The Ultimate Flaw of The Good Wife

Good Wife Slap.jpg
By Tara Cavanaugh
Well, that was a slap in the face.
Literally, yes. As has been lauded in many write-ups, The Good Wife’s series finale ending scene mirrors its pilot one, this time with Alicia herself getting slapped for a brutal, if strategic, transgression against her friend Diane, in a move that ultimately “won” Alicia her freedom.
It was a depressing ending to a tedious episode and increasingly tedious season. The finale, as many have pointed out, hideously failed the Bechdel test, as its entirety was about Peter’s trial, Peter’s cheating (again), Diane’s husband’s cheating (oh come on), Cary’s noble search for missing bullets and The Truth, and the waffling between Jason and Alicia that has gone from clever and sexy to downright annoying. How many times this episode did they “have a talk” that consisted of hemming and hawing and middle school fidgeting? I stopped counting.
I shouldn’t have had high hopes for the finale. I used to watch the show with rapt attention, endlessly amused by the intertwining of storylines and the wonderful, zany characters. But after Will left and then Kalinda, the show never fully regained its momentum. Sure, there were still some excellent episodes, but I started to wonder about, and then get completely distracted by, Alicia’s true aims: What does she want, really? What is she even doing all this for?
We still don’t know.
Alicia is a woman who, at first, was the victim. Her husband had a high-profile downfall and prison sentence resulting from soliciting prostitutes, on top of affairs with other women. Alicia was forced into the public eye, humiliated, standing by her man. And then she had to go back to work after a 15-year-hiatus and suffer the hazing of life at a law firm. But all that trauma made a formidable character: ambitious, ruthless, complex. We watched her struggle with defending less than laudable clients. We watched her fight falling in love with Will and then have a delicious affair of her own. We watched her complicated relationship with Peter balance contempt, duty and tenderness. We saw her stand tough, we saw her cry, we saw her throw plates at Eli.
But we never really figured out what she wants.
Did she want to start an all-women’s firm with Diane? Not really, that was Diane’s idea. Did she truly want to be State’s Attorney? That was Eli’s idea and he bullied her into it. Did she want to stay shackled to Peter? No, but her career and political aims necessitated staying the wife. The only thing she ever truly seemed to want was Will, and he died.
Back to that monumental episode of Eli and the plate-hurling: she found out that Eli, so long ago, had deleted a confessional voicemail from Will that professed his love and devotion. When Eli finally admitted this to Alicia, she was livid. But even if she had heard that voicemail back then, would she have done anything about it? Probably not. She probably would have stayed latched to Peter for her career, or his career, or for some other duty.
After all, the show was always about duty and desire. Alicia had a duty to her clients, to her children, her husband. And she fulfilled those duties, while sometimes giving into her desires, sometimes even getting consumed by them, but she always was interrupted by her phone—and she always answered the call.
But what was always apparent, and never fully answered, was the call of her own desires. Sure, there were some episodes in which she did exactly what she wanted. Those moments of stubbornness were few and strange. (Grace to Alicia on a tour bus ride during Peter’s presidential bid: “What are you reading?” “Jane Eyre.” Puzzled: “Why?” Pointed: “Because I want to.”) It was odd to see her selfish. A dutiful woman is never selfish because her duties are always to someone other than herself.
So in the final episode, we saw Alicia leave Jason a confessional voicemail, which eerily reminded me of Will’s ill-fated voicemail to Alicia. We saw her stand by Peter as he resigns, effectively ending his political career and his marriage, and then run off stage after the shadow of Jason. Only it isn’t Jason, he’s nowhere to be found. It’s just her, alone in the hallway, and then she gets the vicious and deserved slap from Diane.
Alicia winces, whelps, soothes herself and recovers, moving resolutely forward. To what? Jason? We know he’s not the answer—a lasting relationship with him is as likely as living on Mars. To another political race that Eli is planning without her input, and that he’ll bully her into? Running after Jason is a sign that maybe she knows now that she has a right to go after what she wants, but I can’t shake the feeling that for her, it’s just too late.
In one episode during her State’s Attorney campaign, a high-profile potential donor asked Alicia what she wanted. Alicia, surprised by the impromptu meeting and a little buzzed, said: “I want to be happy,” looking a little incredulous at herself. After the brief meeting ended, Alicia collapsed into a chair. No, that wasn’t the right thing to say at the time. But it is an okay thing to want—no, it’s an important thing to want. And an important thing to go after. Too bad Alicia never really did.

