By Claire Kim and Rachel Kang
The title of “good wife” is usually attributed to wives who conform perfectly to social norms; they complete the “good American” image their politician husbands seek to display. The CBS hit show “The Good Wife” presents an entirely different image, capturing the spirit of modern feminism in the process.
The show, directed by Robert and Michelle King, starts with a public political corruption and sex scandal involving Peter Florrick, the Cook County State’s Attorney. After Peter, played by Chris Noth, is convicted of corruption and sent to jail, his wife Alicia Florrick, portrayed by Julianna Margulies, becomes the breadwinner of the family. To make ends meet, Alicia applies to work as a first-year associate at Chicago law firm Stern, Lockhart, and Gardner, at which one of her classmates from Georgetown Law School, Will Gardner, is managing partner. As her husband plans his appeal and political comeback from a jail cell, Alicia must handle her legal work, the attention from her husband’s scandal, the remaining romantic tension with Will Gardner (played by Josh Charles), and the “bad-mother” guilt she harbors from not being able to devote her entire day to her children. Though denied by cast members, the show’s plotline is believed to have been inspired by the Bill Clinton Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Over the seven seasons, Alicia Florrick becomes the target of numerous scandals. She learns that her best friend and private investigator Kalinda Sharma (portrayed by Archie Panjabi) slept with her husband. Though innocent, she is caught up in an electoral fraud scandal and forced to resign from the State’s Attorney’s office. She is forced to mourn Will Gardner’s death after he is shot in court by a client. But all these events serve only to toughen Alicia, as she states in season one, “I’m vaccinated.”
Contrary to the generally accepted characters of a “good wife,” Alicia Florrick grasps full control of her own relationships and sexuality. Though initially hurt by her husband’s extramarital affair with prostitute Amber Madison, Alicia Florrick eventually pursues her own affairs, most notably with Will Gardner, with whom she has always had “bad timing” for a relationship. By involving herself in a relationship with both Will and Peter, Alicia does not contradict, but rather enforces the qualities of a good wife and of modern feminism. The point isn’t that she is a modern feminist because she can manipulate men; it is that she can do what she wants.
Sometimes Alicia’s actions seem contradictory. Many feminists could see the way she maintains her relationship with Peter for political reasons and her willingness to stand by him through his campaign for State’s Attorney and the governorship as almost anachronistic. She even considers continuing a relationship with season seven love interest Jason Crouse just because she doesn’t want to live alone in her apartment. But again, the point isn’t that she stays in relationships to maintain a good reputation; rather, it’s that she does what she wants.
During its successful seven year run, “The Good Wife” does more than comment on modern feminism. Through the discussions of its mostly Democrat characters, the show touches upon controversial social issues such as gun control, drug use, LGBTQIA rights, government surveillance, campus security, abortion, and technology.
For viewers who seek the courtroom thrill and raw portrayal of a perfect but not-so-perfect powerful woman, “The Good Wife” will not disappoint.