Sylvia and I have been catching up on early seasons of The Good Wife, wrapping up S2 on Friday. “I totally want to be Kalinda,” Sylvia said.
“Me too,” I said, shortly before realizing that I meant it.
For those who don’t watch the show1, Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) is, as of S2, lead investigator for the ethically questionable law firm Lockhart/Gardner. She has little life outside of her relentless work ethic and a series of on-again, off-again flings with law enforcement professionals of both genders. But what makes Kalinda amazing, aside from her wardrobe, is the way the show writes her competence.
Most fictional media, when creating a character who’s good at their job, will have another character talk about how good they are at their job2. In The Good Wife, character is revealed through action more than dialogue, and Kalinda’s a great example. Someone at L/G asks Kalinda to do something impossible, like find someone who disappeared in a case six years ago; one commercial break later, she’s knocking on this person’s door.
Midway through S2, one of the state’s attorneys complains to his boss about how budget constraints keep them from competing with Lockhart/Gardner in the courtroom. His boss tells him to suck it up. The attorney then mentions that L/G has put Kalinda on this case. Everyone immediately frowns and crosses their arms and looks for ways to free up money, because Kalinda’s just going to appear in court with a folded note that will make the prosecution look silly unless they do something.
If the fun of escapist media comes from projecting oneself into the exploits of a fictional hero, then your only available choices on The Good Wife are women. Who are the recurring male characters? Will Gardner (Josh Charles) is a highly competent attorney, but his brashness gets him in trouble as frequently as it gets him out; besides, he’s almost entirely reactive. Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) is a manipulative sleaze with anger issues. Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) is part snake, part comic relief. If you’re going to find a hero on The Good Wife, it’s going to be the no-nonsense veteran Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), the eternally patient Alicia Florrick (Julianna Marguiles), or the hypercompetent Kalinda Sharma.
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This past Saturday, Ronda Rousey entered the cage at UFC 184 for a match against Cat Zingano. Rousey had an undefeated professional record at that point, including a 16-second win against Alexis Davis. Cat Zingano was marketed as the contender with the best chance of knocking Rousey off her pedestal.
In case they don’t have the Internet where you live, here’s how that fight went:
1. Zingano entered with a flying knee strike that Rousey checked and bypassed.
2. Zingano and Rousey quickly clinched in mutual headlocks.
3. Zingano powered Rousey straight down to the mat.
4. Rousey somersaulted out of the headlock, bringing Zingano with her …
5. … and ended up in a front sit-out.
6. As Zingano tried to turn into the sit-out to flip over and escape, Rousey threw a leg over her back, taking the rear mount.
7. Camera angle’s unclear at this point (0:11 to 0:12), but it looks like Rousey was going for a rear naked choke.
8. Realizing no luck there, Rousey swung her other leg around and isolated Zingano’s right arm between her knees.
9. Rousey cranked on an arm bar.
10. Zingano tapped out.
The grappling skill displayed in the above shouldn’t shock anyone who’s followed Rousey’s career. She’s a dominant athlete with an exceptional martial arts pedigree—bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Beijing games; daughter of World Judo Champion AnnMaria de Mars—and the perfect blend of skill and aggression. At every stage where Zingano made an aggressive maneuver (1, 3, 6), Rousey not only responded promptly but countered in a way that put her in a better position. That’s the chess match that emerges from a skilled grappler: not offense/defense, but offense/riposte.
Watching the replay of that match, I realized that Ronda Rousey is my role model for fighting.
It’s not just (!) that she’s an excellent grappler, since she has a couple KO’s under her belt as well. It’s the way she capitalizes on every opportunity in a match. She’s not trading blows the way a lot of heavier (male) fighters do. She’s not even exploiting her opponents’ openings. She’s exploiting her opponents’ strengths. As soon as you make an aggressive move against her, you’ve made a terrible mistake.
The one thing I need the most work on, every time I practice at near-to real speed, is entering aggressively. I’ve got a reach to rival Jordan and fourteen years of techniques, none of which do me any good once someone scrambles through my guard. I could learn a lot from watching how Rousey capitalizes on openings. I would be a much better fighter if I fought like her.
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If the premise of feminism is true and/or necessary, there’s no reason that men can’t have women as role models. And yet that’s rarely how they’re presented to men. Women can have women as role models, no problem; there’s almost a cottage industry around cranking them out. And men can want women for various things, no problem. But men are rarely encouraged to idolize women, especially for attributes that are typically the province of men.
I’m not taking note of my female role models because I want a pat on the head3. I’m not taking note of it because I want “feminist cred”: feminism isn’t a finish line I get to cross and never revisit. I’m taking note of it because I’ve spent the last couple years charting the way my thinking has changed, and this looks like a signpost. Viewing women as friends, partners, and equals is one thing. Viewing woman as aspirations is another.
1. Despite the limitations of its genre—every commercial break has to herald a plot twist, no matter how implausible; revelations have to be structured in a way to maximize drama, even at the expense of disbelief—The Good Wife blends both intelligence and fun in a sleek primetime drama.
2. My dad and my brother lampoon this as Fast & Furious character development. “You were top of your class at the academy,” someone will recite to someone else. “Best of the best.”
3. I’m lying! It’s a blog post. Of course I want a pat on the head. Validate me!