monitor and critically accept. Belonging to a fandom has its own set of advantages.  They give rise to businesses; inspire art and imaginative extensions to already existing plotlines (ie. fan-fiction) and results in a different kind of social atmosphere.  Being in a fandom means being united in opinions, and internalizing the ideologies propagated by the said sensation. This is precisely where the hazards of being a devoted fan come into play. Even though the ability to criticise and separate the reel from the real should ideally be inseparable parts of every fandom, it is not always so. It lies in the fans’ critical faculties to be able to alienate themselves from the fan point-of-view to able discern all that is wrong with the said sensation. What is good for entertainment, doesn’t necessarily qualify as ideologies the impressionable young adults should embrace. This is a gospel truth that isn’t accepted by the more vehement fans.
    Take for instance, the fandom of the increasingly popular sitcom FRIENDS. It is imperative above all to recognize its popular success and its ability to provide a light hearted laugh when needed. But it is rather disconcerting how a huge demographic of young adults have overlooked the not-so-subtle prejudices in the script and subscribed to idolising characters and their relationships. To try and point out say, the homophobic and racist angles of the show, the lack of character growth, or toxic romantic relationships which have been so popularly idolised, would mean going against the ethics of being in a fandom like this. Conscious imitation or inadvertent impact- no matter what the medium is, idolising the wrong things would lead to very flawed ideologies and eventually hamper a teenager’s emotional growth.
   It is quite evident how widespread the impact of popular culture has become nowadays. It impacts us and moulds us in ways we can’t decipher, in subtleties, in silent admiration, in vocal appreciation. Being a part of a fandom also illustrates a world of black and white, a world of unconditional admiration, with no room for critical acceptance. Personally, I feel this has also become a trademark of how the current youth deals with their personal affairs as well, all in blacks and whites, with no space for a solace in greys. We have been conditioned to believe that blind following is the only genuine love, and reasonable criticism of anything you have claimed to love amounts to silent betrayal.
   To me, fandoms have been one of the fascinating phenomena in recent popular culture. Fandoms illustrate a world of never-ending curiosity, a world where a passion drives the best of artistic creations, a place where limitless imagination can find a home. To be able to believe so strongly in a world of make-believe is indeed something magical, only however when exercised with caution.

The Irony of the Largest Democracy- the AFSPA?

The violent carnages in the Kashmir valley has long been the unrelenting target of a brand of macho-patriotism being exercised by the Indian nationals for decades, an unending series of morbid episodes unfolding to reveal our daily dose of bloodshed and death. It is clear that the national government is unprepared to give up on the much debated AFSPA just yet, wistfully deluded by the notion that only an act so vicious can be effective in safeguarding the valley and stamp out any resistant force that threatens them. Hence they pass off the local protests as nothing but irrational hostility, without paying the slightest heed to the unjustified use of the AFSPA by a power-drunk section of the military. The arguments provided by them are simple- that the insurgencies are nothing but a contrived conspiracy being reeled out by our Muslim neighbors and thus military intervention is only imperative to keep their protests subdued.

It would be unjust to completely disregard the measure of truth that these arguments carry. But for the Centre to acknowledge the military violence and subsequent local insurgencies in the valley would mean coming in terms with their own decisional flaws. It would mean giving up the country’s image as a global pluralist democracy, a risk that the political elite choose not to take in the fear of losing their obvious ticket to faux-Western liberalism. Hence the obvious solution is not to own up to mistakes, but to instead underplay the people’s sufferings entirely and suppressing them. And by underplaying the brutal truth, we have glorified the apparent necessity of the AFSPA, and instilled in the Kashmiris a deep-rooted sense of estrangement and disaffection.

The irony here is rather stark. On one hand, we as a nation are eager to keep our image of a secular and multi-ethnic democracy unsullied. And in an attempt to do so, we alienate a part of our population and impose an act that turns rightful citizens to nothing more than subjects chained with no rights or protection. An ideal democracy has no place for an act so vicious and violating. We speak so gloriously of Kashmir being as much a part of India as any of the other states are, and yet we have failed as a democracy the very moment we snatched their rights and muffled their voices. It is nothing but our farcical idea of nationalism in play when we glorify the selfless courage of our power-drunk soldiers in a desperate attempt to justify our democratic failure. After all, denial is the utmost form of self-defense.

