“You Need to Be the Bad Guy”: Disability and Abuse on Grey’s Anatomy

Question: Let’s say your wife doesn’t want to get in the shower. So you grab her, pick her up, and shove her into the shower while she screams and yells for you to let go. For good measure, you pin her to the wall while she keeps screaming.

Is that abuse?

Not on Grey’s Anatomy, it isn’t!

[no, but seriously, it is abuse]

[It's also domestic violence]

***

I, uh – I can’t really believe I’m writing this post. Because, I mean, Grey’s Anatomy has done a lot of stupid stuff over the years but – surely – SURELY – they didn’t just portray domestic violence in a positive light? Surely that didn’t happen. Surely I was imagining it.

… No, wait, I didn’t. It actually happened.

The fuck is wrong with you, Grey’s Anatomy?

And yes, I know, I just admitted to watching Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, I kind of gave up on it after the Ghost Sex season. Yes, I rewatched the first two seasons during my finals – but only because it reminded me that my life, though stressful, could be a lot worse.

It could be scripted by Shonda Rhimes.

But then this fall, my Romantic Interest (hereafter known as the Feminist Philosopher) got me to watch Grey’s Anatomy with him on a regular basis.  And I will admit I’ve been enjoying it. Mostly in a “let’s point out how terrible this plot is” way. Or a “oh, that dialogue was just terrible” way. And sometimes in a “Cristina Yang is my spiritual guru and I will do whatever she tells me to do” way.

Cristina Yang will cut you Grey's Anatomy

Spiritual Guru

Intermingled with my love for Cristina Yang and my enjoyment of the terrible dialogue, however, is a slow-simmering outrage over the show’s treatment of the newly-disabled characters.

Quick recap: at the end of last season, a bunch of the doctors were in an airplane crash. Two of the principal characters – Lexie and Mark – died. Arizona Robbins’ leg was crushed, and later amputated against her wishes. Cristina Yang was diagnosed with reactive psychosis.

The way Grey’s Anatomy is dealing with Cristina and Arizona is killing me. KILLING me. It’s like they’ve got a bingo card of how NOT to write about disability, and they’re trying to check off EVERY SINGLE BOX.

For a while, I held it in. It was just a slow-simmering outrage, and a couple of rants. But Episode 3 (“Love the One You’re With”) officially pushed me over the top. The scene where Callie abuses her wife, Arizona and NO ONE CALLED IT OUT?

And it wasn’t a gross moment? It was a big “Oh, finally, Arizona will realize that her disability makes Callie unhappy too!” moment.

Yeah, that was the end of Ms. Nice Feminist.

NO MORE MS. NICE FEMINIST.

Meredith Cristina Rage Grey's Anatomy

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH

CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE AND YOU MADE IT SEEM JUSTIFIED.

FUCK YOU GREY’S ANATOMY.

Okay. I’m calm. I’m totally calm. I can write this in a calm and mature manner.

Before we get to the problem of Arizona Robbins (who, let me remind you, was ASSAULTED BY HER WIFE), let’s start with the Case of My  Spiritual Guru, Cristina Yang.

After the rescuers finally show up and save everyone, Cristina lapses into a catatonic state, punctuated with brief moments of rage and violence. Her doctors diagnose her with reactive psychosis.

Now, in a perfect world, Cristina’s friends and family would be like “Oh, yeah, she’s got a mental illness because she was in a plane crash and survived for a week with no food/water/medical help and she was keeping all these other people alive. Not super surprising. Let’s let her get the care she needs!

… And if you think that’s how things actually went down, I have a piece of the True Cross I’d like to sell you.

