I would like to tie together the concepts of feminism, gender normative roles and The Sopranos. McCabe and Akass (2006) explore Carmela Soprano’s role as a Mafia housewife and her contributions to the feminist cause. McCabe and Akass mention, “she supports widowed girlfriends with baked goods and sympathy but only until her husband tells her to terminate the friendship.” (39). I question, “is Carmella a feminist?” In some ways, Carmella possesses a tremendous sense of agency. She holds the unique ability to control her unruly husband. While Carmella rejects feminism as “an elitist practice”, she is a paradox and is full of contradictions. At times she portrays the role of victim, at other times she is a domestic goddess and at others, a Mafia matriarch.
Carmella does, however, portray a gender normative role as a stay-at-home mother who places her role as a mother above all else. The most relevant example of this is in regards to her affair with AJ’s guidance counselor, Robert Wegler.
The only sexual affair that Carmella has in the series is with Wegler, whom she sleeps with to get A.J. special treatment at school. He calls her out on this and she acts surprised, but it is obvious that she is using her sexual prowess to ensure her son receives advantages at school. This isn’t the first time that uses her agency to get what she wants. In light of the college admissions scandal, it’s particularly interesting to hark back to the episode where Carmella strong-arms Joan O’Connell, a prestigious
Carmela brings Joan a ricotta pie (of course using food to represent desire) and a folder of Meadow’s high school transcripts. Joan refuses to write the recommendation, but Carmela tells her she is not asking for it, she “wants” it. It is clear that she’s using her power and influence to ensure that her daughter gets into the right college. When Joan realizes that Carmella is the mob boss’s wife, she changes her mind and decides to write the letter of recommendation.
Another example of Carmella using her agency is in Season Four, episode one. Carmella presses Tony about their finances and a need to conduct estate planning. She approaches Tony while he is in a vulnerable state, eating ice cream on the
He rebukes her efforts to disclose information about their finances. However, throughout the thirteen-episode season, Carmella persists and continues to pressure Tony about their estate and the season ends with Tony and Carmella sitting down with a financial planner and an investment in a beach home. The long series narrative arc “imposes meticulous rules of self-examination” (Foucault, Will 19). The narrative mechanisms compel Carmella to bring forth representation. In the end, she wins and is successfully able to influence him to see a financial planner.
So, is Carmella a feminist? On one hand, she is able to successfully use her agency to get what she wants. While she publicly denies her alignment to feminism and holds gender normative roles, she certainly bucks against patriarchal society and does not submit to the dominate male presence on the series. While Tony may display the male bravado and appear to be in control, the reader can see that Carmella is the one person who knows how to ultimately get what she wants in her male dominated environment.
McCabe, Janet, et al. “What Has Carmela Ever Done for Feminism? Carmela Soprano and the Post-Feminist Dilemma.” Reading the Sopranos, Palgrave McMillian, 2006, pp. 39–55.