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85 4 SaMANtha Language and Gender in Sex and the City Kristy Beers Fägersten and Hanna Sveen Sex and the City premiered on cable network HBO in 1998, which broadcast the last of the series’ ninety-four episodes in 2004. Throughout its six-season run, Sex and the City enjoyed consecutive Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Television Comedy/Musical Series and Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series, eventually winning the former in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and the latter in 2001. Additionally, the series and its cast members were nominated for more than seventy other broadcast awards, including seven Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Although the title accurately summarizes the series’ basic goal of depicting sexual relationships in New York City, Sex and the City can more correctly be said to be about friendship, specifically female friendships. At the start of the series, characters Carrie Bradshaw, Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York, and Samantha Jones were all single, in their thirties, and fully employed: Carrie as a writer of “Sex and the City,” a newspaper column about sex and relationships; Miranda as a lawyer; Charlotte as an art gallery curator; and Samantha as a public relations executive. In each episode, Carrie mused about a specific aspect of relationships for the purpose of her column, most often guided by her own and her friends’ experiences . Hookups and breakups, promiscuity, abstinence, infidelity, and sexual positions, practices, trends, and deviations, among other things, were often depicted in provocative detail. As Janna L. Kim and colleagues 86 | Kristy Beers Fägersten and Hanna Sveen note, the four female leads “defy the Heterosexual Script by exhibiting sexually agency, prioritizing their sexual pleasure, and valuing their independence from men” (2007, 155). This defiance is enabled by their privileged status as white, educated, upper-class, heterosexual females, which also allows them to believably deviate from stereotypical language use. Thus, while the female leads would separately navigate their own sexual relationships, in each episode they would interact with each other in various constellations (but most commonly all four together) and discuss their experiences in, for television at that time, an unusually open manner . While the sex scenes helped to distinguish Sex and the City as groundbreaking television, the intimacy and explicitness with which the female lead characters interacted with each other garnered the series a wide and loyal audience. If language use were totally and absolutely determined by gender, we could expect that each of the four female characters of Sex and the City (and, by extension, all females) would communicate in the same or very similar ways. This, however, is simply not the case, as illustrated best by the character of Samantha, who represents the most obvious deviation from conventional notions of how women speak. Indeed, so stereotypically masculine is Samantha’s communicative behavior that one wonders if the name Samantha, with its second-syllable emphasis, isn’t essentially a tongue-in-cheek indication of her true linguistic identity. By comparing Samantha’s typical speech practices to examples from Carrie, Charlotte, and Miranda, we illustrate that gender is not an absolute variable but rather exists on a continuum, and that language use is neither determined by gender nor a function of gender alone, but rather can be considered the representation or construction of one’s position within a social group and one’s role in a social context. Throughout this chapter, we consider examples of talk and interaction in Sex and the City (also referred to as SATC) from a gender perspective, proposing that the series both supports and challenges theories about the relationship between gender and language, specifically with regard to women’s language. The chapter thus provides tools for recognizing and understanding gender roles in television series by highlighting linguistic strategies of gender construction.   SaMANtha | 87 Folk-linguistic Beliefs about Gender and Language In a fictional television series, all characters’ talk is constructed, mainly by writers, actors, or directors, so as to create, develop, and reflect a recognizable identity. Biological sex is one of the most salient features of an identity , but the state of being male or female is not achieved simply through talk. Gender, on the other hand, referring to how ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ a person behaves, or to what degree a person orients to masculinity or femininity, can be conveyed via linguistic means. Gender is thus a performance : it can be said that one behaves like a woman or like a man. When it comes to...


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