Here’s what actually happened. Cristina Yang is diagnosed with reactive psychosis, and then…

Cue scene where Owen (Cristina’s estranged husband) yells to the psych ward chief that he won’t let them take Cristina to the psyche ward. Cue scene where Owen – the chief of surgery – essentially prevents his wife from getting adequate medical care because he doesn’t want her to go to the psych ward. Cue scene where Meredith, Cristina’s best friend, grabs her by the shoulders and tells her to “snap out of it” because if Cristina doesn’t “snap out of it,” she’ll be put in the psych ward and “pumped full of anti-psychotics.’ Which is apparently the worst thing ever, since anti-psychotics will strip Cristina’s identity away (#NotActuallyHowAntiPsychoticsWorkMeredith) (#SeriouslyYouWentThroughMedSchoolAndYouDontKnowThis?)

Kathy Griffith Really Really GIF

Meredith and Owen fight tooth and claw to keep Cristina from going to the psych ward and getting psych treatment. Do you think they would fight to keep her out of the hospital if she’d gotten pneumonia? Would they be screaming at her and telling her if she didn’t “snap out of it,” she’d be pumped full of antibiotics and her personality would be totally changed?

Of course not.

This is gross on so many levels, I can’t even. As usual, mental illnesses are treated as if they’re The Worst Thing Ever, as opposed to, you know, just another set of illnesses. And Grey’s Anatomy acts like Cristina getting psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever.

Psychosis is the Worst Thing Ever, y’all! THE WORST THING EVER.

And going to the psych ward is the other Worst Thing Ever.

Sooooo gross.

Meredith and Owen’s behavior reinforces the stigmatization of mental illness. PSYCHOSIS, OOOGA BOOOGA. Whereas Owen and Meredith would recognize that pneumonia is an illness, that catching pneumonia is not a person’s fault, and that a person with pneumonia needs TREATMENT, they act like mental illnesses are a character flaw. Psychosis is a stigma, a brand to be avoided at any cost. Cristina can just “snap out of it.” And if she goes to the psych ward and received proper, adequate treatment for her “condition,” she’ll officially be a “psychotic person” and that would be the Worst Thing Ever. Because mental illnesses are the worst thing ever blah blah blah.

Someone shoot me.

Mental illnesses are just that: illnesses. Like all other illnesses, they require treatment. And honestly, to deprive Cristina of  treatment tailored to her illness because you don’t want her to go to the “psych ward” (OOOGA BOOOGA) and you don’t want her to take “anti-psychotics” is tantamount to medical abuse.

Grey’s Anatomy always makes a huge deal about ultra-religious parents who refuse to allow their child to get proper medical care. Don’t they realize they’re doing the same thing with Cristina?

(Well, of course not, because Mental Illnesses are different, and Cristina can’t be Psychotic GRAB THE FAINTING COUCH).

As a person with several mental illnesses, let me be the first to say “FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.” You know what? I’ve been pretty close to catatonic in the super-severe phases of my depressions. I’ve never been put on anti-psychotics, but they were on the table, and they still are (some of them can be very helpful to managing depression. Who knew?). I’ve never been to a psych ward, but if things got bad enough, I would hope that the psych ward stigma wouldn’t be enough to keep me away.

The attitude the show – and Owen and Meredith – display towards mental illnesses is precisely the reason it took me twenty five minutes to type up the previous paragraph: because it is so fucking scary to come out as a person with mental illnesses. The attitude of “mental illnesses are the Worst Things Ever” and “mental illnesses mean you’re Crazy” do hurt people with actual mental illnesses. That attitude is part of the reason I was pushed by certain members of my family to keep my depression a secret and to get off anti-depressants as fast as possible (as opposed to when I was ready).

So yeah, FUCK YOU, GREY’S ANATOMY.Th

The show’s treatment of Cristina gets even worse in the scene where Owen (her estranged husband) takes her home and bathes her.

Ick. Ick, ick, ick, ick, ick.

Why ick?

Because Cristina and Owen were more or less estranged before the plane crash. So Cristina’s estranged husband managing her entire life, bathing her, controlling her, while Cristina herself is still catatonic and unable to give consent? Cristina’s estranged husband discussing, in vivid detail, how the rest of Cristina’s life will go? Cristina’s estranged husband deciding what kind of medical treatment she’ll get (or won’t get)?

Very Ick.

