Risks taken by Smart Women and why I still want to be one when I Grow Up // Renee Hangartner, M.A.
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Again, my inspiration came from the brilliant mind of Shonda Rhimes, via Grey’s Anatomy. This blog is called FemPop and I get my inspiration from popular culture. I make no apologies for that. On season 13, episode 13, the women at Grey-Sloane Memorial Hospital are doing their jobs, kicking ass, and taking names, you know, saving lives; but their husbands seem to be having a hard time dealing. Dr. Miranda Bailey, Chief of Surgery, is making very unpopular decisions that are directly in opposition to her predecessor, Dr. Richard Webber. She has brought in a female, teaching consultant which has ruffled everyone’s feathers. The attending doctors actually decide to systematically ostracize her, men and women, using relational aggression. Then, the attendings unanimously refuse to show up to a meeting Dr. Miranda Bailey calls to put a stop to this behavior. Would this have ever happened to the previous Chief of Surgery? Probably not, because he is a man. While the argument could be made that the political implications surrounding her decisions are the real motivations behind such defiant behavior, this is a recurring theme in the episode and I believe it reflects the state of affairs in the real world. Dr. Bailey is married to a resident, someone who is far below her in rank and power at the hospital. Sure, there are some conflicts of interest; but he is her partner first and they have an agreement, “separation of church and state”, meaning work does not get brought home. In this episode, he won’t even engage with her on the topic. This smart woman, who is the boss, and has exercised her power, is alone, even at home. Dr. Richard Webber is married to Dr. Catherine Avery, who pretty much owns the hospital. This is another example of an imbalance of power that goes against traditional gender norms. They too fight about what is going on at the hospital. Her motives, decisions, and way she exerts her power is questioned by her husband. Interestingly, Dr. Avery is the one who encouraged Dr. Bailey to own her power and do what she felt was best for the hospital, even if it made her unpopular. The next decision Dr. Bailey makes shakes the very foundation of the show, she suspends Dr. Meredith Grey for insubordination. This creates an even stronger divide among the main players and now two women are pitted against each other. A not so likely choice for her replacement creates problems in another heterosexual relationship. Dr. April Kepner is promoted to Interim Chief of General Surgery. Dr. Kepner is your typical “nice girl”, she smiles, follows the rules, and never imagined she’d have a baby after she got divorced. She is now accused of being “opportunistic” and power hungry. Now, I understand that everyone loves Dr. Meredith Grey and she is portrayed as a superior surgeon; but Dr. April Kepner is doing her job and doing what is best for the hospital; this position needs to be filled. Also, despite her traditional gender traits, she is getting to experience power and recognition for her own abilities. All of that is undermined and she too can’t share this new role, with its struggles and triumphs with her baby’s father, Dr. Jackson Avery (Dr. Catherine Avery’s son) who questions whether she got the position because of her merit. The story comes full circle as Dr. Catherine Avery takes Dr. April Kepner, her once daughter-in-law, under her wing and bolsters her as a smart woman, who is secure in herself should. The episode ends with a preview for the next week showing Dr. Bailey asking Dr. Grey to deal with this like “smart women”. This is really the point. The divide within the hospital crosses genders and while it is first Team Bailey vs. Team Webber, it then becomes Team Bailey vs. Team Grey. To me, this episode portrays how women, even at the top of their respected professions can be catty and sometimes act on their first instinct to tear the other woman down. The episode also shows how others can instigate and promote this type of behavior. This 42 minute episode reminds us that a smart woman can be seen as dangerous to the status quo. The episode made me angry and frustrated. The imaginary world of Shondaland is progressive and feminist and maybe that’s why this story was told there. These interpersonal conflicts among smart women of color are usually ignored. Other story lines center on a woman’s love interest or a white man’s struggle. This would all be background noise on another medical drama. Thank you Shonda for using your show as a platform to tell stories usually ignored. I was reminded while watching this week’s show that there are still people in our society, in 2017, who will stop at nothing to pull down a smart woman off her pedestal. A smart woman is one who persists, who continues her work while losing popularity, rises above name calling (i.e. nasty woman) and risks isolation and yet is someone to be admired.