Earlier this month, five women accused Chris Noth, star of “Sex and the City” and its new reboot “And Just Like That,” of sexual misconduct. The women, who seem to have been between ages 18 and 25 at the times of the alleged attacks (the age of one of the women, Lisa Gentile, is unclear), gave disturbingly similar accounts of harassment, groping and rape to the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Beast. Even as the #MeToo movement has helped uncover the rampant problem of sexual violence in the entertainment industry, the news shocked viewers who had long celebrated the franchise for its strong female characters and themes of feminist empowerment.

The allegations against Noth are particularly upsetting because they taint the legacy of the original series. Set in late-1990s Manhattan, “SATC” sparked a new culture of unapologetic sexual frankness for women as its four female lead characters chased their desires in work, friendship and sex.

“SATC” had its blind spots. Critics cited the show’s lack of diversity, with its focus on White, straight, privileged cis women, prompting creators of “And Just Like That” to showcase queer and nonbinary people, and women of color, as writers, producers, actors and characters with fully developed stories.

But the franchise also neglected the issue of sexual assault that it faces now — the very issue that has shaped the reality of so many people’s lives during the period since “SATC” first premiered.

The harassment and rape accusations against Noth remind us that popular depictions of women’s empowerment have obscured the darker realities of sexual violence and gender inequality still entrenched in American society despite feminist activism and the passage of federal policy designed to protect women.

HBO released the first of six “SATC” seasons in 1998. Noth portrayed business mogul Mr. Big, the love interest of lead character Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Big represented the zeitgeist of unregulated finance that characterized the era of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. When first introduced to viewers, he was handsome and charismatic and described to Bradshaw as a “tycoon” slated to be “the next Donald Trump.” Bradshaw herself, a sex columnist living paycheck to paycheck, dubs her love interest “Mr. Big,” a moniker conveying his masculine power and transcendent financial success — viewers never find out exactly what Big does.

While Big represented the masculine hyper-wealth championed since the age of Ronald Reagan, Bradshaw and friends Miranda Hobbes, Charlotte York and Samantha Jones embodied the dreams and expectations of women of that same era who grew up with expansive liberal sex equality policies. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act requiring the equal treatment of sexes at work; Title IX of the Education Amendments became law in 1972, codifying sex equality in education; and, in the early 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of contraceptive access and abortion rights. These policies laid the groundwork for the development of popular female characters like Bradshaw and her friends, who, as empowered single women, could pursue professional success and gratifying sex.

But “SATC” ignored a more sinister side of 1990s sexual culture: men’s harassment, stalking, rape and intimate-partner violence against women. It took until 1993 for states to outlaw marital rape, and many states required a third-party witness to prosecute a sexual assault case. New York, the setting for “SATC,” kept a narrow definition of sexual assault on the books. Despite greater federal protections, such as the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act of 1994, sexual misconduct remained an epidemic shored up by the fact that those accused of abuse were rarely held accountable.

In 1991, for example, the U.S. Senate confirmed Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas despite compelling testimony from law professor Anita Hill that he had sexually harassed her. Clinton dodged harassment and assault allegations throughout the decade, even before his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed. Colleges and universities didn’t protect students from sexual abuse, even as the Clery Act compelled schools to report sexual violence statistics to prospective students. And in 1998, the year “SATC” debuted, a U.S. Department of Justice survey estimated that 25 percent of women had been raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

“SATC” sidestepped these problems. In its very first season, Bradshaw failed to call out a “modelizer” friend, Barkley, who seduced fashion models and videotaped sex with them without their knowledge. Rather than address the psychological harm and trauma of these violations, the sexually adventurous Jones, seeking the status and praise bestowed on models, asked Barkley to record their sexual tryst. The episode ended on Jones’s comic triumph, avoiding accountability and belying the violation that women experience when they can’t give consent.

In the following season, female characters endured intimate-partner bullying, but in each of these cases, “SATC” tidily resolved the abuse in the space of an episode. For instance, Hobbes dates a domineering attorney — whom Bradshaw dubs the “anger professional” — excusing his outbursts and walking on eggshells before dumping him; meanwhile, Bradshaw’s friend Susan Sharon briefly leaves her “tyrannical, emotionally abusive” husband before returning to the marriage.

We now know that behind the scenes, the culture was just as toxic. A former “SATC” stand-in has alleged sexually degrading behavior by Noth as well as harassment by the crew on set. Meanwhile, others have accused Noth of bringing the culture of sexual violence to other series in which he has starred. “Law & Order” alum Zoe Lister-Jones alleged that Noth was a “sexual predator” who harassed her and a co-worker.

The allegations Noth faces are pressuring “And Just Like That” to confront this dark reality. But the show hasn’t responded to the reports of sexual assault or toxic work culture. This silence continues the franchise’s two-decade pattern of eliding sexual misconduct and has left fans adrift in the wake of Big’s shocking death in episode one, a subsequent Peloton ad framing Noth as a virile Casanova and the many recent allegations. Stars and executive producers Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis released a statement via social media supporting the women “who have come forward and shared their painful experiences.” Now, attorney Gloria Allred has called on the series’ leading women to lobby for the New York Assault Survivors Act, which would allow rape survivors with expired statutes of limitation a one-year “lookback window” to take assailants to court.

“And Just Like That” will run six more weeks on HBO Max. Big is dead, and Bradshaw will probably continue to mourn him. But in light of the misconduct allegations against Noth, many viewers will be relieved to know he’s gone. His alleged attacks make clear, even on a show professing to celebrate successful, sexually confident women, the continued need for reform and reimagining of entertainment power structures beyond #MeToo. As for “SATC,” the reboot has wrapped. But the franchise still has an opportunity to address allegations against Noth and use the reboot’s publicity machine to acknowledge sexual violence as interconnected to the show’s original privileging of straight White wealthy women’s voices — for racism, homophobia and transphobia also have played a role in the failures of our society to fully reckon with the issues of sexual violence that the #MeToo movement has tried to address.