I’m all for strong, confident women. I’d like to think I am one. I enjoy watching them thrive on film, and I wish more of them had a prominent place on my favorite shows. Shonda Rhimes has done us all a big favor by creating strong female characters, and we appreciate her all the more for it.
But does it get too much? I enjoy watching what a man’s world run by women. But there comes a point when I feel pandered to, and that cheapens the experience.
We’ve watched the characters on Grey’s Anatomy get battered, bruised and beaten time and time again, men and women both. We’ve watched disaster strike over and over, seen our main cast devastated. Eventually they cut their losses and move on. On those (rare) days, we watch what happens at the hospital on any given day.
Such was the second episode of Season 12. And yet on any given day in any hospital in the world, I doubt that the percentage of strong, competent women would be as high. Nor, in fact, would be the percentage of men playing second fiddle to the woman in charge. The characters allude to it in several instances; it’s being said out loud at least twice. Yet we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief throughout the amazing arc of events that have taken place in this awesome hospital in Seattle, not only in order to accept that tragedy, unlike lightning, will strike once, twice, and a few more times after that, but also to consider that women hold the reins in every regard as normal.
That’s when I feel like someone is insulting not just my intelligence, but my real life experience. I’m all for women climbing up the corporate ladder, laying claim on what they deserve, fighting to get it. But lest we get caught up in all the female power enthusiasm, we must remember: men fight too. We might have to fight harder and longer, but if you want to turn the stereotype around, make us fight less so. Don’t have it land on our laps, don’t make us play hard to get when it’s offered.
And this imposed idea, that somehow watching it work out effortlessly on a TV show (written by a woman, watched mainly by women) makes it all okay – the discrimination, injustice, or just the impossibility of juggling so many roles in our every day – is offensive.
Meredith is a single mom of three now. She’s also a damn good surgeon. By the end of a grueling day when she’s had to take on more than her share of cases and surgeries, she gets offered the Chief of General Surgery position. Did she deserve it? Probably.
So do Arizona, Callie, Amelia and Maggie, and they’re all head of their departments. Owen was appointed Chief but had to step down. Jackson is head of plastic surgery but his mom (another woman) practically owns the place, so that wasn’t exactly earned. How about Karev? Why are the women getting the top jobs but the only other guy fighting through the ranks isn’t? They even made a joke at Bailey’s party, that it’s a place run by women (followed by some embarrassing anecdote involving euphemisms for the word vagina).
And then there’s their love lives. Meredith has been through the wringer but she’s making do without the love of her life. April does what she wants, Jackson even calls her on it, and still she insists she will fight and win! The poor intern following Wilson around like a lapdog clearly has no control over anything. Women rule, and men just sit back and watch stuff happen.
Which brings me to Bailey. She had the Chief position in her pocket, and rightly so. And she messed up on her first day, but she won’t give up without a fight, which is also on par with everything we know about her. There’s no doubt she’s the one in charge – ever since she was The Nazi to her interns, another point Shonda made sure to remind us last night – and definitely when it comes to her marriage.
And not to be superficial, but it’s not just the powerplay that’s heavily tilted in the female’s direction. It’s the dating up/dating down theory that’s all askew here. None of the women on this show ever date down. Every man who is introduced as a love interest is gorgeous. Even if the woman is a 7 or an 8, the man is always closer to a 9. And if that makes sense in the case of Derek and Meredith, Montgomery and Mark, even Callie and the men she’s been with, does it make sense with Bailey? Chandra Wilson is a fine actress, but a supermodel she is not. Yet somehow she lands the hunky doctor, who can’t keep his hands off her, even though she’s not exactly a looker, but also bossy and incredibly annoying.
It gets to be too much. If it’s fine to tell the viewer to go out, work hard, fight for your dream job, is it also fine to tell a girl that no matter what she looks like, she’ll effortlessly land the hottest guy on the block? The guy who will not only see her as beautiful, but completely understand when she blows off their wedding because she’s too much of a workaholic?
That’s where I call foul. And it’s not just Grey’s.
Take How to Get Away with Murder. The lead is a strong woman. Most of the smart ideas when tackling a court case come from her female employees. Her protegee, Bonnie, is not only devious, but has Asher wrapped around her finger. And Annalise herself… well, not only did she marry a good looking professor, not only did she cheat on him with a hot cop, she also rekindles her relationship with stunner Famke Jansen. Again, Viola Davis is a wonderful actress, but aren’t her romantic interests a little out of her league?
Shonda is probably writing a world she wishes she inhabited. I’m sure she has final say in casting her shows. But we, the viewers, live in a world where a less than perfect physical appearance is a dealbreaker. It’s not fair, and I’m sure no one but the genetically gifted (or the surgically altered) enjoy it, but it is what it is.
I don’t speak for women everywhere, but as far as I’m concerned, I want a world where we are equal. The concept of having a leg up on the “competition” got us where we are, so why would I want the roles reversed?
Instead of faking a utopic dating scene, why not tell the viewers that it’s okay if you don’t land the prettiest boy, because beauty is on the inside? Why is it okay for personality to win over looks for the women, but the men always need to be eye candy, even when they’re just as smart, successful and/or rich?