Shonda Rhimes’ first book, The Year of Yes, comes out today. I wrote earlier this year that I thought the press related to the book would be delicious. Some of the juiciest bits are from this NPR interview and include:
- Shonda pointing out that of course she has help raising her three daughters, that she refuses to be guilted about it.
- Accepting that losing weight isn’t ‘a joy’, but work, and that once she saw it as work, she was able to attack it more pragmatically. (And, per another article, that she had to fight the idea that losing weight was somehow anti-feminist.)
- Pointing out that nothing –not her children or Golden Globes or NAACP wins – got her as much praise and attention and positive commentary as when she had a man on her arm. She was shocked: “I didn’t make this guy. He just is there. Everything else, I had something to do with.”
The book sounds great. It’s the reactions I’m having a problem with.
I know that “don’t read the comments” is Internet 101. But they aren’t just on big news websites. On thoughtful, respected outlets, and in real life, I keep running into people who think, somehow, that because Shondaland shows are popular, they’re not worthy of attention or praise. That because they deal with women’s romantic lives and not just their jobs, they aren’t serious. They’re lower-brow. That because those women are sometimes silly, selfish, sex-obsessed or less than purely good, the shows – and their successes – are less important and worthy of being counted.
Raise your hand if you’ve read or heard something like this. Keep them raised if it’s a sentiment that’s been introduced by a dude.
If I was reading a different book about a successful
man person in this rarefied career path, like the ones written by Phil Rosenthal or about Greg Berlanti (read Billion-Dollar Kiss, it’s great) there would be nothing about their personal lives, their weight, their lack of spouses. If there were, they would read, simply, “Have a wife handle all that. Love you, honey.”
But for Shonda Rhimes, her success at work is directly tied to her personal life. To putting it up onscreen, to making her characters her mouthpieces for things she wanted or needed to say. The Year Of Yes is about acknowledging that women’s success is still much, much more tied to their personal lives than to their professional lives. Who’s Tina Fey married to, and what are her children’s names? I know that you know. What are JJ Abrams’ kids names? You have no idea.
This is either utter bullsh*t, or the unique gift of being a woman, or both. But to me, part of The Year Of Yes is acknowledging that it’s different for women, and that it’s okay to point that out.
This is Shonda Rhimes’ gift. Acknowledging that you’re not wrong for feeling as though your personal and professional lives affect one another. Acknowledging that it’s OK to care about your weight, either for health reasons or just because you want to. Acknowledging that women are judged by different standards. That women with young children have unique challenges, and that women who don’t have children or partners, or don’t want them, have under-acknowledged and under-appreciated challenges. That there are virtually no men judged for not living up to a Pinterest standard.
Acknowledging all these things, and exploring the world in which they live, is what makes Shonda Rhimes unique and successful. It’s what has let her create her own path and then dominate it. Her successes are because she says ‘yes’ to these realities of her life, not in spite of them.
Going to the bookstore now. Meet you back here as soon as we’re done reading.