Is Claire Underwood a Feminist?

First things first: faith in humanity is temporarily restored following US midterm elections. Many firsts, many records broken. Over 100 women from diverse backgrounds elected, many truly inspiring stories. American quality papers, such as the New York Times run fantastic features and analyses, definitely worth a look. 

On to the next issue: The final season of the House of Cards was released last week. I binged it so you don’t have to. Kevin Spacey go the boot amidst the #metoo revelations just before the filming of the final season started, hence Robin Wright’s character Claire Underwood took over as the main character, ie. the President of the United States. This we already kind of knew, and this would have been the development in the final season anyway. But as Frank had to be killed off abruptly, some screenwriting probably had to be redrafted.

The following contains major spoilers, so don’t read on if you want to keep the suspense. 

Of course Claire can carry the weight of the show. Yet I had the feeling that the episodes kind of limped along a bit and various odd stunts had to be fabricated in order to fill the minutes (reminds be slightly of the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life – mini series the other year, where weird musical scenes were introduced so as to make time pass). Lots of people are killed again, and now it is Claire that talks directly to the camera. 

The season definitely passes the Bechdel-test with flying colours – the most main characters are women (Claire’s nemesis this time is Annette Shepherd played by Diane Lane), also the most people killed this season are women.  Claire’s character seems to spin out of control in the final season. There are too many loose ends to tie after five seasons of full-on rollercoaster of events and casual murders to develop most characters who are still alive. 

The gender of the new POTUS is made very clear both by Claire’s own comments as well as by her own scheming which ends up her firing the whole cabinet, including the VIce-President, in one sitting. Claire replaces her cabinet with an all-female staff, yet none of the characters are really developed, most are not even named. Not everybody Claire asks want to play ball with her – Cathy Durant declines to work in the cabinet, as does Jane Davies. Both are promptly killed (Durant basically dies twice). Claire also schleps along an easily manipulated new female press secretary whom she ends up bribing with an old handbag in order to be able to run the daily press briefings herself.

A bit after halfway of the season Claire reveals she’s pregnant, carrying Frank’s child (she says). We don’t get to see the birth, but the sex of the baby is revealed. Claire says several times that this time she will not be managed, manipulated and told what to do by men. She uses decidedly feminist language in a couple of scenes. So is Claire Underwood a feminist capable of having it all by playing by the rules of her late husband?

Throughout the show she’s demonstrated as sociopathic behaviour as Frank, there’s no doubt about that. Whatever she’s done and accomplished has been to grab more power. Could this not be seen a feminist trait? She hasn’t been exactly nice to lots of women, but it’s not like she’s trusted any of the men, either. 

At times the main shenanigans centralise around women characters only. I thought to myself what the audience reception to the sixth season will be, given that Frank’s ruthlessness was widely admired by a huge male audience. Would they still keep their interest when the focus and gravitas shifts to women?

While Claire is certainly no feminist warrior, at the same time she is taking herself exactly the same behavioural liberties as the men that surround her. In a way that could be a true demonstration of practical equality. 

The sixth season ain’t no grande finale of the House of Cards – it is rather when the house finally collapses. Also, following the 2016 US elections, it was always going to be difficult to come up with political fiction more absurd than the events taking place in real life. 

The picture is not mine, the copyright is likely with Netflix/The House of Cards.

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