I'd like to think there are enough true “feminist warriors” in the real world that Jezebel wouldn't need to resort to celebrating the likes of sociopath Claire Underwood from “House of Cards” as one. Alas, in “House of Cards' Claire Underwood Is a Feminist Warrior Antihero,” Tracie Egan Morrissey makes the case for why Claire's manipulation of facts during a live interview with CNN's Ashleigh Banfield (playing a fictional version of herself) is seemingly alright with her. “All the scheming and plotting and compromises have given her a national platform for the causes that are the most personal to her: abortion and sexual assault,” writes Morrissey.
Some context (and spoiler alert): In episode four of the Netflix series' second season, Claire and husband Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who has now ascended to vice president, are supposed to be interviewed together by the news network. But an anthrax-like scare has Frank quarantined in the nation's Capitol, and Claire decides to do the interview alone. When pressed as to why she and Frank never had children, and if she had ever been pregnant (as if a real CNN reporter would ever ask such an intrusive question), Claire admits that she had been, and that she decided to terminate the pregnancy.
The truth, however, is more thorny: Claire has had three abortions, two as a teenager, and one during the middle of one of Frank's campaigns. The couple decided to terminate the pregnancy but Claire believes this might not sit well with the viewing public, so she decides to twist the facts a bit to appear more sympathetic to the audience, all while giving herself an opportunity to finally speak up about the boyfriend who raped her while in college, now a military general. Just one episode earlier Claire had to watch Frank dress this same general with honorary pins in a ceremony.
Claire tells Banfield that she was sexually assaulted by the general, naming him in the interview, all of which is true. What is not true is that she was impregnated by him. This isn't a problem for Morrissey: “As soon as Claire admitted that she was raped, that was the story the press would run with. The supposed pregnancy was a moot point; the rape is the real reveal. And with a small, maybe irrelevant falsehood, Claire was able to expose a greater, far more important truth: A decorated military general was a rapist.”
I'm wondering if this type of “feminism”—the kind where women twist “small, maybe irrelevant falsehoods” to expose “greater, far more important truths”—will sit well with many feminist women out there. Claire Underwood isn't intended to be a sympathetic character on “House of Cards”; she is supposed to be right up there with Frank in terms of ruthless, self-serving, amoral ambition—the Lady MacBeth to his Iago.
Was it not just a few episodes earlier that Claire cut off health insurance to a disgruntled and pregnant former employee—“I'm willing to let your child wither and die inside you if that's what's required,” Claire tells her—just to prevent the woman, Gillian, from going forward with a wrongful termination lawsuit? This, after Claire ratted her out to the wife of the man who fathered the baby, prompting the wife to confront Gillian on her doorstep. So much for women making “choices” in Claire's world.
Egan Morrissey argues that lying and scheming to advance an important cause makes Claire a feminist warrior: The final line of her post reads, "In the context of House of Cards' amoral, political spin machine, the end justifies the means." I suppose if feminism means empowering women to behave in the same cruel, vindictive, and shamelessly opportunistic way that many men have behaved since time immemorial, then yes, Egan Morrissey is right. But I suspect that most women do not view characters like Claire as role models.
Indeed, Jezebel's own readers have taken Egan Morrissey to task in the comments section. After noting what Claire had done to Gillian, one reader wrote, "Claire (just like Frank) is a monstrous creature devoted solely to self interest, NOT a 'feminist warrior.' Sheesh." Egan Morrissey's response? "That was just strategy though. She was trying to scare the shit out of that girl, which she did. And the pregnant lady was playing dirty, too, lying in her lawsuit, saying that she was fired because she was pregnant because she thought that kind of lawsuit would hurt Claire and Frank politically."
You'll notice, though, that Egan Morrissey never calls Gillian a feminist, too. In Jezebel's world, that label is reserved only for the winners.