This conflict manifests itself in many ways. We are presented with female characters that are not only beautiful but supposedly incredibly smart. But time and again their skills as surgeons are minimized in favor of prolonged sex scenes and stripteases in scrubs. Pozner argues that TV writes off female intelligence and “when females aren’t [portrayed as] embarrassingly stupid, they are condemned for being smart” (97). It doesn’t matter that these women are obviously brilliant (they couldn’t have gotten into medical school much less become surgeons if they weren’t). What really matters more is their looks, their bodies, those sultry glances across the nurses’ station and the frequent disrobing in the on-call room. Here women are shown as objects, pretty to look at and not much else, and if they happen to be smart, they aren’t smart enough to intimidate anyone, especially McDreamy. We can't have that, can we?
There is also a conflict between the positions these women hold within the hospital and their means to get ahead. In med school they outshone their competition, but here they are lowly interns, the “bottom of the surgical food chain,” and they have to work their way back to the top if they want to participate in surgeries and gain praise and success in their field. Yet more often than not it’s their bodies that get them ahead, not their minds. Ouellette states that this attitude intrinsically connects female sexuality to “upward mobility… linked to the cultural codes of the working class prostitute” (123). In order to get something you want you have to give something to those in positions of power, and the people in those positions are overwhelmingly men. Meredith sleeps with McDreamy and gets preferential treatment. Christina has a tryst with Burke and gets in on his surgeries. Even if they are smart, the men are smarter, and women cannot get ahead on their own. They must let the men lead, hanging back and finding ways to please.
These contradictory threads of thought (be smart and pretty, but more pretty than smart/sleep around to get ahead) are present not just in Grey’s Anatomy, but throughout society as a whole. The promotion of accepted misogyny and stereotypical expectations of women only serves to further oppress and degrade. But audiences continue to lap it up without any critical analysis. And so the medical skill and the intelligence of these women is barely touched upon, merely grazed, as the focus instead is shifted to their bodies, their seductions, their sexual conquests (it's so easy to forget they're doctors, isn't it?). Because let’s face it, if we really cared about their brains, we’d watch a show where the doctors spend more time in their scrubs than getting out of them.
Ouellette, Laurie. “Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American Dreams.” Media, Culture & Society. N.p.: Sage Publications, 1999. 359-383. Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 116-128.
Ponzer, Jennifer L. “The Unreal World.” Learning Gender 2004: 96-99.