My Feminist Hero: Buffy Summers

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

By Lindsay Patton-Carson

Since I was a youngster, I’ve always been drawn to strong, independent female characters. It started with She-Ra, Princess of Power and the eclectic Jem, and then led into Punky Brewster and Kristy from The Babysitters Club.

Once I reached adolescence, I needed someone who wasn’t a cartoon or eight years old to look up to, someone who could guide me through this confusing and awkward time.

Buffy Summers, welcome to my life

My brother was the person who introduced me to my first taste of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course I’d heard of the film, but I was too young (I was nearing my eighth birthday when it came out) to let the film’s campiness and overall cheese turn me off from the television show.

I remember him watching the show, me walking in and saying mockingly, “Why are you watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” Then, I sat down and was immediately pulled in. I even remember the episode. It was “When She Was Bad” and I in front of my eyes I saw this assertive, commandeering woman. She had this confidence, yet all these repressed emotions she couldn’t show because she had the daunting task of saving the world. Every. Day.

How Buffy saved my adolescence Continue reading

Lena Dunham is selling her book for at least $1 million blergrumbleUGGGHHHHH

YOU GUYS. Lena Dunham is writing a book.

In case you don’t know, Ms. Dunham is the 26-year-old star and writer and director of a show called “Girls,” which is a melodramedey all about herself. And when she’s not busy reenacting her life (often naked) on camera, she is now writing a book of autobiographical essays that looks like an advice book but “isn’t an advice book,” which must be hipster code because I don’t know what the hell that means. Other than the book will include actual pages of her food diary and she muses about things like shopping and death. Mm-hmm.

“There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” Delusional Dunham says about writing her book, “especially if that person is a woman.”

Ahem. Narcissism and feminism are VERY DIFFERENT THINGS. Continue reading

Anglophilia and Downton Abbey Adoration

Ah, Downton: Glamorous clothes, polite gasps, crisp British exchanges and TONS of drama.

Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I have a problem. I’m an Abbey-aholic. I hang on to every gesture and subtext between Matthew and Mary, I get excited by the prospect of a Bates-Anna non-platonic interaction, and I desperately want to be as cool as the Dowager Countess when I’m that old.

Continue reading

Why all the hate on Zooey Deschanel?

So I was watching Glee this week (mostly out of habit and partly because who doesn’t love a hot mess), and I tuned into New Girl afterward because, as viewers of the show are aware, Schmidt is hilarious and says the darnedest things plus it promised me the oh-so-sarcastic Lizzie Caplan. I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed the episode and the central theme—how women relate to one another.

But then I made a mistake. I read a review of the most recent show, and I went ballistic. Why? Because people were dissing Zooey Deschanel and her character, saying she was infantilizing womanhood. Continue reading

Crack TV: ABC’s Once Upon a Time

I began watching ABC’s Once Upon a Time as a skeptic. My best friend (who’s hooked) told me the show was about fairy tale characters who are cursed by the Evil Queen to live in a miserable place without happy endings–aka our world. That sounds exactly like the plot of Enchanted, right? While I think that movie is adorable, I wouldn’t want to waste my time on such a cheesy TV series. But my best friend knows me all too well, and urged me to watch it with her.

And I did…I watched the first three episodes in row. Not afraid to say I’m addicted.

Continue reading

Sex, blood & misogyny

Let me be frank with you. I love True Blood. I think Eric’s an asshole, but I have a delusional soft spot for Byronic Vikings. Hell, I even like Twilight. The pre-adolescent girl that lurks in me gets giddy over Bella and Edward’s star-crossed romance, while the feminist in me screams “WTF Bella!?” Plus, reading the Twilight series incites the bra-burning, second-wave feminist in me, and I love getting riled up over a book.
But seriously, what’s up with me and other feminists who tolerate antiheroes like Eric and Edward, especially when we’re speaking out against victimization? I suspect there’s more to it than being raised on a diet of Disney princesses the last 75 years.
Here’s my theory: rose-coloring rape culture and domestic violence is an old phenomena, but people seem to be more accepting of chauvinism if it’s in a fictional world―particularly a fantasy world. Also, because women falling in love with their captors/abusers/rapists is an overused plot element, we’re used to it by now. (Gone with the Wind or Pamela, anyone?)
Vampires are the James Deans and James Bonds of the supernatural world―they represent sex, power, and vitality. Although female vamps are common now, they’re not the stars of the show.  Dracula had his concubines, Carlisle is head of the Cullen clan, and Pam does everything Eric tells her to do.  And it’s Team Edward, not Team Alice.
So when I watch True Blood tonight, I know what I like best about it (and what I loathe most about Twilight) is that Sookie Stackhouse will put her foot down and tell Eric to get the hell out of her house. Sookie wouldn’t tolerate Bill or Eric sneaking through her window to watch her sleep, nor has she gotten back with Bill after he raped and drained her. Plus, we’ll see if her fairy blood acts as a trump card over the vamps.

