Macbeth: If we should fail?
Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail
Macbeth, Act One, Scene Seven
Ah, the terrifying, ice cold loveliness of Claire Underwood, fictional First Lady of the USA and more deadly than any of Cleopatra’s asps. And while the American remake of the British series House of Cards is chock full of interesting roles for women, Queen Claire is undoubtedly the ruler of them all.
I have a surprising girl crush on Mrs Underwood. Surprising to me because despite my Queenly status, I am no ruthless manipulator. In fact, she is the opposite of all that I am and despite having no desire to plumb the depths of morality in pursuit of power at all costs, perhaps I would like a bit of her persona to rub off on me.
Of course, I am doomed to fail in this. Firstly, I can’t match her for appearance: Robin Wright, who plays her, is tall, blonde, without an ounce of body fat and immaculate in presentation at all times. She dresses in various outfits of monochromatic bodycon and wears skyscraper heels for breakfast. In one scene in season four, you see her feeling slightly vulnerable and tired, lying down for a nap on a pristine sofa, still wearing her heels. You rarely see them off; once in a while she takes them off for a nanosecond to rub her feet, then puts them back on. Admittedly I find heels mostly troublesome (unless I am dancing a tango) but surely even the most ardent heel lover takes them off the minute she is home relaxing for the evening?
Perhaps the word relax is key here. You never see her relax, slobbing about in a pair of jeans or leggings. I suspect even the word leggings would bring on a cringe in Claire. Even for a run, or a blast on the rowing machine, she is perfectly turned out in plain black workout gear. And she doesn’t ever look purple and perspiring when exercising, noooooo. Her character is in her early 50s but there is no way the night sweats are going to touch her. I imagine that anything to do with the menopause would be seen as a weakness. Maybe even her own hormones are scared of her. I would be.
Aside from her physical appearance, we are poles apart in other ways. While we see occasional flashes of humanity, essentially Claire is an emotional no-go zone. I’m assuming as a female d’un certain age, there must be some discombobulation in her mindset, but it doesn’t show. Her ruthless froideur is chilling, a perfect foil for her equally cunning, power crazed husband Frank, played by Kevin Spacey. There’s a great scene at the end of season three, following a nasty row, where Frank grabs her by the face and tells her she is nothing without him. Watching it, I was thinking what the fuck are you doing Frank? Get your hands off her. This thinking was not from an anti-violence against women perspective, but more from the understanding that she was his equal and more, and a deadly enemy to make.
Yeah sure, Frank is a murdering bastard, a chilling prospect in the White House, but she is complicit in all his corruption, via their nightly scheming over a shared cigarette and via all the conversations where she eggs on his behaviour, encouraging him to be more authoritative and go for the kill, every single time. They are a team, a pairing that only turns sour when he fails to recognise her need for power of her own, or makes it subservient to his own needs. A foolish mistake indeed.
So is Claire a good feminist, a role model for women? I would say no. Her character does break the mould of showing that women who behave as ruthlessly as men (apart from Margaret Thatcher who sadly was a real life person) will fall apart at some point. Lady Macbeth had a breakdown don’t forget. So far, Claire has had a few blips, but always remained on top of the situation, mainly though her own refusal to accept defeat. And by the end of season four, she is gloriously back on track, although I do worry that her Frank-approved affair with the delightful writer Tom, may be her undoing. I trust her husband even less than her.
But, she has shown that she will shaft any woman, or any other human being, including her own dying mother, in her pursuit of power. I’m not convinced Germaine Greer would approve, although I’m sure Thatcher would. For that, I cannot give her full marks in the sisterhood exams. Not that she would care.
So given this assessment, why the hell would I want some of what she’s got? Well…as someone currently undergoing death by hormones, I wish I had some of her ability to hide her emotions and to create a façade of cool empowerment. Last week, I was a blubbering wreck who only had to be asked ‘are you okay?’ before descending into a sea of tears. All I was really fit for was hiding under the duvet with a good book, or binge watching the end of House of Cards and admiring Claire’s composure, whilst wearing a pair of leggings and mainlining chocolate.
And while I have no wish to become a power crazed megalomaniac, I do wish I had more of her confidence in her own abilities. In season three, she inveigles her way into a job as the US ambassador which she really hasn’t got the experience for, only the hunger. And she does make an arse of it. But instead of dwelling on that, she looks for the next thing she can do on her journey to power.
Many moons ago, a friend and I discovered the spirit of Madge. We were on holiday and she was reading a book in which the main character, when confronted with any difficult decision, asked the question ‘ What would Madonna do?’ I should point out that this was in the early 2000s, when Her Madgesty was still high on a cloud made of fabulosity, rather than the slightly embarrassing fighting-for-custody-via-Twitter podium she occupies right now.
The point of the exercise was to answer the question with bold and confident moves, something we tried with some rather marvellous results. It was about confidence, and banishing every day fears. I am not convinced that asking ‘What would Claire do?’ would have the same results. Madonna was never so blatantly scheming, even on her most Diva like days. Doing what Claire would do is not so pleasant.
I don’t want what she’s got, but I’ll take a little. I could do with being little more buttoned up. And while I’m sure she would put it far more elegantly, some of her motto comes to this: DLTBGYD. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. Whatever, or whoever those bastards may be.
Until next time,