It is impossible in today’s society to not use TV as a form of escapism during this current political climate, where some argue that instead of taking steps forward for equality for all we are taking steps back. I believe therefore it is important that we are aware of social issues that are happening in the world around us and, instead of choosing to ignore them, that we should educate ourselves about them. One of the main problems we face at the moment is the inequality of how women are treated. Most recently we saw Brett Kavanaugh being appointed to The Supreme Court, even though he has multiple sexual assault allegations and, also, how Dr. Betsy Ford was treated in court when she testified against him.
Last year for placement year I studied abroad in America at East Stroudsberg University. Living in America it was impossible to escape politics. After being able to ask many of my class mates and just listing to conversations, I found out that a lot of people felt that their voice was not heard. It became clear that women’s voices were not being heard. However, seeing the me-too movement taking off in America, with women coming forward with their stories of how they had been sexually assaulted, we saw women marching as a way to raise their voices to call out the inequality that they face.
What does this have to do with TV and even more Shonda Rhimes you might ask? Being away from home I had a lot more free time on my hands, so I found myself binge watching a lot of Netflix. One of the series I found myself totally addicted to was Greys Anatomy. Well luckily enough after a quick Google, I was able to find out that the creator of Greys Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes, also had an other amazing show called Scandal. I soon realised how Shonda Rhimes has used her platform as the creator of these shows to raise issues that are faced with women every day.
In Greys Anatomy a show about the daily lives of surgeons at Seattle Grace Hospital, you can easily see how Shonda Rhimes has used this series to give people a voice on social issues that women face. One of the main things is how it has helped raise awareness for these issues. This includes how they showed the pressure that was put on the women on the show to be great surgeons, but also the pressure they felt to be a mother. The main character Meredith Grey had to chose whether to perform surgery on a sick patient or sit with her daughter while she got stitches.
In one of the most recent episodes where Arizona Robbins is fighting for custody of her daughter, it is brought up in court how she is unfit to have full custody of her daughter due to the fact she has a demanding job as a paediatric surgeon. It is soon pointed out by Arizona’s boss in the court room if you would be asking that same question if Arizona was a man.
We have Cristiana Yang who didn’t want kids and and even having an abortion throughout the series, showing women how it is okay to not want to have a family if you would rather focus on your career. We have women also being represented from the LBGTQ community such as the marriage between Callie and Arizona.
There is Miranda Baily who was nicknamed the “Nazi” due to how she bosses her team. We learn that at the start of her medical career she wasn’t taken seriously, so she had to become loud and bossy to be taken seriously. She isn’t afraid to use her voice to make seriously important medical decisions for the hospital leading to her to becoming chief of the whole hospital.
We see women not being taken seriously due to their gender being mistaken for a nurse instead of surgeon or being called “honey” – would you call a male doctor a pet name or mistake him for a
nurse? We see Meredith Grey becoming chief of general surgery but she soon finds she is getting paid less than other chiefs of surgery. Soon realizing the inequality demands to be paid the same.
Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, is a crisis manager who owns her own crisis management firm. Let’s look at how she is breaking barriers on TV when it comes to women as main characters. Shonda Rhimes made it clear that this part was to be played by an African American woman as that who she wrote the part and more so the character was based on Judy Smith who served as George W Bush’s deputy press secretary. Straight away with Scandal, Shonda Rhimes wanted the show to have a diverse cast and have a smart African American woman as the main character who is using her position of power and political connections to stand up for what she believes in. This I believe has lead to a change in how many TV shows have casted their characters – now we can see a rise in women from different ethnic backgrounds getting cast as the main part.
Throughout Scandal there are many examples of how Shonda Rhimes used it as a voice for women. Vice President Susan Ross spots that a young female officer’s wrist has been bruised – we soon find out that this young woman has been sexually assaulted by a military Admiral. Olivia Pope soon takes on the case and makes sure that the admiral will be caught for his actions. Olivia was able to leak footage of the admiral dragging the young navy officer into his office, forcing the admiral to confess.
Throughout Scandal we also see how women face many forms of assault, even in their own homes. We learnt that one of Olivia Pope’s friends Abbey was a victim of domestic assault from her abusive husband. Later on in the series we find that Abby’s ex husband could be running for senator of Virginia, leading Olivia Pope to convince Abby to come forward and share her story of domestic violence so this man wont be allowed to take up an important political position.
Another important story line in Scandal which is one of my favourites. Mellie Grant, the ex wife of the president, decides to run for office as she wanted to be so much more than just a first lady. We are surprised to see her and Olivia Pope becoming friends due to the fact that it was Olivia Pope who had an affair with Mellie’s ex-husband the President. Both women realised they had both one shared goal, in making sure that their political voices where heard. During the election race we hear one of the best feminist lines from Scandal that echoes into the environment today. When asked by her political opponent in a debate how Mellie will just be the same president as her husband, we see Mellie Grant turn round and say in the 21st century you can’t look at man and assume that his wife will share the same views – women are not their husband’s keepers and they are their own women, with their own beliefs.
I hope you can see the importance of having Shonda Rhimes as a show runner to help raise awareness for social issues that we are facing today. To show young girls that you can be in charge, not afraid to use your voice to stand up for something you believe in. Someone who knows even you could be president one day no matter what your race or gender is. She has been so successful in her portrayal of strong women that she, along with her three main characters, were used as a campaign ad for Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
So thank you Shonda Rhimes.
Muriosa Houston is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found at: Twitter – @MuriosaHouston ; Linkedin – www.linkedin.com/in/muriosa-houston-32b41413b