And just like that… Natasha fell down the stairs, chipped her tooth, gave the scorned wife speech to end all scorned wife speeches ('now, not only have you ruined my marriage, you’ve ruined my lunch') and permanently etched herself in the collective memory of young girls everywhere as Carrie’s ultimate antithesis.
Introduced in Sex and the City’s second season, Mr. Big’s second wife was twenty years his junior and described by Carrie as an 'idiot stick figure with no soul' even though she never seemed to be anything but kind, polite, and excessively graceful through her rollercoaster show run. The upcoming reboot And Just Like That… is seemingly bringing her back, but will she be treated any differently this time? The answer might tell us a lot about the ways the world has changed in the past few decades.
With her penchant for beige, pearls, antiques, and a death stare that could make half of Manhattan fear for their Ralph Lauren discounts, my 17 year old self instantly knew to regard Natasha as the epitome of everything she should aim not to be. Carrie regularly belittled her, as well as Big for settling for a 'simple girl with straight hair' and for not being able to handle her own 'complicated streak and wild, curly hair.' It logically followed that we the viewers should do the same, so I did.
I wrote down the 'maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed' quote on every journal I ever had, doubled down on the curling mousse and internalised the protagonist vs simple-girl-with-no-soul binary, to a troubling degree. As expected of me by society at large and reinforced by 90s standards, I borrowed Carrie’s nightmarish ways and routinely forced my own friends to hate on my exes’ new girlfriends. I then did the same with theirs, and we all merrily went on pretending the whole thing wasn’t toxic and wildly unnecessary.
Until my fifth or sixth rewatch, when it dawned on me that what I was seeing in Natasha was simply a 25 year old woman being put through hell and taken advantage of by an older man, with the show’s protagonist serving almost as an accomplice.
The pop culture landscape has changed significantly since the series first aired in 1998, and so has the lens through which we consume and talk about media. The show was inherently a product of its time and, like many others (Friends, The Simpsons), it hasn’t aged all too graciously: much has been written about its whiteness, its overt racism, and even its obsession with erasing bisexuality. The reboot has seen five fresh voices added to the writers’ room, perhaps (hopefully) in an effort to address this.
Producers and executives have been aware of a shift in sensibilities for a long time, and even though it has been a gradual process, it’s safe to say enough has changed that an exact replica of Sex and the City would not be received the same way today. We only need to look at the latest season of FX’s American Crime Story, which covers the Bill Clinton scandal and centres the fateful friendship between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, to see a stark example of how the way we talk about women, and tell women’s stories, has greatly benefited from open dialogue in the public eye and on social media. Lewinsky herself, who executively produced the five episode run, has triumphantly reframed her story in recent years through a viral Ted Talk and speaking at length about the 'culture of humiliation' that threatened to ruin her.
Forgive me the sweeping generalisation, but if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that casting women we don’t like - whether 22 year old White House interns or our great loves’ new partners - as targets for all our sadness and frustrations is all too easy. And all too common.
Antagonising my exes' girlfriends and living in a constant state of competition used to be my favourite past-time, and I know I am not alone, because evolutionary psychology has long studied the topic of female rivalry. Noam Shpancer writes in Psychology Today that 'as women come to consider being prized by men their ultimate source of strength, worth, achievement and identity, they are compelled to battle other women for the prize.'
Much like the women I’ve hated with a burning passion for committing the sole crime of dating people I had once loved, Natasha really didn’t deserve any of the flack she got. Had Carrie had social media, she would have obsessively stalked her the way I did countless women I will never meet, whose lives will very likely never cross mine, whose faces I only know from drunken Instagram rabbit holes after promising my friends one too many times: 'I swear I won’t look her up again after this.' Someone once made their profile private just so I couldn’t keep stalking them. Another time, I vowed to never again set foot in a popular London restaurant after seeing pictures of my ex with his new girl in their very Instagrammable bathrooms. Talking to friends, I will occasionally catch myself confessing to thoughts so cruel I could barely articulate them - which is when I know things have gone too far.
But if TV can change its stripes, so can we. We can learn to drop our main character act and strive to see women for who they are, not who we need them to be in order to have someone to hate.
My therapist tells me I am not really competing with other women, but with imagined versions of myself - Carrie famously hates therapy, but that might be a good place for her to start too.
While we don’t have any details of Natasha’s role in the reboot, I hope the show can learn to re-evaluate her for the smart, wronged, gracious woman she might really be. Give me a spin-off of the spin-off following Natasha’s adventures into the new decade: has she moved back to Paris? Started dating Petrovsky (a great couple, if you ask me)? Does she have an influencer daughter who religiously listens to Carrie's hit podcast? 10/10 would watch.
And if that’s too much to ask, I just hope And Just Like That… gives Natasha the happy ending she deserves. I’ve learned to wish the same for all the women I’ve antagonised throughout the years, and if Carrie’s new storyline saw her reach a similar conclusion - well, wouldn’t that be fabulous?
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