Finding a positive female role model on TV is like finding a politician with integrity. Once in a while one comes along but they’re usually “too good for the system” and it’s just a matter of time before they disappear all together or swap their values for job security. You may disagree with me and if you’re tied to a particular political party, you may think this applies only to the “other guys” but I have made my peace with politics and that’s not really want this post is about.
Back to my topic. I have found a positive female role model and her name is Alicia Florrick, better known as The Good Wife. I have to admit when I first became aware of this show, I prejudged it as something that I would hate. The title alone riled me up. What is a “good wife” and why do I want to watch a television show that has already decided what one is? I turned up my nose and got back to Lost reruns. But as the years passed, more and more trusted friends convinced me to give The Good Wife a go and finally, when I had burned through everything else I wanted to see on Netflix, I caved.
At first, Alicia lived up to my expectations. I thought she was cold, distant, unfeeling and entitled. But gradually, through the magic of brilliant writing and great acting (not only from Juliana Margulies but many other amazing actors) the show forced me to challenge my own overt and covert assumptions of how a woman should behave as a wife, mother, employee, employer, role model, and whether any of us should feel any pressure at all to be a role model for anyone. I now believe that Alicia Florrick is the strongest female character on TV right now and and here’s why:
1.She doesn’t feel the need to be a role model – In our culture, when the wives of powerful men are publicly betrayed and humiliated by their husbands, they typically have two clear-cut options – stand by their man or cut him loose in a blaze of glory – and they are often vilified for their choice either way. Women at large often want these women to “do the right thing” for feminism and for women everywhere but isn’t true feminism making the choice that’s right for you? Alicia rejects the traditional options and chooses to chart her own path which is a kind of hybrid of both. She loves, hates, disrespects and appreciates her husband all at once and realizes there is value in waiting it out. Kind of reminds me of Hilary Clinton.
2. She doesn’t feel guilty about pulling in favours – When her marriage falls apart, Alicia has to find a job after spending 13 years as a stay-at-home mom. She calls an old boyfriend and leverages his lingering feelings for her to leapfrog her way to a great job at a prestigious law firm. Later, she finds out that a more qualified candidate was passed over to make way for her and while she is momentarily bothered, she moves on quickly knowing that she did what she had to do to take care of her family. Research shows that, in business negotiations, women tend to fight for what’s fair while men fight for what they want. Alicia’s character challenges this stereotype again and again.
3.She is a romantic lead over 40 – In a more balanced world this wouldn’t need a callout but in Hollywood-land men are romantic leads well into their dotage while women are put out to pasture once they hit 40. Not only is Alicia Florrick a smart, beautiful and sexy character, she doesn’t feel the need to dress like a teenager or a Kardashian. Her wardrobe is age-appropriate, professional and flattering all at once. (Note: I know that some women believe there’s no such thing as dressing for your age, and believing so, is just another example of sexism and ageism but I happen to be a believer in, and a fan of, age-appropriate fashion).
4.She uses her husband when it suits her – Before she became The Good Wife, Alicia’s marriage was as traditional as it gets. Her high-powered husband went off to slay dragons while she benched her own career to keep house, raise the kids and volunteer on the PTA. Anyone who has ever run a school fundraiser (myself included) will tell you that it is as fraught with peril as the toughest boardroom negotiation, but we live in a society which places much more value on paid work. When Alicia ventures back into the work world, she realizes that she can cut off her loser of a husband or she can mine her husband’s substantial connections and power to advance her own career. She chooses the latter, doesn’t waste a nanosecond on feeling guilty and moves on up the ladder.
5.She understands the power of silence – One of Alicia’s most powerful traits is her ability to never say more than is needed in any situation. Her most common response to yes or no questions is simply yes or no or even better, just a steely gaze that means business. She feels absolutely no compunction to explain or defend any of her decisions to anyone, including her over-bearing mother-in-law who is constantly asking her why she does the things she does. My favourite Alicia response to this question: “Because that’s just how I am”. I have started to use this phrase in my own life and it’s extremely liberating.
6.She doesn’t feel sorry for herself – When her life is turned upside down, Alicia has a short pity party and then moves forward with a laser-like focus on creating a future for herself and her children. Once she decides she wants something, she goes for it, using everything at her disposal to make it happen. She doesn’t feel conflicted or wonder if it’s the right thing to do, nor does she consider how society expects a woman in her situation to respond. She does it and she doesn’t look back.
Like many superbly-written characters, Alicia Florrick has uttered some memorable quotes including “It’s not better; it’s just truer” and “You can keep talking but I have no words” but my favourite of her quotes is her response to what she wants out of life: “I want a happy life and to control my fate”. Doesn’t that just about sum it up?
I know there are many other Good Wife fans out there. What do you think? Do you love or hate Alicia? Is she a positive or negative role model for women? Does she even need to be a role model? Most importantly, would we even be having this discussion if this was a male TV character?