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MASV examines gender roles in ‘House of Cards’

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Men Against Sexual Violence (MASV), a club dedicated to combatting sexual violence on campus, hosted a viewing of season two, episode four of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” followed by a panel discussion of character motives and gender roles Wednesday in DeBartolo Hall.

The panel consisted of four speakers, including Ph.D. students Leanne MacDonald and Angel Matos, alumnus and Campus Ministry program coordinator for Anchor Leadership Program Michael Urbaniak and MASV member Alec Pacelli, who moderated the debate. Matos said the panel would look into the dynamics of political and personal character relationships in the TV show, a Washington, D.C.-based drama about politician Frank Underwood.

“We’re dealing not only with how the characters interact with each other, but how we perceive them as an audience as well,” Matos said.

The primary topic discussed was the decision of the show’s lead female character, Claire Underwood, to announce during a live TV interview that she had been raped and subsequently had had an abortion.

Urbaniak said in one sense Underwood, played by Robin Wright, used the interview to craft herself a public identity based upon the expectations of others.

“She had to choose who she was going to be because she had to fit in a role, and she’s almost trying to fit in that role as she’s being interviewed,” he said.

Matos said Underwood asserted her personal and political power in her interview, during which she was continually questioned about the fact that she had no children.

“She is deemed different just because she does not have children as the rest of the wives of the congressmen do or the rest of the politicians do,” he said.

However, Matos said she used this to her advantage, reshaping the potentially reputation-damaging questions about her lack of children into an opportunity to disclose her troubling past.

“She’s recovering power through this,” he said.

Panel members also discussed Claire Underwood’s marriage to Frank Underwood, at one point comparing it to the marriage of one of the show’s major congressmen.  Urbaniak said the show portrays the congressman’s marriage as “frail,” although it seems more the faithful of the two marriages.

The Underwood’s marriage, in contrast, Urbaniak said “is made to look powerful, flashy, exciting, if not dark and dirty.”

MacDonald agreed, but added that the two marriages offer surprising insight into the male characters of the show.

“You have both men being defined in terms of their marriages, in terms of their wives,” she said. “Usually in a sort of stereotypical, male-centric environment, you expect to see women defined by their relationships. This is an interesting reversal of that.”

In the last minutes of the panel, Pacelli said audience members should use the viewing and panel discussion to reconsider gender roles and sexual violence on campus.

“It’s important to use these [discussions] to promote action and change in our lives,” he said.

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