–By Jenna Cooper

Badass women of fiction

Much has been written about awesome heroines.  Princess Leia, Lara Croft, and Wonder Woman get the limelight, but anyone who’s pop culture savvy already knows how great they are.  This list features heroines from TV series, movies, and books that don’t always top the charts.

Marion Ravenwood is the most badass of all Indy’s girlfriends.  Besides not being a ninny or Nazi, Marion outsmarts and outdrinks the bad guys.

Idgie Threadegood (Fried Green Tomatoes) befriends homeless and African-American customers at the café she owns.  She’s also an “out” lesbian (more so in the novel than the film version) and rescues her partner from an abusive husband.

Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) is another amazing heroine from 1930s Alabama.  Atticus raises her to think for herself and she doesn’t give a damn what her ignorant neighbors think.  Also, she won’t wear frills―not because she’s rebelling against the system, but because playing outside in a dress sucks.

Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen (A Game of Thrones)  fend for themselves in a medieval, patriarchal world.  Even better, Arya fights with a sword and Danerys has dragons.  Maybe I’m just a nerd girl, but…sniff sniff…I want a sword and some dragons…

Death from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series lives up to her name―on her own terms.  Instead of the Grim Reaper, Gaiman’s Death is a spunky goth chick who can intimidate the Furies and still have a heart.  Death also has a floppy hat collection and two goldfish named Slim and Wandsworth  Never though I’d say this about “death,” but how cute (in a weird, Helena Bonham Carter way).

Zoe Washburne…no, wait―the entire female cast of Firefly…or just make that every female character invented by Joss Whedon.  Zoe gets the limelight because no matter what kind of mess she and the Serenity crew are in, she stays cool and rarely misses a shot.

How can this list be complete without a girl who’s badass for her brains?  Hermione Granger is a klutz on a broomstick, but without her clever resourcefulness Harry might have met an untimely demise, prophecy be damned.

–By Jenna Cooper

Buffy Kicks Ass

“We saved the world, I say we party. I mean, I got all pretty.” ~Buffy Summers

“Yes, date. And shop and hang out and go to school and save the world from unspeakable demons. You know, I wanna do girlie stuff.” ~Buffy Summers

Photo collage by Erin K. O'Neill. Of course.

Let us now discuss the epic feminist awesomeness that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is exactly what it sounds like: A girl, named Buffy Summers, slays vampires and demons and wages war against evil supernatural forces. The major complicating factor? She’s a blonde, fashion-and-boy-obsessed California high school student who becomes a social outcast because of her secret identity and nighttime activities.

But first, a short personal history lesson:

One fall night in sixth grade, my B.F.F. Marcella came over after swim practice. She made a big stink about watching Buffy that night, since it was the second season premiere. I was reluctant to watch, as up to that point fantasy/horror hybrids were really not my thing (I was still in a lengthy L.M. Montgomery phase). However, Marcella sat my ass down and made me watch it. It was love at first (I’m so sorry) … bite.

In middle school Marcella and I used Buffy to cement our friendship. It held through attending separate high schools and my yearlong absence while I was an exchange student in Australia. We religiously analyzed last night’s Buffy episode every Wednesday at lunch. I had a buff-colored kitten named Buffy, and Marcella had a black kitten named Angel (after Buffy’s vampire-with-a-soul boyfriend). Marcella got all the DVDs as soon as they came out, and we would often sooth our teenage angst (break-ups, placing badly in the state water polo tournament, rejection by our first-choice colleges, etc.) with mochas and Buffy marathons. It became a common language of cultural and fashion references that were always fodder for conversation (and often girlish shrieking). When our other commonalities fell away as we grew up and away from each other, Buffy kept us together.

But I digress.

