To preface this post I’d just like to point out that I think that if Kevin Spacey was not involved in certain off-screen altercations that House of Cards may have continued to be able to grow in popularity. Potentially having more episodes and season, but the show lost a lot of its moment with the necessary firing of one of its main characters who could be considered the protagonist of the story, Frank Underwood Claire’s Husband.
When examining Claire’s character understanding her backstory is important, and how she becomes involved in the political game in the United States, eventually becoming the first woman president in this reality-based fictional world. She is born to a wealthy upper Texas family, whose father was a republican president who throughout the show is mention liking Frank. Her father helps fund Frank’s political fund his political start, who despite being on different sides of the political aisle most likely saw things very similarly or at least mutual understanding of the world. Claire and her mother’s relationships is strained, based on competition for her father’s limited attention, that would be amplified by the marrying of Frank. Claire’s mother judges Frank harshly throughout the show, based on his conniving characteristics and his ability to gain the trust of Claire’s father. Throughout the show, Frank admits that he felt that he did not deserve Claire, this is because his love is very deep for her, but deeply rooted in the fact that without meeting Claire and gaining her father as an ally he would not have ever gotten this far. Claire is Franks rock, helping him make decisions, establishing herself as an equal to her husband even when he becomes the president. When she enters politics she has no background other than her work for a non-profit which she started and was considered very successful in its endeavors. During her time their Frank is moving up the political ladder, closer to the presidency, she continues to open her political network.
To characterize Claire fans would use words like, cold-hearted, calculated, determined, capable, influential, smart, and assertive. She uses any ounce of political leverage to help her in achieving her goals. But in the world she is attempting to break through in she is often looked down upon for being a woman, like many other women is throughout the show. Claire uses the fact the people often overlook her to take advantage of them to use them, her action often is vindictive. But to succeed in a world that will not put her on an equal playing field she must use her skills to her advantage, mimicking actions that often displayed male oppressors. She manipulates their thinking and action to fit her own agenda moving forward.
The true story of House of Cards is Claire’s ability to manipulate, and take charge of her plan of action. Becoming a woman in politics can be extremely difficult starting out, being forced to overcome stereotypes and societal constructions to break through into a position of power. There are very few women already in politics compared to men, leaving them with less initial allies. The Underwoods in the show are made the project a political power couple attempting to leave their mark in Washington, similar to names like the Clintons. In the beginning, Claire was forced to stand behind Frank as he campaigned his way into minority WHIP, then vice-president, to the president of the United States. Claire who was born in 1965, watched as females became more prominent in politics, but with difficulty, although as the years of her progressed the difficulty was perhaps lessened. Later in the show, it is revealed that getting Claire into politics was apart of the twos plan all along, as well as an initial relationship agreement to reassess the relationship every 7 years. Although, the two parties grow a deep affection for one another, and would be willing to work through issues but operate as two individuals. Before coming members of the public eye, they had a fairly open relationship, with both parties being characterized by at least being closeted bi-sexuals. This speaks to the non-ownership that existed between Frank and Claire, how they were both able to be partners capable of making individual actions. Claire displays strength, and demands the same from her husband, not allowing him to accept defeat or be unapologetic.
She is the biggest driving force in Frank’s life. From what is unseen in the show their early material and political years despite not being in politics she was still involved in the process of getting Frank elected, with her knowledge, money, seduction, and manipulation. She played her part as the wife because she knew it to be easier to launch herself into a position of power by catapulting herself from Frank’s career. This way she could operate outside the parameters of the political ladder, that is far more oppressive and critical, than the more private social ladder. She used Franks career to gain political networks and favors to support her non-profits, and eventually into her completely own political career.
If House of Cards was a literal title, Claire would be the queen middle on the bottom, supporting the entire tower that is Frank and Claire’s legacy. Based on how the show develops assumptions could be made about the two entire relationships, the first triangle in the house. Both coveting power, both with knowledge on the systems at hand, the game of politics, and the role of public perception. They use each other to display an entirely different facade, one lie or deception on top of another, building there a way to the top of the ladder. When examing Claire’s whole character she does not trust easily because of sexual violence in her past and admires strongmen ambitious men like her father, who may not always have excessive or desire time for her. Her true desire is not to love, family, motherhood, or activism, it is the climb as far as she possibly can to conquer the quest of dominance and power. This could stem from growing up independent and smart wanting more for herself than what the world is willing to offer. She is from a wealthy family and could do anything she’d like, but chooses this conquest of dominance over a world that looks down upon her. These facts led me to a conclusion about the original conception of the two’s marriage, they most likely did fancy each other but Claire was looking for a suitor who could raise her up not hold her back. Frank not only thought highly of Claire but desired power as well, needing money to launch a political career. Claire seeing a lot of her father in Frank, headstrong, ambitious, stern, was attractive to him for not only his present self but his potential. The real decision to get married was Claire’s to use Frank as a partner, push him to great heights, and assimilate herself into life. Without Claire the tower falls, she holds the underlying power that takes the whole metaphorical card building of lies they have built together by removing herself.
Her character discusses many feminist issues throughout the show like women’s rights, gay rights, sexual abuse, abortion, sexism, objectification of the female form. She presents a strong female lead who is not a secondary character but rather a protagonist herself in the story of legacy, more important than Frank who receives much more screen time, especially initially. But as I watched the show you could see Claire’s involvement more and more clearly, her prominence is understated, and it could be that the initial extended storyboard or idea for House of Cards never intended for Claire to be a supporting character. Her role is far too important, and she is quite clear and consense of what she wants, how to when she has to be. She is fighting her battles with oppressive systems when she needs to, but never allows a man to control her what she believes to be her destiny. The story is not of a man who becomes president despiting coming from a rural town in South Carolina, but of a woman who chose a man to elevate herself past the oppressive systems in front of her. Despite the system being against her she rose above every opportunity, setting an example and leading a whole other generation of women to reach their full potential. To not be stunted by the weights of society, or the hand of a man, but to lead herself into the future by her own heels.
As a side note, because of Claire’s powerful performance and the concept of her being not only equal in the marriage but as a character as a whole, even surpassing Frank when it comes to doing what she had to do. The actress Robin Wright who played Claire Following season 4, felt that Claire Underwood was the equal of Frank Underwood and demanded equal pay for her performance. A great example of how the artwork of society has reflection onto its realities, and a perfect opportunity for Wright to help build precedence for future female in regard to equal pay.
I think my plan was very effective, opening my eyes to a different world by using a piece of well thought out and developed work to express issues and themes. Claire’s character is enlightening to the struggles women go through in the pursuit of leadership roles, power, and just everyday society. By looking at the show through a feminist lens I was able to identify problems that I may have not done so before, expanding my own realm thought and perception. It is something I’d like to do with more shows moving forward, and hopefully through a lens and into deeper more complex issues or ideas.