Cristina and Owen are no longer in a relationship where there’s some kind of consent implied for these big, major medical decisions. She never gave consent for him to take care of her, and she can’t do it now, since she can’t talk. So yeah, in this context, it is really gross that Owen basically takes control of her entire life.

The worst part is that the bathing scene is meant to be romantic and loving.  Oooh, look at Owen, standing by his catatonic woman, taking care of her, isn’t he the Bestest?

Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp ewww gif

Captain Jack thinks it’s Romantic! (no he doesn’t)

No… he’s not. Bodily autonomy and consent is a thing. You don’t lose it when you go through mental or physical illnesses.

And also, using a person’s illness and/or disability to prove how generous and self-sacrificing YOU are is suuuuuper-gross. Don’t do it. Ever.

Which, fittingly, brings me to the case of Arizona Robbins.

Reminder of Arizona’s condition: her leg was amputated shortly after she was rescued from the plane crash. Although Arizona did not want her leg amputated, at some point she started dying and was unable to give consent for medical procedures, so her wife (and doctor) Callie gave consent to an amputation.

(Question one: why is Callie, Arizona’s WIFE, her doctor? Oh, never mind, this is Grey’s Anatomy where that sort of thing is TOTALLY okay)

Post-amputation, Arizona is super-pissed at Callie for deciding to go ahead with the surgery without Arizona’s condition. She’s also unhappy and depressed and generally in a state of rage over losing her leg.

Now, I will gladly admit that Arizona has not been a particularly pleasant person in the wake of the crash and losing her leg. I would also like to point out that there’s no “right” way to react to severe trauma, and Arizona is not a bad person for not being all smiles and rainbows post-amputation. You cannot control the way you feel.

Hell, I don’t even think there’s anything wrong with Callie being upset and angry and sad at Arizona. You can’t control the way you feel; Callie is not a bad person for having normal human emotions.

But if you can’t control the way you feel, you can, however, control how you ACT on your feelings.

Cue the end of Episode 3. Callie comes home to find Arizona has left her wheelchair. Arizona apparently tried to go to the bathroom without help, but collapsed and urinated on herself.

Callie orders Arizona to take a shower. Arizona refuses.

Okay, yes, Arizona is being a bit silly. Then again, Arizona has just discovered, for what must be the 90th time, that  she can’t do even the simplest tasks on her own anymore. And she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s going to go through a long, hard process of rehabilitation and relearning her body. That’s not something “easy” to go through. It’s not something most people can just “get over.”

But you know what? Even if Arizona’s behavior had been completely unjustified, there is still NO EXCUSE for what Callie did next.

Arizona refuses to take the shower.
Callie picks her up and shoves her into the shower. Arizona screams for Callie to let her go, and get out; Callie slams Arizona against the shower wall and holds her there while Arizona keeps screaming.

DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE. DOMESTIC ABUSE.

And yes, Callie is super-emotional and crying. And yes, Callie yells “There’s nowhere for me to go; this is my life now too!”

BUT IT’S STILL DOMESTIC ABUSE.

Least you think I’m exaggerating about the violence of the scene, see for yourself. And this, by the way, is AFTER the grabbing and shoving:

Callie Arizona shower scene abuse grey's anatomy

Callie Arizona shower scene abuse grey's anatomy

Grey's Anatomy Shower Scene Callie Arizona domestic violence

Sadly, because I am female and I grew up in the USA, I only believed my own conclusions about the Super-Gross-Abuse-Scene-Of-Doom AFTER a person of the male gender independently came to the same conclusion. Fortunately, I happened to have a person of the male gender sitting right next to me when the Super-Gross scene happened:

The Feminist Philosopher paused the video and turned to me.

Feminist Philosopher: Well. That just happened.”

Me: “Uh, yeah. You saw the same thing I did.”

Feminist Philosopher: “Callie assaulting Arizona? Yup. Suuuper gross.

So yeah, it’s not just Team Culturally Disoriented Seeing Things over here. Hell, I don’t understand why anyone – anyone – would look at this scene and not go “Jesus H. Christ, what the hell is going on here.”

