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why do we (secretly) root for claire underwood?

travel + culture

on the road and what's out there.


why do we (secretly) root for claire underwood?

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

season 4 of House of Cards hit us all a few weeks ago.  we dug in immediately, eager to devour the next 13 hours of Frank and Claire Underwood, and eager to enjoy their best, worst and most despicable moments on the tour de force to re-election.

this season...Claire is savage.  she digs up one of the most questionable photographs from Frank's past and uses it against him...which in turn, gave us one of Kevin Spacey's finest acting moments on the show, screaming at her, in tears, about why Frank even kept that photograph.  and Claire sat there, watching him with steely eyes.  unshakable.  ready to propose her next move. 

move to the final scene of the last episode.  the entire room wincing and turning away from gore and savagery happening in front of them, but Claire and Frank look straight ahead, unflinching.  the blood doesn't move them, because they spilt it.  that blood is on their hands.

Frank has killed, Claire has threatened to let a woman's unborn child die inside of her, and together they have manipulated their way into the highest office in the world without a single vote cast.  they backstab, they cheat, they are ruthless.  yet somehow... we root for them.  we want them to succeed.  you want them to keep winning, keep surviving.  particularly as women, we want Claire to keep surviving.

when you look at their characters objectively, on paper perhaps, their actions are despicable and even worse towards each other.  but there are these incredibly human moments that bring us back into their fold, where you nod to yourself and you feel them.  

Claire, running her heart out after a passive aggressive argument with Frank.   Frank, unable to enunciate words in practicing a speech because Claire won't return his calls.  The two of them smoking at their window, letting the wisps of cigarette smoke fill up the silence between them.

i think we find the most human, savage pieces of ourselves in these characters sometimes.  You see Claire's hatred for being his shadow (most women feel this way in their relationships sometimes).  You feel her rage as she calmly accepts the analysis that the public prefers her hair blonde (we all know this feeling....something about your appearance that makes you feel empowered but someone cuts it down so flippantly).  You see her raise her hackles at Frank lavishing attention on someone other than her (despite their agreement), and retaliate.  You see their marriage straining, and see them clawing for it in ways that only make sense to them (can we ever really understand someone else's relationship? no one understand why we do the things we do to our partners).  

Claire understands the reality of their rise to power, but she doesn't always want to like it.  she accepts it, she holds her head high...Claire is a fighter, she is a warrior of epic proportions.  Claire has the poise all of us wish we could have, and despite her savagery, we admire her.  you want so badly for Claire to come out on top, because we all see a part of ourselves in her.  and you know that if she can rise, you can.  

if we put on our most form-fitting ivory shift dress, 140mm Louboutins, and steely resolve, there is nothing that can stop us.  every problem has a solution.  if plan A doesn't work, go forward to plan B, C, D, E or Z.  what's done is done, we can't change it.  move forward.  

but for some reason, we don't talk about how we identify with this flawed, dark character.  we, as a collective, rally behind women like Amy Schumer or Jennifer Lawerence or Mindy Kahling...countless "lists" pop up around the internet of "15 times Amy Schumer was all of us" or "10 Times Kimmy Schmidt was my life."  these kind of "hot mess" projections of being either single or not fully "adulting" or how most of us feel like we're stumbling through life - which is perfectly fine and usually very funny.  but why aren't we talking about how most of us are also in this delicate balancing act of trying to keep our careers together, our marriages happy, our families happy, keep our partner's dreams alive, keep our own dreams alive....and that sometimes that culminates in crying alone while running or feeling nauseated at the thought of what we've just had to do or say to get things done?

why aren't women talking more about how we feel connected to women like Claire Underwood?  about how we take those solo runs at night with tears freezing down our cheeks, about how we lay in the bathtub and slide into the worn out from how much we give but don't receive back, and we're not sure how much more of that we can take.  about how we are so seldom afforded a moment to be unsure, weak, tired or anything other than strong and fully committed and fierce and poised and smart and beautiful and perfect.

my favorite moment of this past season is a small moment when Frank's opponent's wife sits down with Claire and asks if she regrets not having children (as if Claire's other accomplishments aren't enough to make her outstanding).  and Claire icily you regret having them?  because plenty of women, myself included, are tired of being asked...why don't you have children?  because a lot of women maybe can't have them, are struggling to have them, or just flat out don't want them (or don't want them yet).  and how often do we want to scream back at these people.... why do you have them?!?!   but we don't talk about this often enough.

it's easier to laugh about how we come home from work and want to drink a whole bottle of wine or make a joke about how i'm 29, i like to wear sweatpants and i'd rather eat pizza than go to the gym.....than it is to say, i'm 29, fighting hard to be a woman in a man's world, and sometimes i go for runs so i can cry by myself.  

maybe it's just me....but when i see a woman like Claire Underwood, who is vicious and savage and intimidating and fierce and flawed...i see a real representation of what so many women are today.  what we're going through, how we're feeling.  sometimes it's just in a look, a blink of her eyes, a subtle, fake smile, or a nod of her head.  sometimes it's only in the way she inhales sharply, steeling herself against her next public battle...forcing herself to wait until she's alone to feel that pain... but i sit there on my couch and i feel it with her.  i know those looks, those inhales, those nods... and i'm proud to be that woman.  and i'm happy to see someone in pop culture not laughing at it, but putting it out there.