Tuesday, May 4, 2010

gender roles and grey's anatomy

Some people say that they get great ideas when they work out. I am not one of those people. Me? I was mentally organizing all the hook ups on Grey's Anatomy while huffing and puffing on the elliptical. I know, I know, pathetic. I'm a grad student. Don't I have something more worthwhile and intelligent to think about? Apparently not. I mean, you're probably thinking that I should focus on my impending oral advancement exam, and here I am, trying to remember who had sex with whom on a television show. I'll tell you why it matters, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I tuned in to Grey's Anatomy last Thursday. I've been watching it off and on, but I don't think I miss too much. Each episode is pretty much the same. Someone hooks up, someone breaks up, someone has sex in the medical supply room, there is some catastrophe and then there is an influx of patients in the ER. There. So anyway, Derek and Meredith have been a couple basically since the show started (7 years ago? I dunno). By the way, Derek is now the Chief of Surgery (he was an attending when Meredith was an intern). Meredith is now a resident. (Now, I think that the hierarchy goes chief-attending-resident-intern) Meredith and Derek have decided to be lifelong committed partners, but she kind of worries that some hot new intern is going to steal Derek away from her. After all, he was an attending and she was an intern when they first hooked up. At the end of the episode, she pretends to be an intern and seduces him.

So this is why I was mentally cataloguing the sex lives of Grey's Anatomy characters. Here goes: Grey's Anatomy probably prides itself on having some degree of gender, racial, and sexual diversity. (I said some.) However, there are these huge, glaring, blatant, disparities in power, status, and prestige. All of the relationships and hook ups are between a man who is in a position of higher power and higher status than the woman. Apparently, men are attracted only to the women below them in the hierarchy and vice versa. A relationship between a male chief of surgery and a female resident is natural and normal. It doesn't work to reverse the roles because then the woman would be emasculating the man. And apparently two equals cannot be in a relationship. And oh yes, notice how Meredith just assumes that the interns are straight women?

Lest you think I am cherry picking my cases, here are more examples. Christina (former intern turned resident) has a history of hooking up with her male mentors. There was that famous male doctor from when she was in medical school, and she had a relationship with this prestigious cardio surgeon in early episodes. Now she is doing the tango with Owen, but I don't think he is her equal- I believe that he is higher up on the hospital totem pole. Let's move on to Mark. Mark is an attending, who was in a relationship with Lexie, an intern. By the way, Mark has a history of sleeping with the nurses (women, of course) and hitting on anyone with boobs. Lexie moved on to sleeping with Alex, a resident, who also likes to sleep with the nurses. Alex was married to Izzie, who was his equal, but her character got cancer and he had to take care of her. Okay, moving on. Callie, a resident, was married to George, an intern, but then they got divorced. Oh, and George was played by T.R. Knight, who came out during this time. So I guess the only time that the female character in a relationship gets to be higher on the food chain is when the male character is played by a gay man. Oh, I haven't left out Miranda, who is something like the chief attending. Miranda has a young son and was married, but her long hours and commitment to her job broke up her marriage. See what happens when accomplished and powerful women try to have it all? Apparently, you can't.

Gender roles and gender disparities are pervasive in our society. We are so accustomed to them that most of the time we barely notice their existence. It's not good enough for Grey's Anatomy to just have more women or more minorities as doctors. As long as there are gender disparities in the relationships and hook ups, there are still vestiges of gender inequality. Women can be doctors, yet the show sends the message that their first and foremost role is to be sexually available for men in higher positions. Women might be smart enough and competent enough to be doctors like men, but they are and always will be subordinate to them.

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