Hey, I’ll tell you what the hell is going on:

CALLIE ABUSED ARIZONA.

And no one has called it. Not on the show, not – as far as I can tell – in the world of the internet.

Ellen Degeneres That's Gross GIF

So I’m calling it now: Callie Torres physically abused Arizona Robbins. It happened. It is domestic violence.
This is not a “normal” couples argument. This is not okay. This is abuse.

***

Okay, I can hear the critics now. What does this scene – gross as it was – have to do with disability? Callie’s treatment of Arizona is abuse regardless of Arizona’s condition, right?

Right!

If we unpack the scene a bit more, however, it’s pretty clear that Callie’s actions are intimately connected to the show’s attitude towards disability.

There’s a reason why this scene isn’t played as domestic violence. There’s a reason it’s framed to make Callie seem “justified.”

Indeed, from the first episode of the new season, Arizona’s disability has been framed in terms of its effect on Callie’s life. It’s about Callie’s feelings. Callie’s sadness. Callie’s struggles. Callie’s torment. Callie’s guilt. Hell, we don’t even SEE Arizona in the first episode – until we discover she’s lost her leg.

And we don’t see her much in the next few episodes – except when she’s interacting with Callie.

Then we get this beautifully revolting scene in Episode 2, where Callie tells Owen that “the person in that bed” isn’t Arizona, but just a shell of a person with all of Arizona removed. Callie says she thinks that if Arizona loses her leg, Callie will never get Arizona back again.

And Owen then says he doesn’t think he’ll ever get Cristina – his still-catatonic wife – back.

… wow.

Let’s just back up and look at how Owen and Callie have taken their significant others’ Huge Illnesses and made it All About Them.

We need to save Arizona’s leg so Callie gets her back. We need to make Cristina un-psychotic so Owen gets her back.

Wow, I never realized that when people suffer through traumatic illnesses and injuries, their experiences don’t matter at all! It’s All About The People Around Them!
I’m learning so many new things from this show.

Cristina Yang I was surprised too GIF Grey's Anatomy

Cristina Yang Grey's Anatomy I was surprised GIF

Look, being the partner/friend/significant other/family of a disabled or chronically ill person is not easy. And those people deserve support and help and sympathy. My problem isn’t that Grey’s Anatomy showcases Owen and Callie’s emotional meltdowns. My problem is that the show does it AT THE EXPENSE of Arizona and Cristina.

Despite the fact that Arizona and Cristina are the ones actually dealing with trauma and disabilities, their stories are secondary. Their emotions are far less important than those of Callie and Owen’s. The show centers on Callie and Owen’s sadness at their wives’ illnesses/disability, and on how generous Callie/Owen are to stick with them.

Arizona is relegated to the role of a  symbol. She’s not important for herself, but for what she represents – Callie’s tragedy, Callie’s sacrifice, Callie’s generosity, Callie’s emotional struggles.

Hell, Arizona isn’t even able to define herself anymore – it’s Callie who decides that Arizona is “not her wife” anymore, but just a person with all the Arizona scraped out. How Arizona feels, we don’t know.

The show’s writers took Arizona’s voice away and made her silent in her own tragedy.

And what does Callie yell to her wife as she’s pushing her into the shower? Why does she think it’s okay for her to abuse Arizona?

“This is my life now too!”

This is my life now too.

It’s not Arizona’s life anymore. It’s Callie’s. By virtue of Arizona’s disability, she has become less of a person. She’s been relegated to the symbolic.

You know what? This is not Callie’s life. It’s not. Arizona’s life is Arizona’s life. Arizona’s body is her body.

If Callie can’t handle Arizona’s behavior, she can try to have an honest conversation with her. She can go to therapy. You know what? If it’s too much for Callie to deal with, CALLIE CAN LEAVE ARIZONA. She can divorce her. Callie has somewhere else to go. She has a choice. She’s choosing to stay with Arizona.

