All About Claire and My Obsession with House of Cards

By Sheila Dianne Jackson

I’m part of the obsessed 2% who have already finished viewing the entire second season of the Netflix series, House of Cards.  Why on earth am I so fascinated with this show?

As a black woman born in the final fumes of the baby boom, I pledged allegiance to the Afro-American flag; wished I was old enough to have a bra to burn, as I watched Gloria Steinem on TV and read Nikki Giovanni by lamplight.  In the 1970’s, my bedroom walls were covered with Right On magazine posters of Michael, Marlon, and Jackie, of the Jackson 5.  In my fantasy, I would grow up to marry Jackie, and become Sheila Jackson Jackson. We’d have 13 babies (my favorite number), all with names that began with “J” – Jeremiah, Jason, Jacob, Jamila……the list goes on.

For many women, there is a great divide in our politics and how we live and breathe in our marriages. The result, a frustrated confusion around how to resolve our natural, independent spirit with our professional ambitions, and roles as wife and mother.  There is often an ongoing tug of war, with too many moments of holding back, and ‘playing it small’ for the greater good.

I think Claire Underwood has it figured out.  She skipped the kids, freeing herself for a guilt-free pursuit of her goals.  She married her best friend, in a relationship of equals who bring brutal honesty and unconditional acceptance – except when it comes to failure or belly fat, the only two things that appear to be unacceptable to this power couple.

In the 1980’s, television gave us Clair Huxtable, a successful attorney whose character was cloaked in her role as mother and wife to Cliff (Bill Cosby).  A wife without kids has been a rare occurrence in TV Land.  There was Jennifer Hart (Hart to Hart) whose wealthy husband, dog Freeway, and the weekly murder to solve made her life complete.   But never in the history of series programming have we seen a woman like Claire Underwood, of Netflix’ House of Cards.

There have been a slew of recent articles about Claire, with one piece describing her as ‘the ice bitch’.  This character is so controversial, she has been lauded as a ‘feminist warrior’ and accused by others for “dismantling the credibility of women”.   My thing is how can you come into TV Land – a place where a young, suburban, widow-woman sells marijuana and has a series of dysfunctional relationships with misogynistic men; where we root for a woman in an orange jumpsuit who is engaged to a man but sexually manipulated by a woman into the drug trade, then prison – and now want to talk trash about Claire?

Why aren’t people up in arms and writing about Brooke Forester, on Bold and the Beautiful, who married Ridge AND his father, had a child by her daughter’s husband, and slept with her sister’s husband as well? Why aren’t people railing loudly against reality shows like Mafia Wives, Basketball Wives and The Bachelor for the way they spin and portray women?

I think the idea of Claire unnerves both sexes.  A woman who is comfortable in her own skin, owns who she is, her past and present choices; who does not long to be a mother; who is beautiful and maintains control of her sexuality, and is never portrayed or manipulated as a sexual object; who is equally brilliant, ambitious, conniving and as ruthless as her husband; a woman who has an identity and life separate from and alongside her man. Their intimacy is not defined by sex. There is no sense of possessiveness, jealousy, or control.  Instead, they go out and conquer, then return home to their windowsill in the afterglow to share a cigarette.  It’s a relationship of mutual admiration, respect and collaboration.