"He's Not the Sun": Cristina Yang and Barbara Walters' Last Message to Women about Having it All
Making this choice is not easy, especially when you don't choose the kitchen, the child, the husband, the garden, or the carpool lane over your career. It's easy when you choose the family. That's the norm. That's acceptable, and no one will fight you over it.
Rhimes' female characters are strong, but they are not without flaws, insecurities, or self-doubt. We see them navigate their professional and private lives with confusion and angst, but we also watch them deal with issues that many of us encounter past our living room couches. Whose career takes the back seat? Can we realistically take turns? Is this fair? How do we balance children and love and work? It's why this show is as riveting as it is. And as Cristina Yang's character stoically rejects the domestic in preference for holding a virtual heart in her hands, Meredith, like the spunky Bailey, attempts to have it all. But we see the imbalance, the unfairness, the sacrifices that they do make—one way or another—either with their children or their careers. Something has to give, and it's usually the women who give in or give up.
This is how we see Meredith Grey: she is a mother and a surgeon, and she forges a plan with her husband who promises to stand back and care more for the kids while she pursues her career. Of course, he reneges when the president of the United States offers him a job. Then we see the regular conundrum that couples face—whose career takes precedence? Typically, we see Meredith take the back seat as he drives their marriage forward, moving them to Washington and finding her a job at another hospital.
And then we hear Cristina's last words to Meredith, which I just had to write down, because they resonate with me, and perhaps with so many women out there who often feel they have been sacrificed for the needs of others—for the sake of the family:
You're a gifted surgeon, with an extraordinary mind.
Don't let what he wants eclipse what you need;
He's very dreamy, but he's not the sun.
You are the sun.
I just loved these lines; they perfectly define the secondary roles we adopt because we have been conditioned to think this is normal, natural. Women are malleable, and so, we sacrifice because we think we want to. It's easier, isn't it, to just go along with the unspoken rules?
And then she finally walks out, reminding her best friend and person—and women in general—not to be eclipsed by the needs and wants of others—no matter how much we love them. We see Meredith plant her feet in Seattle and refuse to leave her home, her job, her birthplace because her husband has received his dream job. What about her dream job, her research, and what she wants? Her needs were never considered, and many of our needs are not considered, for we sacrifice for the family—this is what we do. This is what we have always done.
As Cristina Yang's character leaves the show, she leaves a void that I hope Shonda Rhimes will fill with another one of her powerful characters: one who walks against the current in every way that Yang's character did, offering us and our daughters another example of femininity and womanhood that has been rarely imagined let alone lived.
Whether fictional, like Cristina Yang, or real, like Barbara Walters, these are two examples of the feminine in terms of agency and intellect that we should all aspire to emulate.