The coolest thing about Buffy is that creator Joss Whedon conceptualized the show as a deliberate inversion of horror movie clichés. In traditional horror, when the girl wanders into a dark ally the audience expects her to meet a horrible fate. On Buffy, the girl hunts the monster in that ally, and then fights and defeats it. Whedon purposely created the show as a way to subvert and redefine the audience’s expectations about women.

The show layered this feminist perspective upon a strong tradition of high school and coming-of-age-stories in American pop culture. “In Buffy‘s world, by contrast, the problems teenagers face become literal monsters,” Rhonda Wilcox wrote in an essay in the Journal of Popular Film and Television. “Internet predators are demons; drink-doctoring frat boys have sold their souls for success in the business world; a girl who has sex with even the nicest-seeming male discovers that he afterwards becomes a monster.”

There is a lot of scholarly research and criticism of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There’s a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Buffy Studies.” There’s even an academic journal called Slayage: The Journal of the Whedon Studies Association. No, I’m not kidding. The show has become a bit of a zeitgeist for feminist criticism, in particular for scholars interested in Third Wave Feminism.

And then, of course, Buffy kicked a lot of ass. A very serious amount of ass. Over the course of the show’s seven television seasons, she averted multiple apocalypses. She punned and killed all very large monsters and vampires that she came across. She added clever insult to injury.  She never apologized for not being a dumb, weak girl. And it was very physical—in the canon of the show, a Slayer is given extra-human powers of strength, speed and agility. She was a fashionable girl’s girl, and she slayed creatures that go bump in the night.  It was Girl Power at its late-1990s peak and taken to an excellent extreme.

Buffy deals with homework, dating and a single mother who’s just a bit clueless. Despite being labeled a loser, she navigates the social hierarchy of high school with her friends who assist in her fight against the undead. She goes through the many painful stages of sexual initiation and maturity. She fights the good fight of college admission, and later the decision to drop out of school when her mother dies and she must take care of a younger sister. She makes mistakes, and fails sometimes. While Buffy’s circumstances were different, they embodied situations and emotions I often felt as an adolescent trying to make my own way.

Buffy was not just a warrior, but a leader. Less than half way through the series, she quit taking orders from the Watcher’s Council, an ancient group of British people who identify and train the Slayer, and decides to go it alone with her friends. While Buffy defers research to her Watcher (who was fired from the Council) and friends Willow and Xander, she is the member of the darkness-battling team that makes, coordinates and executes the final plan. She essentially becomes the general of a guerilla army, which becomes a more and more literal role as the series progresses.

Buffy is a hero. She has a destiny. She fought and died (twice). She saved the world a lot. And yet, the show wasn’t really about Buffy’s sacred duty to fight things that go bump in the night. It was, at it’s core, about how to deal with and survive the pressures of being a young woman in American society.

And, hot damn, the girl looked good doing it. In the tradition of WB teen show characters dressing like they had unlimited budgets and stylists, Buffy had the BEST clothes. Well, for 1997-1999, she had the BEST clothes. If there was ever a fashion icon Marcella and I strove to emulate, it was Buffy. Her very short skirts, leather pants, spaghetti strap tank tops and platform boots were the holy grail of sartorial achievement in middle school (mostly because we had to fight our mothers to be allowed to leave the house dressed in them). Buffy rocked super-feminine styles tempered by leather, denim and practical pieces. While most of her wardrobe is horrifying in retrospect, there are still a few items I’d wear and rock the shit out of today.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a concept that could and did go terribly wrong. Its first incarnation, a 1992 movie of the same name, is awful. Yet the film showed signs of brilliance nonetheless. The TV show rectified all the problems of the movie, by making the fictional universe and characters deeper, wider, darker and much more interesting. The show wouldn’t have been such a phenomenon if it were crap. It really is excellent television on all levels. The writing was clever and intelligent without being preachy, the characters were real, and the action was fantastic. It is really fun to watch. Joss Whedon is a singular talent—he really can do no wrong. He loves super-powered women, and that shows in all aspects of his storytelling.

Looking back, I honestly believe that Buffy had a profound effect on my own development as a feminist thinker. At the time, I was just watching a cool show with fun dialogue, tragic romance and drool-worthy shoes. But I internalized a lot of the subtext and it helped shaped how I view modern womanhood: A girl can kick ass, and look pretty doing it.

–By Erin K. O’Neill