Editorial: On Shonda Rhimes’ Beautiful, Diverse, Complicated Female Characters

Greys Anatomy Derek and Meredith

Thursday night television is like religion in my apartment, and has been for more than ten years. Ten years is longer than my closest friendships have lasted, longer than I’ve been in the workforce, and certainly longer than any romantic fling I’ve had, though I will say that as of right now I’m in a very loving relationship with Netflix.

Anyone who watches “Grey’s Anatomy” knows that creator Shonda Rhimes does not spare viewer’s feelings. You know how intense and emotional a show is about to get when the cast regularly warns it’s viewers to get the tissues ready. At this point, I don’t really see it as a hospital drama as much as it is an excuse for me to cry on a weekly basis. But don’t worry, I have an online support group for this kind of thing.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

Greys Anatomy Support Group

Because of “Grey’s Anatomy,” I now know that it’s possible to die from the hiccups, and every time I have a runny nose, I assume that there is spinal fluid leaking out of my face. For that reason, my insurance company can tip its hat to Shonda Rhimes.

Beyond increased sense of hypochondria all viewers face while watching the show, along with the incredible surgeries, medical mishaps, and relationship drama we all experience at Seattle Grace Mercy Death, the show provides a platform for audiences to see something even more rare and incredible: believable, diverse, complicated female characters. I know, right? Shocking.

This inclusion of strong, believable female characters was definitely an intentional move on Rhimes’ part, and one that is highly deserving of the accolades her shows have received. In a 2006 interview, Rhimes is quoted as saying,

I wanted to create a world in which you felt as if you were watching very real women. Most of the women I saw on TV didn’t seem like people I actually knew. They felt like ideas of what women are. They never got to be nasty or competitive or hungry or angry. They were often just the loving wife or the nice friend. But who gets to be the bitch? Who gets to be the three-dimensional woman?”

Greys Anatomy Women

These intentions to create real women are apparent throughout the show, as the characters on “Grey’s Anatomy” are some of the most complete and believable women in television or film.

Meredith is a “dark and twisty” woman who struggles with depression at multiple points throughout the series and tries and often fails to balance all of the aspects of her messy life. Cristina appears to be cold, ambitious and cutthroat, but handles emotions in a very real way.

Miranda starts as a strong leader determined to climb the ladder, but softens and adapts to motherhood, divorce, and new relationships. Callie finds herself in failed relationship after failed relationship and comes to embrace her sexual orientation later in the series. Izzy grew up in a poor neighborhood and modeled to pay her way through medical school.

Greys Anatomy SleepoversAnd Rhimes didn’t stop at the individual level with the ladies on her show. “Grey’s Anatomy” has managed to portray the importance of female companionship in a very unique way. Examples of dynamic female friendship are most easily exemplified in Meredith and Cristina’s relationship. Referring to each other as “my person” throughout the series, their friendship takes precedent over their romantic endeavors.

Fans of the show know that Meredith and Cristina have been through, well … a lot (understatement of the year), including hospital shootings, plane crashes, PTSD, and drowning, to name a few, which is enough to make any two people close.

But they’re also the kind of friends that can make insults like “slutty mistress” and “pregnant whore” sound affectionate. Which, I don’t know about anyone else, sounds entirely too much like how my best friends and I interact with each other. It’s refreshing to see real dialogue between women.

During the 2015 Golden Globe Awards, Maggie Gyllenhaal made a brilliant speech stating, of this year’s nominees “What I see, actually, are women who are sometimes powerful and sometimes not, sometimes sexy, sometimes not, sometimes honorable, sometimes not. And what I think is new is the wealth of roles for actual women in television and in film.”

Shonda Rhimes, through all three of her shows currently dominating Thursday nights on ABC – “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder” – has created a wealth of characters that exemplify that kind of sentiment. We are finally beginning to see interesting, diverse, and complex women and female friendships in ways that we are very much used to seeing men in television and film. Here’s to more seasons of complex women and dedicated cry sessions.

Are you a fan of Shonda Rhimes’ shows? What’s your favorite show or character, and why? Sound off in the comments below! 



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7 responses to “Editorial: On Shonda Rhimes’ Beautiful, Diverse, Complicated Female Characters”

  1. sophie Avatar

    Hi Danika – My favorite characters are Meredith and Cristina, because I see myself a lot in these two. I’m probably a combination of both personalities. And I do agree with you – the reason why I like this show so much is actually the depth of each character and the complexity portrayed in female relationships that goes far beyond the usual cliche or stereotypes we find in some other shows. (Shonda Rhimes rocks!!) Here in Europe, we are a bit behind, but I’ll try and catch up when I am in New York for holidays. 😉

    1. Danika McClure Avatar

      Hey Sophie! I totally agree, though I’m definitely more of a Meredith than a Cristina. I’m at the point in the show where I love Shonda Rhimes, but I almost hate myself for watching because of how much of an emotional roller coaster it is. I may or may not have restarted the entire series this weekend and they just introduced Denny, and I’m preparing to call in sick to work for an emotional distress day. Haha. How far have you gotten in the series? I don’t want to spoil anything!



  2. sophie Avatar

    hi danika,
    yeah I totally agree for the rollercoaster thing, it kinda grabs you and you feel overwhelmed by so much emotion. Guess it is our sensitivity that drives us, and at the same time I love it, (addiction? ) probably because it makes me feel alive and “human”. My friend chris is also a big fan and he is as hooked probably for the same reasons…

    I would not be surprised to find this show as study material for psychology class haha..

    oh, I am currently watching season 3 (yeah I know, I am so behind…. I have always been very suspicious of shows that are ultra popular… and I am not a big fan of katherine heigl…. so tried to avoid it for years, but last month, I stumbled upon one episode and got literally hooked…. ding dong, waiting time was over..

    The good thing is I don’t need to wait beteween each season ( I hate it)…

    Now I can start my grey’s anatomy marathon 🙂

    1. Danika McClure Avatar

      Hahaha, I totally agree about the psychology class thing. I’m just imagining their notes being like “the people that watch this show are 10% more emotionally volatile than the entire populace.” That’s how it is for me anyway.

      Oh my gosh. Part of me is excited for you, but a huge part of me wants to cry for you. There is so much devastation to come! I will mail you a box of tissues, so you’re prepared.

      I know what you mean about the popular shows thing. I usually avoid them until they hit Netflix. I can’t do that whole, 1 episode per week thing. I’m more of a watch 6 seasons in two weeks kind of person, haha. You’ll have to keep me updated with how your viewing experience goes!

      1. sophie Avatar

        Oh my…. I am freaking out right now lol… So many scenarios are popping up in my head. I don’t think I will be able to stay calm haha. I even have goosebumps now lol.

        well, I wil be brave and wait patiently to be on holiday to watch those dreaded seasons. And sure, I will follow your advice and prepare myself mentally and physically.

        ps: why only one box of tissues? Send me a truckload of tissue boxes lol

        1. Danika McClure Avatar

          Hahahahaha! You might have to start your own support group. I highly recommend it. Surprisingly enough we have people ask to join ours ALL the time, who have no affiliation with our friend group whatsoever. We’re just like…how the hell did you find this? Apparently everyone needs a group to vent to about their Shonda feelings.

          *Sends entire boat of relief supplies to you*

  3. Dawn Pugh Avatar

    Hi Danika;

    Great article and I love watching Greys Anatomy too. I also agree that we’re seeing more female roles that are complex, sexy and interesting.

    Thanks for sharing

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