Why We Hate to Love and Love to Hate Claire Underwood

Smart, savvy, and impeccably dressed – rain or shine, day or night. On the exterior, Claire is precisely what you’d expect a first lady to be: polished, polite, pretty. But this House of Cards character also knows how to play her best hand – the seductive allure of a winner. This modern Lady Macbeth tramples the weaknesses staining the Underwood name, and she’ll pay any price. Some would say her ruthless, Machiavellian attitude is her downfall – others, her greatest strength. But one thing is certain.

For better or worse, Claire Underwood is an icon – and that’s why we hate to love and love to hate her.

Somewhere deep within ourselves – in a place we are afraid to expose – we are Claire Underwood. We understand her unquenchable longing to be significant. We relate to the hunger pains of powerlessness that keep her moving up. We get her thirst for independence. We recognize her merciless ambition because the same parasite infects us too. It is why we secretly hate to love her. But are we not afraid, too? Don’t we all fear the possibility of losing ourselves inside the games – of falling from the highest rung of the ladder of success? Or worse, never reaching it at all.

While Claire paints an nontraditional portrait of women in power, there is a danger here – a danger of typecasting. Of pitting our own accomplishments against those of the former CWI director. In her latest column with Glamour magazine, Girls actress Zosia Mamet brings light to a pressing yet unseen issue. Many of us – including Claire – define success in terms of the long-standing male standards of power and money. But isn’t there an alternative? What about women who don’t want to become industry moguls and CEOs? Mamet writes:

I hate that we look at women who choose not to run a country as having given up. I get angry that, when a woman decides to hold off on gunning for a promotion because she wants to have a baby, other women whisper that she’s throwing away her potential. That is when we’re not supporting our own. Who are we to put such a limited definition on success?

As women, we are caught in a tricky game of limbo between becoming the next Claire Underwood and the future Debra Barone. Kids or career? Fame or love?  Even Claire admits that sacrifices must be made, but who is to say that children are less successful than a career? Likewise, who could say that fame is less worthwhile pursuit than love? To each their own. But whether you hate to love or love to hate her, we can all learn something from Claire Underwood. We can translate her inextinguishable drive into our own lives – whether that leads to a seat in the White House, a minivan for five or a cafe in Vermont. Because significance is not measured by the sum of success, only you can know the answer to the million-dollar question.

What does winning mean to you?