Searching for love and friendship in an APA Sex and the City
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, IMDiversity.com Asian American Village Acting Editor
A few months ago—years after everyone else—I discovered the hit TV show Sex and the City in reruns late at night from midnight to 1 am, and I was completely fixated. I was mesmerized by these four funny, smart, stylish women, and the beautiful men who loved them. I could not believe how openly these women could confess every insecurity and anxiety—and how the men would not be scared off. I also could not believe how passionate and persistent the men could be—and how the women decisively cut them off whenever it was not right. So much of what I saw went in the face of everything I had come to believe about men and relationships—partly from my previous diet of Everybody Loves Raymond and Home Improvementreruns and partly from the boys I used to know in high school (Yeah, those are great sources). Yet it felt so luxurious to simply soak in the feeling of being romanced and to imagine that that could be me…
Until I realized (sound effect of a record scratching to a halt here) that there was no room for me in their stories, that I could not just sit down as the fifth Sex and the City girlfriend, that befriending these women and romancing these men would take a lot more than my obvious beauty and verve because I am Asian American and do not fit quite right. Intellectually, I know that Asians and Asian Pacific Americans are woefully underrepresented in the mainstream media, and that it is a function of the people in the industry not having any Asian friends trying to appeal to middle Americans who also do not have any Asian friends—nothing personal. A New York City devoid of Asians (except for restaurant and beauty salon employees) somehow makes sense to them. I am used to simply transposing myself into mainstream stories. However, after I came across the very first episode of the series, in which Carrie Bradshaw asks, “Did all men secretly want their women promiscuous and emotionally detached?” with the camera panning to Carrie’s ex passionately embracing an Asian woman at the bar, I felt deflated and betrayed. I realized that I do not have the heart for forcing my way into the story anymore. I stopped watching the series.
My husband laughs at me and says that my mistake is searching for truth in a TV sitcom and thinking that any of it is real.
Yet, it was written and acted by real people. They must have found some truth in it somewhere, even if it did not include me. I had been completely seduced. I so wanted it to be real. I wanted to believe in love and romance and “The One” even though I never have. I did not want to just be an outside observer. I began to wonder from where this all came. Is it cultural? Is it natural? Is it normal? Or is it just a lifetime of brainwashing by the American media and musicals?
I recently saw my daughter’s middle school production of Guys and Dolls, a musical about gamblers, missionaries, nightclub singers, and unlikely couples falling in love. The women just want to fall in love and get married and live “normal lives” with children and white picket fences, and the men are desperate to stay free. One of the songs is about how women should “Marry the Man Today” and change him tomorrow. Another song is about henpecked guys who are “only doing it for some doll.” The turning point in the play is when gambler Sky Masterson gets missionary Sarah Brown drunk without her knowledge (can anyone say GHB or Rohypnol?) and she falls in love with and later marries him. It is one thing to watch a young Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in these old stereotyped roles, it is quite another to see a school-sanctioned activity introducing these dated gender roles for the first time to my eleven year old daughter (and her nine and six year old sisters in the audience), and to hear my own children filling my house with misogynistic songs—how could those not seep into their subconscious?
Is this where it starts? Is there no avoiding it? Are my children inevitably going to want and have to get over wanting to be rescued by that handsome prince on the white horse?
I have taken great pride in the counter-brainwashing measures we have implemented in our home thus far. None of the fairy tales in our home ever end the way they do on the printed page. What message does it send that Snow White immediately marries the stranger who just kissed her without her consent? Isn’t that called date rape these days? In our home, the fairy tales have been subverted and usually go something like, “and after the handsome prince and beautiful princess got to know each other and became good friends and finished grad school, then they got married and started a family.”
My husband laughs at me and says that my mistake is searching for truth in a middle school musical, of all places.
I feel like I am adrift. I have never felt so lost in the mainstream world. I feel like I am going crazy as I am apparently the only one—among hundreds of parents, teachers, students—who seems to be bothered by this. I was hoping to protect my girls from stereotyped gender roles and to spare them the disappointment of learning that there is a lot more to “happily ever after” than just the first kiss. I think it is even more complicated for Asian Pacific American girls because we have the added element of that whole blond handsome prince/leading man thing. What can you do when school begins teaching these stereotypes?
So I turn to my Asian American girlfriends.
After a flurry of emails back and forth detailing our own school musical horror stories (South Pacific and The King and I), our own childhood desires to be beautiful, our early encounters with creepy old Asiaphiles, and our struggles with daughters who want to be princesses, I realized that I already have my own Asian American Sex and the City thing going on here. There may not be a handsome prince (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov) writing me French love songs or waltzing with me in front of the New York Met, but the men in Sex and the Cityare ephemeral anyways. The women’s perspectives and friendships are the key to the show. After years of searching, I have finally found a coterie of solid Asian American girlfriends to pump me up and get me going straight again—be it children, love, extended family, food, or career. They reassure and encourage and give advice without judgment. They tell me not to worry, that my girls are much smarter than I was…(wait a minute).
As for love and romance, I can always turn to Michael Ondaatje. Growing up, my biggest fantasy was that someone would fall so in love with me that he would spontaneously burst into song. Dancing was optional. It happened on TV and in musicals all the time, so why couldn’t it happen in real life? I kept looking around corners, across open squares, waiting and hoping. After marrying a man who does not sing, I had suppressed that dream until I recently came across a poem by Michael Ondaatje in Secular Love in which he made that same fantasy come true for a friend by dressing up in a white tuxedo and stepping out from behind a bush in song, accompanied by a string quartet, just as she came passing by.
So it is possible. That is all I needed to know.