"He's Not the Sun": Cristina Yang and Barbara Walters' Last Message to Women about Having it All
Sandra Oh has left Grey's Anatomy, and frankly, now that she's gone, there is no other reason to watch the show. For me, she was the show, and for the past nine years, I only tuned in to watch how her character, Cristina Yang, would break yet another stereotype, yet another normative female behavior. And she never failed me.
L- Barbara Walters last day on The View, R- Sandra Oh as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy; Images from ABC
Her creator, Shonda Rhimes, had her fall in love, get married, and get pregnant, all to no avail; these roles just did not adhere to her skin as they did for her "person," Meredith Grey. Cristina Yang held her father's heart in her hands when she was only about nine years old (if I recall correctly), and since then, all she wanted was to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. Nothing remained in her way. Not the baby she decided to abort; not the two men she loved or the one she married; not even her competitive friendship with Meredith stopped her from achieving her goals. And this past season, we saw how women could or could not have it all—which is a relevant and current discussion for women who want more than just motherhood and marriage.
Sandra Oh's Cristina Yang tried the marriage thing, but it failed when Owen insisted on babies and she refused. A beautifully provocative episode this past season showed Cristina's future with or without her love interest, Owen. Envisioning her future with Owen, we saw her as a mother, placing her career on the sidelines, and supporting her student as he received the Harper Avery Award; the scenario of her loving Owen, marrying him, placed her in the traditional roles of femininity that forced her to choose motherhood over career. She was not happy in this life; she was drowning with regret. In the scenario in which she chose her career, she walked away from love, from Owen, but received the Harper Avery Award and was a renowned surgeon and leader in her field. And although, in the end, she didn't receive the famous award—out of politics rather than lack of merit—she left Seattle Grace, her job, and all she knew for a position as Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery in Switzerland—which is interesting, since this is a country that allows women to have the kind of equality that American women are not offered as freely or generously.
Also interestingly, at the same time that this fictional character left the show, journalist Barbara Walters faced her own voluntary exit from television. A pioneer newswoman who was conducting interviews alongside men—at a time that women newscasters were not given these privileges—Barbara Walters has been a respected and public reporter for 50 years. In her last interview with ABC this past Friday, she addressed some of the same issues that Shonda Rhimes brings to the forefront among the female doctors in Grey's Anatomy: Can women have it all?
During this portion of the Barbara Walters interview, Walters spoke about her own role as a mother, and how difficult it was to balance her career and her daughter—and of course, the regret is that she wishes she had spent more time with her daughter—often missing out on this time because of her career. Then her male interviewer asked her this question, which shows how deluded we are in thinking that anything has changed—that it's easier for women today than it used to be in the past. Nothing has changed.
"Things have changed for women, haven't they? Things have gotten better than they used to be, for women?" Her interviewer asked.
Her answer was quick, serious, and flat; she delivered it without a smile or a pause: "No."
Her response was followed with clips of interviews she had with women who discussed choosing careers over family: Katherine Hepburn offered that if she were a man, she would not marry a woman with a career; if a child with mumps interfered with her career—a role she had to play—she would want to strangle her child. Whoopi Goldberg confesses that she gave up her child over her career, and this choice hurt her child, but she would not choose differently. These are powerful confessions—the kind that women are not allowed to utter openly—but these women are known for their uniqueness, their difference from the norm.