Nicola Alpe: How Sex And The City helped normalise ageing women on screen


Debate has raged about whether Sex & The City was a powerful feminist act or a show full of contradictions, but when the trailer for the reboot dropped this weekend one thing was clear; my contemporaries are excited.

I stumbled across S&TC in my early 20’s and was hooked. Cut to 2021 and the requisite diversity changes have been made making the show more reflective of the current times. But if anything, the show has become even more subversive, and I’m so here for it.

Subversive has become a word used when describing feminist acts. A podcast described Em Rata’s picture, the one that created the furore for Celeste Barber, as subversive, to great debate. Women who challenge the system by the way they dress, act or take ownership of the images of their own bodies, can be referred to as subversive.

Being subversive means to undermine the power and authority of an established system or institution. It sounds rather Cold War era, but in feminism’s case it refers to the patriarchy and how women are expected to behave.

Those of us who were watching the show first time round are now in our 40s, 50s and beyond, and it appears that S&TC is unashamedly catering for us loyal followers, and not pandering to the eyeballs, dollars and influence of Gen Z and young Millennials. We don’t need to see marriages, fertility crises and babies; we lived them the first-time round, we’ve lived them in our own lives, and like a woman who finds her confidence in her 40s, they know this. Despite sticking with their signature looks, the characters aren’t trying to be who they were 20 years ago, although Carrie is channelling more eccentric-big-fashion-energy than ever before.

S&TC isn’t the only show with outrageous female plot lines, who could forget Grace and Frankie’s vibrators for arthritic wrists. But Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha went above and beyond for women, normalising women in perimenopause who still wanted and enjoyed sex, and the older woman younger man scenario, then dumping him because though he was famous, hot and adored her, only she could truly fulfil herself. It showed us strong career women who had the strength to acknowledge their feelings, courage to change their minds, and discovered what they needed to fill their emotional cup. Not everyone got the traditional happy ending, but they got their happy ending and we loved them for it.

Now, subversion is really coming to the fore, because at the heart of this reboot, is something women are not allowed to do, and that is age.

Much has been made of SJP’s grey hair and I hate myself that I was taken aback when I have seen a candid shot of her on set with her changing hair and face for us all to see. But this is what we all need. We need more SJP’s, more Andi McDowell’s, more Paulina Porizkovas to normalise older women on screen in that grey, no pun intended, 50s and 60s zone where age is often indistinguishable thanks to injectables and cosmetic procedures.

We need more of this and less being sold anti-ageing skincare or high fashion by women in their teens and 20s. It’s true that women feel invisible as they age but these characters defy anyone not to see them, and throughout the series that’s something women have loved them for.

The characters gave us permission in the 90s to be strong, sexual, emotional, successful and unapologetically ourselves. Now they are giving us permission to age, to grow, and so many of us will be there for it.

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