So Sex and The City is returning under a new name, and there is a new Russell Davies drama about gay experience. When will television dare to address the experience of heterosexual men with even an ounce of sensitivity?
My thoughts were prompted by the American drama A Teacher (currently on BBC iplayer), about an affair between a teenager and his English teacher. On paper, it is sensitive to the male experience, for the conclusion is that he is traumatised by the affair - despite lots of back-slapping from his mates, he is depicted as a victim of abuse. But this conclusion is disingenuous, and so lacks credibility. For he is, from the start, a cool stud, a sexually fluent dude, and the titillating trysts are predictably porny.
A drama that had real interest in depicting the young male experience would have shown us a more nervous, anxious teenager, intimidated by this woman instead of just attracted to her. You can imagine this thought crossing the producers’ mind, and being dismissed: never mind, it’s only the male experience, stale cliches will do fine.
It is a damaging cliché that young, straight men are dirty dogs, straining at the leash for sex. Yes, many project this image. But it is just one aspect of the reality, and it serves the interests of our cultural gatekeepers to let it stand. What interests? Well, culture likes strong narratives, and it has invested heavily in the idea that the sexual experience of women and homosexuals is more profound, more humane, more worthy of celebration. And that straight male sexuality is a sort of regrettable necessity, not to be encouraged, worthy of demeaning.
I only watched a couple of episodes of Sex and the City back in the day. In one scene I recall, a woman was mocking a man she had slept with on account of the smallness of his penis. In another, the main character wondered why she had never had a threesome: she felt like a timid virgin for not having tried it. It’s all just a harmless fantasy of hedonism, say its fans - why shouldn’t women be depicted as bawdy and needy and outrageous? Why not depict them like camp gay men (the show was created by a gay man, Darren Star)? It’s just a TV show...
In the Times Janice Turner says she is a fan: ‘Friends meeting for brunch! Cocktail hour, fancy shops, city streets full of purposeful people, frivolous frocks, dinner reservations, the casual exchange of bodily fluids. Forget whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favourite things ... and right now it seems unbelievable they’ll ever come back.’ Does she really have such a positive view of casual sex, or does she in real life see it as more problematic? I’m guessing the latter - but it’s fun and cool to be playful about sex in this way, isn’t it?
It’s a dangerous situation when only some forms of sexuality are granted the right to express themselves. Detractors argue that male heterosexuality has had a monopoly over culture for centuries so it’s only right that the balance is redressed. But today’s young men are not to blame for the past, and pretending otherwise stokes resentment.