I started watching Grey’s Anatomy last year, and now I never miss an episode. While there are sources out there that claim there are no gender issues in Grey’s Anatomy, I strongly disagree. Every female character on the show has their own identity and is trying to get ahead in the field of medicine. As well as gender, the show has a very racially diverse cast. It also doesn’t hurt to add the fact that the creator and writer of the show, Shonda Rhimes, is an African-American female.
The hegemonic norms of males being dominant are sometimes apparent in Grey’s Anatomy. The chief of surgery, Richard Webber, is a male. Also, three of the main surgeons are males (Derek Shepherd, Preston Burke, and Mark Sloan). While there are many men in charge, the female characters on the show have strong personalities and therefore are able to show their dominance in the hospital as well.
One of the most apparent counter-hegemonic elements of the show comes in the character Miranda Bailey, one of the residents at Seattle Grace hospital. She is in charge of the five interns that the show follows, and from the beginning she was known as the Nazi because of her toughness. All of the interns, and even some of the doctors, fear her. Recently on the show, the chief of surgery, Richard Webber, is planning on retiring and needs to find a replacement. He told Miranda that he wishes he could give the job to her because he knows she’s one of the few people who could do the job right.
Last season, Miranda had to leave work for a while because she was pregnant and had a baby. This new role for her made her question her toughness and ability to be a good doctor. Being a mother made her maternal instincts come out more often at work. She had always been the one to tell her interns not to get involved with patients lives because it makes it harder to do their job. She then found herself doing just that. Eventually Miranda had to understand that she had to change her ways of thinking, and being more caring would make her a better doctor.
Some people may watch the show and think of the main character, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), as “whiney” and can sometimes seem helpless. However in a recent episode, at least to me, she showed her strength and that she is capable of standing on her own. As the show progresses, she continues to find her strengths
The other main female characters include one surgeon, Addison Montgomery, one resident, Callie Torres, and two interns, Isobel Stevens and Christina Yang. These women also find ways to assert their dominance over the male characters in counter-hegemonic fashion. They are not part of the women who are “afraid to speak up for themselves or to use their voices to speak up for themselves” (Steinem). (Hopefully in future blog posts I’ll be able to speak about each of these characters individually, but my post is already getting long)
One issue that is often raised is the fact that the nurses on the show are not very often seen as important. A nurse is usually thought of as a female. Many nursing organizations have voiced their outrage about the way nurses are portrayed on Grey’s Anatomy.
Some people may say that there is no reason to analyze Grey’s Anatomy for gender issues, but I think that is very untrue. Grey’s Anatomy continually tries to go against hegemonic norms and shows women trying to get ahead in an area (medicine) that is often thought of as dominated by males.
Steinem, Gloria (1990). Sex, lies, and advertising. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 223-229.