We still have plenty of taboos to lose about women, sex and pregnancy

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The Independent Online

During its five-year run, Sex and the City certainly broke some important taboos. The final series, which ended last night, battled hard, for example, at breaking the important taboo which decrees that the donning of ultra-expensive ball gowns should be confined to attendance at ultra-expensive balls.

During its five-year run, Sex and the City certainly broke some important taboos. The final series, which ended last night, battled hard, for example, at breaking the important taboo which decrees that the donning of ultra-expensive ball gowns should be confined to attendance at ultra-expensive balls.

The actress Sarah Jessica Parker, or at least Carrie Bradshaw, the character she plays, has been seen wearing ball gowns everywhere, from burger bars to rainy car parks. She has laughed in them, cried in them, and slept in them. She has even hailed cabs in them. She has been quite the trailblazer.

Grateful as I am that thanks to this ground-breaking show I can purchase a £10,000 dress, then wear it to pick the children up from school if I want to, I'm afraid the end of this comedy prompts some Carrie-style column-questions. Like: If the show has really had any impact on the way in which we view women and sexuality, then how come a statue of a pregnant disabled woman in a supposedly cosmopolitan capital is proving so controversial, especially when it's only going to be there for 18 months?

The artwork in question is Marc Quinn's Alison Lapper Pregnant, which is slated to go on the empty plinth in London's Trafalgar Square. Some critics say that for various reasons it is not "appropriate" for the square. Others abhor what they see as the political correctness driving the very existence of the work. One thing is for sure though. The power of the statue is bound up with the fecundity of a woman who looks so strange. What really disturbs people about Alison Lapper Pregnant, is the undeniable fact that Alison Lapper is a sexual being even though she is not remotely attractive by the conventions of the Sex and the City girls.

Ms Lapper herself declares that "I'm not embarrassed by my body - in fact I'm proud of it. It is every bit as beautiful as Naomi Campbell's." Funnily enough though, this is the flimsiest justification of the statue's public display that is possible. A statue called Naomi Campbell Pregnant wouldn't get anywhere near the Trafalgar Square plinth, because it would be seen as celebrating the dumbed-down celebrity culture we pretend to hate. But what she means, I think, is that a beautiful pregnant woman would at least be seen as unambiguously celebratory. The idea of a pregnant Waynetta Slob, though, never mind a disabled woman, terrifies us.

Far from being a breakthrough for women - funny and entertaining though it may have been - Sex and the City was conservative. All of the four women who starred in the series were beautiful, privileged and part of an élite. We've been celebrating unconventional behaviour among their sort since the dawn of time.

When we see similar behaviour among the socially deprived, the unattractive, or the poor, let alone the disabled, our reactions are quite different. A loud-mouthed 16-year-old on a club 18-24 holiday could never get away with wearing a few grand's worth of borrowed ball gown on the beach. She doesn't win approval for any of her Sex and the City antics. They cause such social problems as teenage pregnancy, rising sexual ill-health, binge drinking and even binge shopping on credit. The latter, by the way, is putting more and more women into prison. Not liberating.

So the only message the show really puts out is that you can get away with anything if you're a rich, attractive woman under 40, preferably in a ball gown. In other words, if you're Lady Hamilton. I'll miss Sex and the City. But frankly, it made more sense, and was a lot funnier, when viewed as a clever satire on the shallow idiocy of modern female stereotypes

The Spanish election was a victory for democracy

I take exception to the idea that the voters of Spain, by rejecting the conservative government in the wake of the Madrid bombings, have appeased al-Qa'ida. Surely, on the contrary, the war on terror is an issue that any al-Qa'ida-opposing voter would want her government to have a firm grip on.

By insisting that the Madrid bombings were the work not of Islamic extremists but of Eta, the Spanish government proclaimed that it had no such grip on events. For this reason alone, all those who support the war on terror should be pleased, not appalled, that there has been regime change in Spain.

Anyway, as it is undeniable that the Aznar government made the wrong call on this matter, is it not possible that it made the wrong call on the wider issue of invading Iraq as well? Had George Bush not decided to shatter the massive international coalition against terror by invading Iraq with such flimsy support, then there would not now be such a narrow range of targets anyway.

Most right-thinking people, as well as right-thinking governments, supported the attack on Afghanistan. Even some of those who did not would have been swung round by the sight of some decent nation-building there, in a country that was directly implicated in the fight against al-Qa'ida.

Instead, inevitably, the focus moved away from Afghanistan and al-Qa'ida to the new invasion and Saddam Hussein. The former was most certainly an attack that was directly pitted against al Qa'ida. The latter was most certainly not, even though there were attempts to persuade us otherwise.

It is those who want to stifle the expression of dissent at the ballot box who are attacking democracy.

Not pushy in the least

Meanwhile, even the most perfect of women have trouble with their own pregnancies. It is distressing indeed to learn that Kate Winslett lied about the birth of her first child because she was ashamed to have undergone an emergency caesarean. The actress told a magazine that only now, after the natural birth of her second child, does she feel able to admit that with her eldest, she underwent medical intervention.

This is not sisterly behaviour. Ms Winslett appears to feel competitive with other women, as well as ambivalent about her own womanhood. Why else would she be willing to lie about such a matter in the first place, then tell the truth only after she feels she has achieved what other don't.

Actually, loads of women experience the same intervention as she did, since something like 68 per cent of caesareans are emergencies.

The huge rise in caesareans over recent years is often characterised as being driven by the too-posh-to push brigade, who opt for medicalised birth for reasons of convenience.The truth is quite different. Perhaps, more than anything, Ms Winslett didn't want people wrongly thinking she was too posh to push herself, and too hypocritical to admit it.

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