Weak Women: Grey’s Anatomy and Ally McBeal

May 6, 2007

Grey’s Anatomy makes the news today in a critique of the weak, sexually manipulated female character. The link Alessandra Stanley draws between Grey’s and Ally McBeal is one I had noticed as well, or, rather, I see both Ellen Pompeo and Calista Flockhart (in Brothers & Sisters as well as other roles) playing up this neurotic, babbling version of *cuteness* that drives me crazy. Someone must have told them once that it’s adorable to act scattered and half-witted. It’s not. More importantly, why would it be? In theory, these characters might be described as strong, opinionated women because they express themselves with passion, but it’s a passion that sounds much more like hysteria. Pompeo and Flockhart, with their already bony bodies and wan faces, lose the ability to speak in coherent sentences when a man’s around. This weakness is cast as the basis of their charm.

Kate Walsh, who plays Addison on Grey’s Anatomy, seemed to have more substance to her, with her striking good looks and rich personality. But her character was eroded over time, and after being rejected by her crush she has a meltdown and drives to California in a red convertible, with hair flying in her face. Stanley was right to note the desperation of the three women set up as the stars of Addison’s future spin-off. But the show also looks like it might try to speak to the fairly common and understandably defeated feeling of people in their late thirties trying to move on after divorce. What I did take issue with, however, was the scene where these three women arrange themselves carefully in the lobby at 1:05pm exactly in order to ogle the surfer-boy receptionist as he walks topless through the office (fully enjoying these women’s gaze).

This indulgence of sexual fantasy and their objectification of a younger man seemed a little more embarrassing than it did pleasurable. They didn’t look empowered; they looked like three women with messy personal lives who must turn to a little shallow entertainment as a substitute for emotional and sexual satisfaction. These women don’t get to leer like men, not convincingly anyway.

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One Response to “Weak Women: Grey’s Anatomy and Ally McBeal”

  1. mparham Says:

    You might also be interested in this New York Times article, which the same reviewer wrote in 2005. It was written when Grey’s Anatomy was the “new” show to watch, and it makes an interesting contrast to the article you’ve mentioned, claiming for instance that “”Grey’s Anatomy” is a Girl Power version of “ER,” focusing as much on the interns’ love lives and career ambitions as it does on the patients’ treatment.”

    Times and shows change, no?

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