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And Just Like That's Vision of Feminism Remains Stuck in 1998

Gloria Steinem makes a telling cameo in Season 2's big feminist episode.
  • Gloria Steinem, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Candice Bergen in And Just Like That (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Max)
    Gloria Steinem, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Candice Bergen in And Just Like That (Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Max)

    [Editor's Note: This post contains spoilers for And Just Like That... Season 2, Episode 4, "Alive!"]

    It's no secret that Sex and the City had a white feminism problem. For the past 25 years, these white, wealthy, sexually liberated women have inspired endless discourse about SATC's complicated legacy as a show that depicts a Manhattan devoid of people of color and glorifies consumerism. The criticism isn't lost on star Cynthia Nixon, who has publicly denounced the comedy's lack of diversity and ingrained classism. "There was so much debate when [Sex and the City] came out about whether it was a feminist show or not, which I always thought was stupid — of course it's a feminist show," she said in 2019. "But I think it has a lot of the failings of the feminist movement in it. In that it's like white, moneyed ladies who are fighting for their empowerment. In a bit of a bubble."

    Max revival And Just Like That... makes an explicit attempt to address many of these issues — or at the very least, acknowledge its awareness of them — and unlike its clunky debut outing, Season 2 largely succeeds. The comedy's sophomore season expands the roles of new characters Seema (Sarita Choudhury), Nya (Karen Pittman), and Lisa (Nicole Ari Parker), and solo storylines ensure that these women of color have a purpose beyond supporting their white friends. The core trio is also better at navigating the realities of life in 2023, particularly Miranda (Nixon), who was a liberal nightmare in Season 1, but has since figured out how to express those feelings without referencing "How to Be an Antiracist" in every conversation.

    But for all AJLT's progress, the most recent episode, "Alive!" serves as a reminder that the franchise's vision of feminism remains frustratingly unchanged since the 1990s. Just as Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is preparing to promote her memoir about Big's (Chris Noth) death, she runs into her old Vogue editor, Enid Frick (Candice Bergen). Enid is no longer at Vogue (she explains Condé Nast gave her "the golden parachute"), but she's still a force to be reckoned with as the author of a wildly popular newsletter. When Carrie asks Enid to plug her book, the industry veteran replies with a counteroffer: Perhaps Carrie would like to participate in her new online magazine, Vivante? "Women our age are grossly underrepresented in the media," says Enid, "So I'd love it if you could get involved. You're perfect for it!"

    Carrie is offended by Enid's suggestion that they're in the same phase of life — "Do I present as a 75-year-old retiree?" she asks — but at Seema's urging, she attends a meeting about the "old lady start-up" in hopes of striking a deal with her former boss. Enid has the power in this scenario, but Carrie can't shake her entrenched prejudice against people of a certain age. She hangs on the fringes of the party, avoiding photos with women using walkers ("That'd be a brand killer for you," warns Seema) and patronizingly offering to help someone slowly making her way up the stairs.

    It's not until Carrie sees the guest of honor, Gloria Steinem, that she begins changing her tune. After Steinem gives a speech about the "new possibilities" for women, Carrie, like a starstruck fan, thanks her for her career of activism. Parker's character goes on to admit that she considered skipping the event, as she's "still battling [her] own deep-seated ageism," but Steinem gives her a pass, saying, "We're all battling that, but we are at the age of our minds, not our wombs."

    Steinem's cameo in "Alive!" is telling. AJLT presents Steinem, a leader of second-wave feminism — which largely ignored the concerns of women of color, queer women, and working class women — as a figure of mythic proportions. Her influence is so great that she's able to get through to Carrie, a notoriously self-centered character, and force her to confront her own biases in a way no one else can.

    Second-wave priorities (and problems) are on display elsewhere at the party, as well. Though women of color are present at Enid's event, the foyer is overwhelmingly filled with white women, who are the only people to speak during the entire scene. (It would've been easy enough for writers Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky to cut a few seconds from Carrie's lengthy conversation with Bitsy Von Muffling, played by Julie Halston, and give a line of dialogue to a non-white actor.) Standing on the steps looking out at the assembled group, Steinem claims that "every revolution starts with a conversation," but in this instance, only certain people are invited to chime in.

    And though Enid disguises the event as a "gathering of female minds," it's basically a shakedown of New York's wealthy, liberal minded women. In the episode's closing minutes, Enid reveals that she wants Carrie to participate in Vivante not as a writer, as the columnist initially believed, but as a donor with "deep pockets." Carrie balks at the $100,000 request, but after Enid sweetens the deal with the promise of a book plug — and Carrie offends her by saying she would "never date a man" as old as Enid's boyfriend — she agrees and fires off a PayPal wire without a second thought.

    And Just Like That doesn't seem to have any qualms about Carrie throwing money at her problems: The episode ends with one of her trademark one-liners about her and Enid overcoming their conflict and becoming "PayPals." In the world of Sex and the City, empowerment is yet another thing that's for sale — it's just a question of how much it will cost.

    New episodes of And Just Like That... drop Thursdays on Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: And Just Like That, Candice Bergen, Cynthia Nixon, Gloria Steinem, Sarah Jessica Parker