Grey’s Anatomy is a medical drama series that revolves around the lives of doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital (later renamed to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital). As of February 28, 2019, it was the longest-running American primetime medical drama series and was recently renewed for the 17th season.
Some criticise the show for prolonging the story, “it’s an unrealistic representation of a doctor’s life” and the over-emphasis on love triangles and drama. But one needs to look beyond this to understand that other complex subjects are also involved. Over the years, the show has not shied away from talking about women empowerment and gender equality issues. Let’s look at some of them.
The show follows Meredith Grey, the protagonist played by Ellen Pompeo, on her powerful journey to become a successful doctor alongside her struggles and personal relationships. Even though she was romantically involved with Derek Shepherd (played by Patrick Dempsey) from the beginning, it never became a reason for her to not be extraordinarily independent of him (as Meredith tells her daughter, Zola, “Do not ever date a man who can’t handle your power.” Amen.)
When Derek tries to pursue her to leave with him to DC as part of his career move, she resists and emphasises how her career was equally important. In fact, after the exit of Patrick Dempsey, the show revolved around Meredith’s emotional recovery being a widow and addressed all aspects of being a single working mother.
The series, along with showing its women characters holding all sorts of leadership positions, also addressed the pay gap between men and women. When Meredith got low-balled after becoming the new Chief of General Surgery, her sisters Amelia and Maggie point it out to her. She mustered the courage to demand Dr Bailey (Chief of Surgery) the salary she deserves.
The show also became a symbol for female friendships — friends that support, help and push each other to be better. Cristina and Meredith were each other’s “person”, and their journeys became one of the show’s major plots. Even though they started on the same career path, competitive as ever, their distinct personalities and ambitions led to different routes for both of them.
Breaking away from the traditional plots of abortion in TV shows, Cristina Yang decides to prioritise her career over having a baby. But her choices did not deter her from supporting Meredith, who has three kids and is successfully managing her career as well. From Cristina’s constant reminder to Meredith that she is the “sun” to Meredith, cutting her out of her wedding dress after Dr Burke left her, they exemplified real friendships.
It wasn’t just Meredith and Cristina; every female character in the show looked out for their counterparts. From the episode addressing rape and consent with the iconic hallway scene where female employees of the show lined up to give strength to a survivor of sexual assault, to Meredith standing by Jo against her abuser, pushed the show’s boundaries.
In another episode that tries to dismantle patriarchy, the Harper Avery Foundation that owned the hospital was partly dissolved after complaints of sexual misconduct against the legendary surgeon, Harper Avery. The foundation was then renamed after his daughter, Catherine Fox, along with a reaffirmation to hire or pay restitution to those victimised.
Along with conventional heterosexual romantic storylines, the show provided space for bisexuality and same-sex relationships. Calliope Torres’s journey of coming out as bisexual was one shaped with family judgements, confusion and acceptance. Her relationship with Arizona Robbins shared moments and experiences that other couples in the show faced as well.
In its 17th season, the show is addressing contemporary issues related to women — for example, the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black women and how they just become part of another statistic. It will be interesting to see how the show, run by a female creator Shonda Rhimes, represents the challenges women face in societies.