thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

How To Be Awesome Like Claire Underwood

In adaptation, DNC, feminism, gender, How to be Awesome Like, Netflix, parenthood, reproductive health, spoilers, Television, TV villains on February 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Sarah S.

In the first episode of Netflix’s House of Cards, one recognizes immediately that Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is Lady Macbeth to devious congressman Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) Macbeth/Richard III hybrid. But despite her overt support of villainy, Claire is easily one of the most fascinating women in a current series. Here’s how to be awesome like Claire Underwood.

-Marry not because you’ll be “happy” or “stable” or have a passel of children. Marry because your Intended promises you’ll never be bored.

-Know what you want and go after it.

-Look your age but with an unwavering running schedule, an amazing haircut, and a wardrobe of dresses to die for. (I love how this show plays off Wright’s star text by hearkening back to Princess Buttercup and her being the “most beautiful woman in the world.”)


-Have a hot, art photographer ex-lover in Manhattan on speed dial for whenever you’re feeling a little bit down and/or your husband is being an unsupportive ass.

-Have a true companionate marriage based on absolute honesty and respect and so

-Be pissed as hell when your husband begins to sacrifice your career for his and asks you to make compromises he’d never ask of himself.


-Be part of an interesting experiment in the evolution of “television.” House of Cards, Netflix’s foray into series making, has flaws but it’s super interesting on multiple levels nevertheless. If nothing else, am I irritated that Claire’s sense that her life is missing something is manifesting in her wondering if she should have had (and should pursue having) children? Absolutely. Because it’s boring and cliché and so obnoxiously obvious and typical—e.g. not like Claire at all. (Related, I also hate that in her discussion with her doctor we receive two pieces of medical misinformation: first, that despite what she’s heard her age is no impediment to a healthy pregnancy; second, that her uncomplicated abortions might have negatively affected her fertility.) However, perhaps we are supposed to think that this newfound desire is misplaced, given what we know of both Underwoods. Only time will tell if Claire will be crushed by the inevitable tumbling of this House of Cards.

  1. […] awesome as these qualities might be, her cruelty knows few bounds. For example, her severe decision to […]

  2. I think it’s pretty sad how you dismiss her apparent regret for not having children. It may be “boring,” but it seems like a pretty natural desire, for men and women alike, and it’s bizarre that you denigrate it.

    • Hi, Thanks for the comment! My issue was not with *people* regretting not having children but with *Claire*, who had heretofore been intriguingly original, behaving so stereotypically. My criticism was a feminist one, a concern that the writers *might* be choosing to drain this amazing character of her vibrant color.

      • But I don’t understand why it has to be so dichotomous. A woman (or a man) who chooses to pursue a career at the expense of starting a family might have regrets or second thoughts. It’s not such an all or nothing decision. I think it’d be unrealistic to portray her as such a black and white character. I think it’s a very realistic and interesting portrayal of how a woman who prioritized her career may also have lingering questions about the road not traveled, just as a woman who decides to start a family potentially at the expense of her career might second guess herself. Whether or not you think women *should* start families, it seems like a pretty natural impulse for most (men too), whether they choose to act on it or not.

        Also, with regards to her affair, I understand that the feminist justification for this might be borne out of the historical precedent that men were allowed to mess around out of marriage and women weren’t, but isn’t condoning her fling just doubling down on a demonstrably bad concept? Wouldn’t it be better to say that men who cheat on their wives are dirt-bags instead of saying, “well if they do it, why can’t we?”

  3. Fair enough, JL. I should clarify, too, that I’m not saying that Claire is a feminist character or an archetype for how women should behave (i.e. prioritizing career or having affairs just because it’s their/our turn). I’m generally interested in what a whole “text” (shorthand for, well, anything) shows about our culture, differs from mainstream ideologies, and/or reinforces them. So having Claire be really likable in some aspects, even though she’s so unorthodox and also, often, nasty, to me lends a tremor to the show that makes it different than what we usually see. On the other hand, then, having her swerve back toward this stereotypical place might be seen as an attempt by the show’s creators to stop that tremor, that smooth out that wrinkle that deviates from viewers’ traditional expectations. (I should confess, I researched how Brit/American narratives from the last 200 years or so depict reproduction so I’m *obsessed* with the topic. *smile*)

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