The New Modern Woman, Ambitious and Feeble

Special thanks to The NY Times for once again being my unintentional, national mouthpiece.  Check out their review of the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off today, from which I’ve pilfered the title for this post.Â

First, they show the image of the exact moment I was castigating, and write:

“Addison…was generally in need of a man; she turned swoony when a handsome, lecherous colleague kissed her in a stairwell.”

They conclude with

Self-deprecation has been replaced with self-denigration…People complain that hip-hop stars use obscene lyrics and lewd music videos to demean women. Sometimes, so do even the most bourgeois women’s television shows.

This review suggests we’ll be blaming Ally McBeal for disfiguring the original independent-career-woman image of Mary Tyler Moore beyond recognition.  I never watched Ally McBeal, I found her SO irritating and far-fetched.  As I was telling the M.A.S., I fell in love with Grey’s during the first two seasons because it was about ambitious, assertive, competitive women with definite neuroses but also a strong inclination to buck weepy, needy women stereotypes.  Christina remains a case in point while existing as a sympathetic character, much like Samantha on SATC (in contrast to the divorce attorney on the-hopefully-soon-to-be-cancelled Notes from the Underbelly.)  Grey’s was endearing in its portrayal of the confusion of McDreamy and Burke in trying to figure out how to make these women pause and swoon.

The frightening part – as the review points out – is that Grey’s and its spin-off are conceived, written and produced by a woman, Shonda Rhimes.  I used to dig Shonda, but I’m taking that endorsement – and other shout-outs from my Grey’s Top 10 – under serious re-consideration.

It wouldn’t matter, since the show is admittedly over-the-top escapist fantasy for women, except that it is troubling that even in escapist fantasies, today’s heroines have to be weak, needy and oversexed to be liked by women and desired by men.

Men are not creating these fantasies.  (For theirs, click here.  Orange shorts and tube socks with nylons?  ICK.)  And why are we doing this to ourselves?  I know I am not the only woman with a partner who likes strong, independent women.  (Though my experience indicates he’s a rare find.)   And I suspect I am not the only person in a modern relationship that seriously grapples with whether it’s easier to have a partner in life or go it alone (G-d, the compromises!).

So where is the portrayal of women grappling with integrating their relationships into their busy and successful lives?  Where are the unapologetic women who are demanding, aloof or self-absorbed?  Where are their revelations that even with a partner they may still feel alone or lost, or their realizations that being in a relationship will never put to rest some of their eternal dissatisfaction with life and themselves?    Where is the privacy of their own homes or their few cherished friends or even their shrinks’ offices for the occasional if inevitable meltdowns?

Grey’s Anatomy (and SATC) used to deliver on most of this.  That’s why I loved it.   The characters were nuanced, fierce and human.  Yet if the spin-off (and the falling episode grades at TWoP) is any indication of where these shows and Shonda’s imagination are headed, then soon I may find myself left only with Bones (which is ludicrous in its portrayal of science and the government, but at least has educated, leading women its the helm), re-runs of SATC, and the indomitable – and syndicated – Law & Order series.  Olivia, Elliott and the gang almost never fail to please.


2 Responses to “The New Modern Woman, Ambitious and Feeble”

  1. 1 Amy
    May 5, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Thank god for Detective Stabler and Law and Order SVU or there would be nothing left to watch! BTW, I did like Taye Diggs short speech abt how he destroyed his marraige without much rationale. I do believe that sometimes it can be that simple. So glad the NY Times turns to Grahamad for its entertainment reporting!

  2. May 5, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I agree that the kissing scene was dicey – I took it at its word that it was about a combination of attraction and need and not the discomforting undercurrents I’d have to acknowledge as being there as well. I think the fact that the male character is not perfect, but indeed flawed and unable to commit long term, brings a sense of realism to the situation (I also don’t trust a word coming out of Alessandra Stanley, the world’s worst TV critic, possibly worse than the Times film critic Manola Darghis, surely worse than Ben Brantley).

    So it’s complicated – I guess if the resction is this negative generally, we won’t get a pilot. I think that would be a shame, because I rewally liked the new show, the characters seemed interesting and the premise – moving from a hospital to more general practice, adding the psych elements and holistic care – seemed fresh. And I think trhe challenge of giving each show an identity could only help Grey’s, which seems, at the very least, to be meandering lately. As I said on your last post, I appreciate the feeling that there’s a general “look at the smart woman and how she can’t hold her life together” element of these dramas that’s disconcerting. But what I like about the shows is that these dilemmas are not oversimplified, nor does “she’s an idiot” turn out to be the point on any of this. I think the tension in Yang’s relationship, and the seesaw of Meredith and McDreamy speak to the complexities. And I think even the fact that George is turning out to be the man he doesn’t want to be (indecisive, selfish, and something of the same sort as McSteamy in his inabiolity to commit) is also part of this. In the end I trust SAhonda, at least for now; I’d need a lot more mess up – and a pickup for that Addison show to prove me wrong in believing in her. No one else is showing professional women, never mind professional black men and women, in all their complexities as she is.

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