Grey’s Anatomy, What Are You Trying to Tell us About Working Mothers?


Grey’s Anatomy is one of those shows that lets you relate to characters, probably find your reflection in one of them and live the drama of life vicariously through theirs. If you are one of those people who felt Christina Yang was the doctor version of yourself, I think you might have felt like you were slapped on the face multiple times during the last season; left wondering if being Christina Yang is worth it after all.

The message, I felt, was clear. You are either Christina Yang, a world-renowned genius, overachiever, kick-ass, tough battler, heart surgeon who is unstoppable, forcefully respected and gets job offers based on her reputation despite her age and relatively young career… or you are everyone else: Successful enough, but not as glamorous nor as successful. Point of difference? Family and kids. Do you want them or not?

Remember the fight between Yang and Meredith? Christina said: “You can’t be a great surgeon because you want to be a great mom.” And here comes the trade-off between motherhood and success again. What a normal viewer heard must have been similar to: you can either have kids and be ordinary, or decide not to have them and be stellar. 

First of all, what working mother doesn’t want to be great? Second of all, this statement just feeds the tired notion that women must be perfect at everything they do — perfect wives, perfect mothers and perfect career women. Some might say, ‘let women choose to accept imperfection because this is indeed the secret to happiness and a worry and guilt-free life.’ To that I answer: How easily can this be done when statements like this are being thrown at women in an accusative manner?

After watching the last season of Grey’s Anatomy, I felt uncomfortable. Although this is supposed to be a light show, melancholic sometimes, sure, this season left me feeling disappointed on behalf of all the successful women I know.

There were many stressful and pressuring messages; the ones I found myself pondering over included:
• Is family the price of excellence?
• Is excellence only defined by a job?
• Is a strong man like Owen or Burke the price of excellence?
• Is “good at work” all you can achieve if you were or want to be a mother as opposed to “great at work”?

I don’t get it. Why does pressuring women — about everything from appearances to social life and relationships to weight to family planning and career choices — seem like the mission of everything nowadays? As if real life and real people don’t do it often enough! Do TV shows have to pressure women even more while they are trying to unwind?

All those pressuring messages coming from everywhere about what women should and shouldn’t do, this pressure is harmful to women, as they add to the obstacles and the psychological barriers women have to overcome to achieve their full potential. But those messages questioning the competency of working mothers and defining success by the narrow view of a job are a disaster. Those messages create an ecosystem — a destructive one. In that ecosystem;

  • Women and society alike would only consider women successful if they have a job. A full-time job that consumes them entirely.
  • Women with potential who choose to have a full-time job would calculate their steps and future endeavors a million times before thinking of making something useful with that potential of theirs, because future success and family don’t seem to match in that ecosystem.
  • Working mothers will continue to feel insecure about their achievements and keep playing them down because in that ecosystem, there’s a trade-off between competency at work and competency at home. If she is good at work, she must be bad at home, and who wants that?
  • Employers would continue to see motherhood as a barrier to success and growth. The glass ceiling would never get cracked and we’d see more women leaving or being pressured to leave that ecosystem.

The problem with that ecosystem is that it pressures women to think and behave in a certain way. It’s either family or work! Which one do you choose? It is not and it should never be a trade off. “Motherhood and Success” are not opposites just like a “Job and Success” are not synonyms. None of those are the “Black or White” of life.

Of course, life is all about choices, and this is just a show that is telling a story and women shouldn’t feel obliged to copy the life decisions of the characters in the show. They should make the best out of the messages directed at them and filter out what contradicts with their own beliefs. Come on! Seriously?!

This quote by Warren Ellis best describes this situation: “If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?” In the presence of excellence who wants to be ordinary? Who can see what Yang has got and still want to be anything else! Don’t confuse the already confused women about their life and career choices and expect them to behave in an objective manner. Stop the pressuring brainwash!

The most interesting part about the story is that it shows two best friends, equally smart, pretty and successful. Grey and Yang. They both have all it takes to conquer the world of medicine. At a certain phase in their lives, one chose to put family first and one chose to put work first. Neither one of them is entirely happy. So Yang is alone, Grey is on the “mommy track” and when she tries to prioritise her work, her relationship with her husband is what’s at stake. What is this telling us?

I ask everyone working in media… Ease that tension and just let women be. Working or not, wanting families or not, just let them be. There is never a right or wrong rule to how one chooses to live life, as long as it is a choice. If we keep pressuring women to think that there is only ONE right path to success (a job) and along the way of that path families and kids should be marginalized, what kind of a choice are we giving women? In what way are we liberating them? Also, can we not neglect the effect this has on men? Who would want to marry a successful woman and build a family with her believing that kids and family would come last? This is very harmful in every way.
There are definitely problems and challenges that working mothers face. Why don’t we try to find a solution? Why don’t we empower women instead of intimidate them? Ease the pressure, mute the voices saying how things should and shouldn’t be and how competent and incompetent working mothers are and let women just be. We can change the conversation and brainwash people into a new ecosystem;
• Brainwash women, and everyone for that matter, to realize that success is not only defined by a job, or a career.
• Brainwash women so they start believing they don’t have to sacrifice on love and family for work.
• Brainwash us all into believing that excellence is not equivalent to being single and with no children
• Brainwash men so they accept that excellence can be found among working mothers too
• Brainwash us all into believing that working mothers are not average performers

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