I’ve been catching up on my favourites list; articles and shows that I have bookmarked and not got round to reading yet.
One of these was Shonda Rhimes’ acceptance speech from October last year when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership award for being a pioneer in her field. Shonda owns Thursday night TV with her shows Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy. She is the first woman to have that sort of TV real estate and definitely the first Black woman to do so.
I have to say, I enjoy all her shows. They are full of action, drama, ridiculous, breathless dialogue and fabulous music. She also makes some great (though at times quite heavyhanded) points on sexism, racism and other issues. She makes the pill sweet to swallow. Her shows lack the subtlety and devastating finesse of The Good Wife or Damages, but they are punchy and assertive; much like the woman herself.
Her reflections on leadership and women breaking through the industry remind me of Hillary Clinton’s comment about cracking the glass ceiling when she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.
“I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or because I’m African-American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.,”
“But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling…If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know..If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises, there’d be shards of glass in my hair. … If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face.”
“The view from here — way up here where the glass ceiling is broken — would be incredible. Right? So how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don’t remember that happening? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now.”
She went on to pay tribute to all the women who have gone before her. It’s easy, as a woman living now, to forget that the privileges we enjoy are hard-won, that so many women fell at the first hurdles so that we could walk over them later.
My maternal grandmother left the home to work as a postmistress in rural Jamaica. My paternal grandmother was one of the first primary school teachers in her region in Malawi, outlived two husbands, built a life for herself and her children. Even in my small family, there are stories of breaking the mould, of the power of education for women, stories of sacrifice and strength. They paved the way for me; crucially, they and other women in my family expanded my ideas of what I, as a woman, could achieve. I have been nurtured, encouraged, challenged by a whole host of remarkable, understated women who would never make a song or dance about it, but who have powerfully shaped my life.
As Rhimes put it:
“How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?” Rhimes said. “How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore. I mean, the wind was already whistling through — I could always feel it on my face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to other side. I didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had worn itself away.
“So I didn’t have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I hit finally that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”