The Kim Cattrall / Samantha Split in All of Us

I was having a little trouble thinking of what to write for this week's blog. Sometimes it comes easy, sometimes I'm blank. Then a 2002 book written by Kim Cattrall and her husband Mark Levinson that I browsed in a bookstore a while back came to mind: Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. What I remember from it was that she basically said that she is not like her character Samantha from Sex and the City. She says in reality her sex life, like many other women, has been less than awesome. The book she wrote is an advice book about real life sex. As I recall from my skimming, it wasn't bad. It was on par with most advice books. Now, that isn't exactly a compliment from me. I have serious problems with the state of certain aspects of the vast majority of these books, but it was fine and good and realistic in many ways. However, my point in telling you about this is that her book was focused on real life sex with a caring partner and she thought this was important for her specifically to write. The following is an excerpt from an interview with her - check it out here.

"Many of the roles I've played - usually sexually aware, no-nonsense gals - have had nothing to do with me or what my life is like," she wrote. "Quite frankly, these false images have, at times, interfered with my relationships and personal sexual satisfaction."
She and Levinson are no longer married. The moral of this story would seem to be: don't tempt fate by writing a book saying what a great sex life you and your spouse have. But Cattrall insists she doesn't regret writing Satisfaction. The only problem was that it welded her and Samantha even more tightly together in the eyes of the public.
"I did it because I thought women might find it useful. As I wrote, my life had not been like Samantha's. It had been like many women's - very disappointing sexually. I mean, I'm not a cougar. Nothing like one. However, it sort of backfired and I became regarded as this ... this sexpert."

For those who don't know, Samantha on SATC is the older of the 4 women and the most sexually voracious. She partakes in hot and powerful men all over New York, but rarely holds on for longer than a fleeting sexual encounter. She's bold, successful, beautiful, uncompromising and she loves sex.

Now, after resisting the series for years, I eventually watched every episode on DVD taking careful notes on each depiction of or discussion of female orgasm/sexual release. Samantha always comes (save for a couple episodes specifically surrounding her inability to), and of all the depictions of this type in SATC, hers are by far the most ridiculous. As someone who has made it my business to critique the cultural view of female sexual
pleasure, I have a problem with Samantha. She is the epitome of our culture's twisted understanding of female sexual freedom. She is a woman "having sex like a man" (one of Samantha's famous phrases). You, and much of the audience, may see this phrase as meaning: she has lost the hang-ups of having love and emotion connected to her sex life - she could take or leave any of the men she beds; she has overcome the immense amounts of guilt poured on to girls and women in our society for expressing themselves as sexual beings; and she has sex just for the hell of it. To many this is seen as an example of female sexual liberation - a woman who has bucked the system and is being sexual on her own terms - just the way that men get to so easily be - without having to buck a system. Others see her as a slut that has taken the greatest parts of human connection out of the act of sex and has not risen to the heights of male sexual liberation, but dropped to the lowest bracket of male sexuality.

I think her image is a bit more disconcerting. I respect the idea of having sex on your own terms. I respect the prerogative to separate love and sex. These are both arenas that women, more than men, have trouble traversing. However, I do not think Samantha is a sexually liberated woman. She only acts like one, and that's the problem. Samantha has orgasms in almost all her encounters, but Samantha is a character. If a real woman were to physically do most of the things that Samantha does in the show when orgasm is depicted, this real woman would not be orgasming. Samantha, like so many depictions of sexually voracious women, does things that are orgasmic for the man in the situation, but not for the woman. Yet this sexually voracious character orgasms also. We as viewers are left to assume there are these rare types of women that can orgasm easily and naturally in ways that we normal women cannot. I realize that these depictions do sometimes get discussed as being fake-ish. Even in SATC, the other characters see her as freakishly abnormal in her orgasmic capabilities, but those acknowledgments are much fewer than the offending depictions (in SATC and in the culture at large). Besides, even if we understand that "normal" women aren't like these hypersexual women, we still have the feeling that these women are out there - having better sex than us. We are constantly reminded how sexually privileged we are not. The really twisted part is that these actions that we prize as the epitome of sexual agency in women is not really even physically pleasurable to women. What we are really prizing is a female, voraciously giving male orgasms, and acting as though she too is orgasming.

You may be reading this and saying  - oh I don't pay much attention to that sort of thing. It doesn't affect me. Or, you may dismiss her and characters like her because you see her as emotionally damaged, morally backward, or the epitome of Raunch Culture (what does raunch culture mean, check it out here) bizarro-feminism, but I suspect, despite all that, we all fantasize about being her during sex. Whether it's with our one and only life partner, our monogamous long term boyfriend or a random we picked up in a bar, we've at some time fantasized about having an orgasm as easily, as quickly and as sexy as she does while not deviating from the expected actions of "sex." We've wished sometimes it was that easy - that we didn't have to rock the boat, speak up, use our hands, or gently correct our lover in any way in order to reach orgasm. It would be nice, just once, to have a wild, banging, passionate, pull your panties to the side, intercourse quickie.. and it wouldn't just be hot and fun and exciting, but you would also come so hard and so quickly at the same time he's coming. The orgasm would be so natural and out of your control like those of the beautiful and interesting women that we read and see doing this all over our media. Admit it, you'd love a night of Samantha sex. I realize we can actually copy most parts of Samantha sex - but not that orgasm part - not the way she's doing it - and that's a major aspect of the tricky crap maze all of us women have to figure out on our own time and in our own way.

So back to Kim Cattrall's book....she is a woman not a character, and she felt it was important to make a book that pointed out that she and most women are not like the characters she plays. She, I think, is all of us women, but magnified, and she feels that to some degree. She is an actor not a feminist scholar, and maybe couldn't express in words exactly what bugs her about the discord between herself and her character, but she seems compelled to let other women know that she does feel this. I respect that.  It seems to me she is maneuvering through the same tricky, confusing sexual world that all women must cross. She exemplifies what is thought to be modern female sexual liberation in a show that radically shifted (in arguably positive and negative ways) the state of female sexuality. Yet she feels quite clearly distinct from and a bit awkward about her relationship to this character. In her personal life, she has had to learn to acknowledge her desire, create her own orgasms, and carve out her own moments of pleasure in sexual situations with no good role models for how to do these things realistically. She is all of us.

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