As we’ve all learned, college leads to mass quantities of free time which ultimately—whether we want to admit it or not—leads to mass quantities of Netflix. And suddenly we find ourselves halfway through the fourth season of Grey’s Anatomy, late at night, with unfinished homework assignments and several unanswered questions as to how we got to this point. Regardless of the former, it is easy to fall into the fluffy, lovely aspects of Grey’s Anatomy without looking too deeply into it. Choosing to deeply analyze season 4: episode 11, Lay Your Hands on Me, was a nearly earth shattering experience, especially when considering the show through bell hook’s oppositional gaze perspective, in this particular case, critically assessing constructions of gender. Grey’s Anatomy is a medical drama that demoralizes women while simultaneously perpetuating feminine stereotypes and emboldens the patriarchy.
When it comes to the dominant gaze, this episode has many messages to portray. As in most Grey’s Anatomy episodes, the spectator is exposed to big dramatic events. In this episode, in particular, the focus is faith. Many situations go array and faith itself is in question many times. In particular, Miranda’s faith is what’s being jeopardized. An accident with her son winding up in the hospital causes her lose faith in herself and her ability to be a good mother as does her husband. He also has his faith tested when he realizes he is married to a woman that constantly puts her career before her family. When their son’s life is compromised, their faiths face the ultimate test.
Sticking with this faith theme, Derek declares that he officially loses faith in Meredith. They’ve been dealing with this on again off again relationship since they met, but once Meredith decides she doesn’t want him dating anyone, he proposes they start building a house together. Before this all happens and they’re not together, Derek kisses another nurse, a seemingly okay move on his part. With this cease in trust, Derek loses faith and ends it.
There are other instances in this dominant gaze emphasizing aspects of faith besides those mentioned above. Izzie’s faith is in question when bickering with and constantly comparing herself to Christina and her ability to suspend her emotions when she is being a surgeon. George’s mother comes to visit and loses faith in her son due to his inability to stick to his marriage vows. Alex is put in an uncomfortable position when spiritual women come and bring to the surface Alex’s current quality of manhood, which, again, brings to light another character in this episode lacking in faith. All in all, the dominant gaze of this episode is putting the spectator in a position to recognize their own source of faith and how faith can be tarnished and questioned given various life situations. With all of this being said, there are many elements of the oppositional gaze that are less than faithful and reflective and instead are disheartening and insulting. As I will explain, this show demoralizes women while simultaneously perpetuating feminine stereotypes and emboldens the patriarchy.
Oppositional Gaze & Why Things Are Wrong:
The demoralization of women is prevalent when considering the perpetuation of female stereotypes. All women in this show, with an exception of few, are emotional basket cases a large majority of the time, especially Meredith Grey. Meredith Grey was a victim of the patriarchy: her father chose his mistress’s family over Meredith’s when she was a child, and he abandoned her and her mother. Since that point in her life, she has had trust issues and is apparent that she never can decide what she wants, leaving her quite distraught. One day she wants to spend her entire life with Derek, one day she’d rather drown herself than deal with him, but her feelings are never left out of any given episode, making her appear to be emotionally unstable and indecisive as all women are often generalized to be. In this episode, in particular, she and Derek have overcome past issues, and he proposes they move in together. His proposal is in the form of forcing her to voice her opinion about the blueprints of the house he wants to build and live in with Meredith.
In a demoralizing way, she appears to be whiny about Derek’s infidelity and while arguing she brings up problems from the past to pick a fight with him. When she grows a backbone and decides she doesn’t want to be Derek’s sex mate any longer but to be his, she realizes that she can’t put the past behind her. Instead of patching things up, Derek wins by concluding their relationship because he cannot satisfy his own wishes to “[embody] the ideas of home, and with it the promise of domestication and culture [also know as] the figure of the woman (McCabe 20).” He is always the one that decides the way things are going to be, the way they will end up, and the relationship status; he possess a clear form of dominance.
In addition to unstable women, we have Izzie Stevens who in this episode feels so inferior to another female doctor, Christina Yang, that she gives up her drive to become a cardiothoracic surgeon and backs down. Christina’s character is given many characteristics that would typically be considered masculine, often appearing more masculine than any of the men. She is ruthless when it comes to Izzie’s emotions and insecurities to the point of domination, a clear representation of the patriarchy. These two are constantly challenging one another. This show brings to light the cattiness and bickering qualities that women are assumed to have. If the women in the show do not have emotional instability, they have intensely masculine qualities to pick fights and appear superior to their fellow doctors.
Another poor, overemotional representation of women in this particular episode is George’s mother. His marriage has ended and he didn’t pass the residency exam, but instead of admitting it to his mother, he holds back because he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. He doesn’t think she can handle the reality—that she’s too unstable. She has to find out major details from her son’s best friend/mistress, Izzie. Her husband has just died and she’s displacing her sadness onto her son, which poorly portrays her as being insanely clingy and over nurturing.
The demoralization of women isn’t the only thing wrong with this show. It’s unrealistic to refrain from addressing the patriarchy. Throughout the show, the men are hardly in the wrong. It is okay for them to sleep around, but when the women do, they are chastised and gossiped about. In addition to holding the majority of the main positions in the hospital, the men always have this superior air about them. The women fall head over heels for them, even giving them nicknames like McSteamy and McDreamy. They are irresistible and flawless in comparison to their women counterparts. In this particular episode, the patriarchy is demonstrated most strongly by Derek and Miranda’s husband.
Derek has this hold on Meredith and he always will. As mentioned, the episode begins with him showing Meredith the floor plans of the house he’s planning to build for them, something he’s been planning without her permission for months. He is ready to take the next step, even though a few days previous he was kissing some nurse in an operation room. He is attempting to make decisions regarding both of them because he feels ready to do so—it’s on his behalf. Toward the end of the episode, however, when things get questionable with Meredith, he decides that he’s not ready anymore and he initiates a breakup. He finds himself and his wishes to be the most important part of the relationship.
Miranda’s husband is selfish in a similar way: he becomes angry when his needs aren’t being satisfied first. He wants to end his marriage because his wife works more than the typical mother does. He resents her and they are even showed arguing while their son is lying on an operating table. Miranda plays the role of the breadwinner and her husband is the stay at home parent. Since she isn’t “… the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero…who makes him act the way he does (Gaze Module, 7)”, he decides to leave rather than sort things out. The traditional roles are reversed, and he can’t comply with that.
Grey’s Anatomy may seem like a show with meaning, life lessons, and entertaining qualities, but there are also not so positive underlying messages that exist. The women are constantly obsessing about their romantic lives and they are either emotional basket cases or portray masculine qualities that cause competition among their other female counterparts. Generally, the men are desirable, flawless creatures that dominate the workforce. They make decisions and they act in the best interest of themselves. All of this being considered I do applaud Grey’s Anatomy for not completely buying into stereotypes and allowing women to be successful doctors, but the patriarchy and the perpetuating stereotypes outweigh this optimistic position for women.
GAZE: Collins, Patricia Hill. “Mammies, Matriarchs, and other Controlling Images,” in Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 2000. Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators”. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1999. Mulvey, Laura, 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen. 16(3): 618. Mercer, Kobena, Richard Marshall, Richard Howard, Ingrid Sischy, 1991. “Looking for Trouble.” (51): 184197.
McCabe, Janet. “Structuring A Language of Theory.” Feminist Film Studies Writing the Woman Into Cinema. London: Wallflower, 2004. 14-36. Print.
“Grey’s Anatomy Season 4 Episode 11.”YouTube. YouTube. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaTu0FlGEj0&authuser=0>.