For the past few months, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been rife with enthusiastic praise for the Netflix political drama, House of Cards. I have no shame in admitting that I devoured the show’s entire first season in a single weekend. The show is run-through with amazing performances from Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara (among others), brilliant writing, and bonkers plot twists that, fair warning, I might touch on in this post.

One of my favorite things about the show is that its female characters are just as ambitious, twisted, and complicated as the men. The central relationship between Majority Whip Frances Underwood (Spacey) and his wife Claire (Wright) is like a more symbiotic version of the Macbeths’, and up-and-coming political journalist Zoe Barnes (Mara) is far removed from the wide-eyed ingenue stereotype. Because I have no familiar relationship with Washington, I watched House of Cards like I would watch any show that took place in a specific and carefully-crafted world, apart from our own. But those who know Washington intimately say that there are some major snags in the show’s sexual politics. 

In a piece for the New Republic, political reporter Marin Cogan looks at the relationship between Frances Underwood and Zoe Barnes in terms of power and influence. According to Cogan (and Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progess), the House of Cards writers have it backwards. Most often, they say, female journalists are forced to fend off advances from their male sources, who can mistake professional interest with personal attraction. In House of Cards, Zoe is painted as the instigator of the affair between her and Frances Underwood; and though it’s obviously not unprecedented for journalists to sleep with their subjects (whaddup, Broadwell and Petraeus!), it would be misleading to say that this is the norm. 

The tumblr Said to Lady Journos is a compilation of remarks made to female journalists, mostly by men. Gems like “You’re way too cute to be doing this. It’s too easy for you to get guys to agree to be in your pictures,” and “That’s a nice looking pair of legs on you. What was the question?” paint a pretty clear picture of the sexist barrage most female journalists face on the job. Implicit in these gross comments is the imagined power structure that might compel a female journalist to sleep with a source. Any source. 

This assumption is absolutely off-base in almost all cases, and downright delusional most of the time. As much as I love Zoe Barnes’ maniacal tactics, could her behavior on House of Cards be furthering this misconception? As long as we keep in mind that the Washington of House of Cards is not the Washington of this reality, things should be square. My knee-jerk reaction is to say that Zoe Barnes is one character, and not a place holder for all female journalists everywhere. But unfortunately, having a solid grasp on reality is not something that the oglers behind Said to Lady Journos are very good at. 

 

Sources: New Republic, Think Progress, Said to Lady Journos

Photo via Netflix 

Tagged in: Robin Wright, politics, Netflix, Kevin Spacey, Kate Mara, journalism, House of Cards   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.




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