As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more feminist. No, not the fantastical bra-burning, hairy-armpit, scream-at-your-misogynism feminist that entirely too many people envision when they hear the word, but a feminist who switches on the television in hopes of finding strong, well-rounded female characters. I expect these female characters to kick ass in every sense of the word, and give me a representation of femininity that is something that I can strive to become. Five years ago I used to turn on the television, anxious to see Tom Welling/ Clark Kent accidentally-on-purpose lose his shirt fighting with Lex Luthor, or gape at Justin Hartley’s perfectly defined biceps and razor sharp wit, completely disregarding the women on the show, strong and capable as they were. But today I crave for those five minutes on screen where Julia Roberts is screaming at Meryl Streep to “EAT THE FISH B*TCH” or when Mellie, through tears, strengthens her political and emotional resolve on Scandal, or even when the twisted-sisters Cristina and Meredith heatedly argue about women being high functioning mothers and professionals. I guess It’s unsurprising then, that newly-feminist, still television-obsessed-me has fallen completely head over heels for CBS’ The Good Wife, and why I’m taking the time to tell every man, woman, and child (over the age of 13) that they need to be watching this show.
The Good Wife is, to put it most simply, a show about a “good wife” – A woman, Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles), lived comfortably for fourteen years playing the role of doting mother and supportive wife to her two teenage kids and her husband, the States Attorney of Chicago. She was good at her “job” of raising her kids, standing by her husband, Peter, and keeping their Highland Park home perfectly trimmed. But it all changed when Peter is convicted on charges of corruption in relation to his “relations” with prostitutes and is sentenced to the Cook County Prison (a terrifying place if any Orange is the New Black readers recall). And it is here, a few months after a press conference and his incarceration that The Good Wife begins.
In a matter of months, Alicia goes from Tory Burch-clad Highland Park mother of two to Tahari-wearing litigator extraordinaire, Counselor Florrick. She’s supposed to be a victim of her husband’s extracurricular activities, but you would never be able to tell. The Good Wife’s first season finds Alicia returning to work (after 14 years!) as a lawyer at one of Chicago’s biggest firms, Lockhart Gardner (& Stern). From there, the series of 101 episodes follows the narrative of Alicia Florrick, the “good wife” rising and pushing past the passive role of “wife” and establishing herself as Alicia Florrick, a woman and lawyer in her own right.
This narrative of overcoming a passive socially constructed gender role is not unique to Alicia’s character; it is, in fact, a persistent theme in the show applied to all of the female characters;the three most prominent of these women being Alicia Florrick, Diane Lockhart, and Kalinda Sharma. The journey out of passivity and of empowerment is the soul of The Good Wife. With Alicia we see this journey as she overcomes the shadow of her husband to becomestrong, able and respected in her own right; with Diane we see this as she continually demonstrates her prowess as a managing partner of a top law firm, unafraid to go toe-to-toe with the men in the office; with Kalinda we see this as she refuses to fit into gender as well as sexual roles, and unapologetically uses her feminity and strength as tools to accomplish her job. For each of these women, their gender identity and their sexuality is never a detriment for their performance as professionals or for their performance as people. It is a non-issue that they are women, and it is a non-issue that Kalinda is bisexual. At the same time that these women are embracing and moving past the traditionally passive role of being a woman, they are also unafraid to show emotion, to be emotional and to be vulnerable =traits that are rarely found or discussed in “Strong Female Characters 101”. Our archetypes show women as either strong, badass and emotionally stunted, or are weak, dominated by their emotions and ineffective professionals. The women of The Good Wife accurately demonstrate that strength does not require a lack of emotions or Michelle Obama arms, but rather self-confidence, self-love, passion, loyalty and the empowerment that comes through those things.
In addition to Alicia, Diane, and Kalinda, The Good Wife features two recurring guest characters that further emphasize the theme of female strength that defy traditional conventions of strength. Mamie Gummer’s Nancy Crozier and Martha Plimpton’s Patti Nyholm. Crozier and Nyholm are lawyers who frequently find themselves arguing against Lockhart & Gardner and Alicia Florrick. The juxtaposition drawn between Crozier, Nyholm and Florrick is demonstrative of the varying but just as effective presentations of strength. Where Alicia Florrick is very professional, even headed and a viper in court, Nancy Crozier repeatedly milks the “naive midwestern ingenue” trope to win jury sympathy. Patti Nyholm does the same by using her infant child as a convenient sympathy prop in depositions and trials alike. Crozier and Nyholm deftly embrace and exploit preconceptions of their feminine inexperience to win cases, a lot of cases.
The Good Wife is truly a show about empowerment. The writers as well as Baranski, Marguiles, and Panjabi have created a story that inspires women and men alike to overcome the situations that they are in. The show argues and demonstrates that female strength is not derived from ignoring femininity, but rather from embracing it. By portraying feminism in the context of overcoming situational adversity and placing women on equal footing as men, The Good Wife tells an important, and human story, built on female strength.
You see, what The Good Wife has that no other show on network or premium cable television has is strong women that drive its narrative (that, plus incredible writing. Like, how has this primetime network television show not faltered once in 5 years and managed to hit a creative peak on its 95th episode?!). It unapologetically portrays strong women without the need to drape their lives in drama to the excess. Furthermore it demonstrates that female strength, and strength in general is not defined by any single trait, but is evident in as many different forms.
I stumbled into The Good Wife because of a subconscious need for strong female characters that aren’t all Buffy Summers; however, The Good Wife isn’t just a show about women for women (despite what its Hallmark Channel syndication implies). It is a show about people for people. It is driven by characters with not only engaging and intriguing development, but also incredible portrayal, and stories that are relevant on a macro social level, as well as the micro human one. The Good Wife gives all women role models to strive towards in Alicia, Diane, Kalinda (and the million other amazing guest stars) and it gives everyone characters and relationships built on gender equity, dominated by intellectual prowess to work towards. The Good Wife is five seasons of pure magic, the pinnacle of creative writing, direction and acting for primetime network tv drama, and it is a show that you should be watching right now regardless of your political leaning, your undying love for Game of Thrones, or your obsession with Duck Dynasty.
Seasons 1-4 of The Good Wife are on Hulu Plus, Season 5 is on CBS’s web streaming player, and new episodes air every Sunday night starting on March 9th on CBS at 9pm.