The Ying and Yang of Claire Underwood

With the release of a third season on the horizon, I have nothing except House of Cards on the brain. The multilayered characters are endlessly interesting and the women are no exception. With strong connections to Shakespeare, it is impossible to argue Claire Underwood isn’t every bit the cutthroat mastermind The Bard wrote as Lady Macbeth. Spoiler alert: Lady Macbeth is a villain, and so is Claire Underwood. However, as her husband Frank is almost a lovable villain, Claire demonstrates she is more than worthy of respect and admiration in her own right while still walking a narrow line between good and evil. Her dichotomy makes her character complex and life-like. Because of this, Claire Underwood is my favorite fictional feminist.

1. She is a bad feminist, but a feminist icon.

Claire is the “Bad Feminist” that Roxane Gay describes in her book by that title. “I have certain… interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.” This is the beauty of feminism; that flaws are embraced as part of the human condition. Through this lens, the viewer watches Claire glisten in the golden rays of self-empowerment. Frankly, she does things that make our skin crawl, like in Chapter 17 when she combines the separate events of her sexual assault and abortion into the same story during a nationally broadcast evening news interview.

One can infer she does this in an effort to justify her decision to terminate the pregnancy to the viewers. Though manipulative, who is to say she doesn’t have all the right to harness what power she can from her experience? Had the truth come out, would she be made to apologize to her rapist for defamation of character? No. Fuck that guy.The hurt she felt became the fuel that drove her. In addition, her announcing her attackers name publicly allowed another woman he victimized to come forward. Claire attempts to use her to climb the ladder further, which is where the “bad feminist” label works its way in. Forcing another victim forward is by no means something to condone, but she is human, and Claire’s flaw is her ruthlessness.

2. She and her husband are partners while still maintaining independent goals.

While Claire does things (like forego her desire to have children) in effort to progress her husband’s political career, she does it with a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality. In Chapter 25, when Claire drops the sexual assault bill she had been championing, it is for the purpose of manipulating the Majority Whip (Jackie Sharp) into backing an impeachment of the President, which would segue into Frank becoming Commander in Chief.

It could be said she is a traitor to victims of sexual violence—and it would be true. Claire is no hero, and she shouldn’t be held to the image of one. She wanted Frank to become President knowing the First Lady has more opportunities for influence than she currently had as V.P.’s wife. In the same interview where she speaks about her assault, the interviewer and her have an exchange about her role as the Vice President’s wife.

“Ashleigh: Is it hard being a politician’s wife?

Claire: It’s thrilling. Not without its challenges.

Ashleigh: Always In the background. Subsuming your goals for is goals.

Claire: I don’t see it that way. We’re two very independent people who have chosen to live our lives together. I support him. He supports me.”

They are a team, and it goes without debate that they are equals despite Frank’s position in government. When Frank undermines Claire early in Season 1, she turns on him and sides with a rival who promises her the funding her NGO needs, which Frank has been dragging his feet on obtaining. She reminds Frank his word is not gold. This, however, becomes a more rare occurrence as the series progress, for she does not want to interrupt Frank’s (and her) ascent to the Presidency.

3. Sometimes her sexuality is a vulnerability, other times it is a source of power.

The classic trope of “all’s fair in love and war” holds true to Claire’s politics, but she isn’t an unfeeling monster. Though this is still speculation on my part, I have come to the conclusion that Frank Underwood is homosexual (maybe bisexual, though his only sexual encounters with a woman, other than once with Claire, are to manipulate Zoe Barnes, the journalist.) We are given evidence in Chapter 8 when Frank reminisces with old male college friends, one of which he had a relationship with. I think we can all agree Frank isn’t above playing heterosexual to progress his career and that were it true, Claire wouldn’t be in the dark about it. In Chapter 24, she asks Frank if he is “satisfied.” He indicates that he is not, and by the episode’s end, Claire initiates a threesome with Meechum, their bodyguard. This is the only instance in the series it is implied the husband and wife have sex.

While she uses her sexuality to maintain Frank’s ruse, Claire falls victim to emotion as any feeling human would. After sacrificing an offer that would benefit her clean water initiative for Frank’s good, Claire goes to visit Adam Galloway, a photographer and former love. She stays with Adam as they rekindle their romance, only leaving once her disappearance jeopardizes Her and Frank’s career. Though it is apparent she has feelings for Adam, her priorities are with her career and husband/business partner.

In the trailer for the third season, a fission seems to be developing between the power couple, which follows Shakespeare’s structure flawlessly. My palms are sweating in anticipation of how Claire will take on her new role as First Lady and if she might unravel like her predecessor, Lady MacB. Regardless of the path she follows now that they have reached the top, Claire Underwood is and forever will be my spirit animal.

2 thoughts

    1. I finished season 3 over the weekend… Certainly a lot to say about all that! Maybe I’ll do a follow up piece to talk about all those beastly twists.

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