If we choose to treat Kashmir as an integral part of the nation in keeping up with its pluralist image, we cannot suppress the situation as something insignificant and irrational. As a nation that once had to push against similar circumstances to be free, we cannot pretend that a liberalized army is the simple solution to this. This situation, first and foremost, demands recognition. It is high time we acknowledge the plight of the people we call our own, repeal the AFSPA and give them back their basic constitutional rights. We must stop the unchecked violation of human rights by the army against their own people. And most importantly, the nation needs to listen. Instead of blatantly labeling them as terrorists under Pakistani influence, we must critically examine their perspective and empathize with their cause. The only way to placate is not by force, but by putting our arms down and trying to listen.  

Why Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ is as problematic for men as for women

“This was locker room talk,” Trump said in Sunday night’s Presidential debate. “This was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it . . .This was locker room talk. Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it, and I hate it, but it’s locker room talk.”

Out of the many outrageous things that the latest Presidential debates brought to the surface, was this phenomenon called ‘the locker room talk.’ This phenomenon, as understood from the connotations of Trump’s justification to his lewd statements, is a case of macho-masculinity; for in the locker room, when clad in towels and covered in post-games sweat, men can only unleash their most primitive caveman side and engage in hormones-dictated conversation. Thus according to Trump, men, in their most uncensored and natural habitat, would quite instinctively lose their disguise of political correctness and get down to engaging in objectifying and privately harassing women. He is implying that this is, in fact, how the most rich and powerful men talk when not burdened by the mask of social propriety. After all, Bill Clinton’s treatment of women was worse and as long as this rampantly sexist ‘locker room talk’ is not being acted upon, there is not even any inherent harm or danger.

Trump quite unconsciously brought forward what is potentially one of the biggest issues in the current scenario of gender politics- the classic ‘men will be men’ syndrome. His explanation to his lewd comments and rampant disrespect towards women and their bodies, is the inherent entitlement that operates within him- as if, being obsessed with sexual acts or disrespect towards women is the fundamental imperative of being male. As if, masculinity is defined best by such uncensored ‘locker room talk’ and that all men, by virtue of their masculinity, must objectify women as an act of leisure.

If this is not equally demeaning to both sexes, I don’t know what is.

It would be foolish to completely disregard the existence of men, who in fact, do subscribe to such a school of thought. These men lurk everywhere- in our homes, workplaces, public transport; ripping women of their bodily authority, ogling, if not groping, women, and dismissing women as just objects feeding the male sexual appetite. This is precisely the demographic that bolstered Trump’s campaign and took him this dangerously close to being the President of one of the most powerful nations in the globe.

Kissing or groping someone without consent is sexual assault. It’s popular for such men to brag about similar behaviours. Hiding such behaviour in the guise of jokes or meaningless banter is an attempt on the part of such men to make it acceptable. It is not. And the men who do not take pride in such rampant sexism, feel the pressure of reaffirming their masculinity while present in such male-exclusive spaces, and barely can muster the courage to call out on the sexism.

Trump’s generalization of sexism as a male imperative is wrong. It is a warped image of the entire male population; an image that hardly fits all those men who believe in progressive thought and look at women in equal social standing, worthy of equal opportunities. One of the many problems that Trump brought to surface in his debates is this toxic idea of masculinity, an idea to which many have already subscribed and many feel the pressure to succumb to. It is very important now, more than ever, to teach our boys that being male does not entail being inherently disrespectful towards women, does not give them an unquestioned access to women’s bodies.

It is also interesting to note how sportsmen from different arenas have come out, guns blazing, in protest of what Trump wrote off as ‘locker room talk’. American professional basketball player Kendall Marshall tweeted ‘PSA: sexual advances without consent is NOT locker room talk.’ while L.A. Galaxy player Robbie Rogers tweeted that he was offended by Trump’s remark. “Claiming Trump’s comments are “locker room banter” is to suggest they are somehow acceptable. They aren’t.”, said Cleveland forward Dahntay Jones.  

Trump is the poster image of a brand of sexism aided hyper-masculinity that has pushed forward rape culture to what it is today. It is important for all of us now to unite and educate, and prevent any such innocent ‘locker room talk’ from giving rise to more such Trumps in future.