Arizona, on the other hand, really does have nowhere else to go. She can’t just “leave’ her body when she gets sick of it. This is her reality. This is her life. This is her body.

It’s not Callie’s.

I don’t mean to diminish Callie’s very real pain, or Arizona’s very real vitriol over the past few episodes. But I’m sick of illness and disability being portrayed as “harder” on the family/friends/whatever than on the person experiencing them. I’m sick of shows using disability as a way to show OTHER characters’ emotional struggles and generosity.

I’m sick of narratives that tell us that people with disabilities are less-than-human, that they’re just a broken version of a more perfect person. I’m sick of narratives where Meredith get to say that treatment for a mental illness will strip your identity away. Where Callie gets to say that her wife’s accident has made her “not-Arizona.”

Hell, I’m not even sure why I’m so surprised by this. Grey’s Anatomy has always treated illness and disability as symbols. In the show, the disabled body is nothing more than a shiny toy for doctors to have fun with. People with disabilities are only important insofar as they are symbols. They’re not people.

People with disabilities are not broken. We are not symbols. We are people.

Screw you, Grey’s Anatomy.

***

The worst part of the abuse – and yes, we have only just now gotten to the worst part – is that its for Arizona’s own good. Supposedly.

In Callie’s Super-Important Surgical Case (right before the Shower Scene), her underage patient wants to run off and complete a sailing competition even though it’ll mean losing her leg. Callie tells the patient’s parents that they need to stop her. They need to be her parents. They need to be “the bad guy” so they can save their daughter.

And, of course, because this is Grey’s Anatomy and Grey’s Anatomy has the subtlety of a GIANT SLEDGEHAMMER, Callie’s case is a metaphor for her personal life, and how she needs to be the “bad guy” with Arizona.

In this little equation, Arizona has been transformed into a child. A child. And Callie is her PARENT.

The whole “people with disabilities are just like children” meme has been well-overplayed. Don’t think I didn’t notice the infantilization of Arizona. Don’t think I didn’t notice that she peed on herself (childhood!) and had to be cleaned by her wife/parent (infantilizing!). Don’t think I didn’t notice that you did exactly the same thing with Cristina in the scene where she’s being bathed by Owen (infantalizing!)

Disabled people are not children. We’re not, thank you very much.

And Arizona is not a child. Arizona is a grown-ass woman. Losing her leg does not mean she lost her right to control her own life. Her body is hers. Her life is hers. You do not get to choose what she does with them, even if you think she’s hurting herself.

You cannot control adults’ lives for their own good. You cannot shove your wife into a shower for her own good (you can’t do that to your kid either, actually, because that too is abuse). You cannot take your estranged wife back to your house without her permission and give her a bath (yes, I’m back to Cristina). You cannot choose your estranged wife’s psychological treatment.

That is abuse.

Look, I get it. You see sick people, hurt people, you want to help them. They say no. You say “it’s for your own good.”
But that’s NOT OKAY. You cannot help people without their consent. You cannot force people to do things “for their own good.”

Not after they’re 18 anyway.

Look, this isn’t some kind of fringe issue. People with disabilities are up to four times more likely than abled people to be abused by partners or caretakers. Four times. And part of the reason they’re more likely to be abused – and less likely to seek help (or to get it when they go to the authorities) – is because of stupid narratives like these.

Narratives that emphasize the pain and the generosity of the caregivers and the partners at the expense of the actual people with disabilities. Narratives that portray people with disabilities as children. Narratives that portray abuse as something done for the person’s own good.

Who would ever believe that a woman so generous and selfless that she would stay married to a cripple would commit an act of domestic violence? It wasn’t abuse! It was for Arizona’s own good.

Fuck you very much, Grey’s Anatomy.

Ellen Degeneres You Are Disgusting GIF

Callie abused Arizona.

You showed it as something good and romantic and cathartic.

Fuck you, Grey’s Anatomy.

Arizona and Cristina are not symbols. They’re not tragic parts of other peoples’ lives. They’re not children. They’re not broken. They’re people with real pain and real lives and real stories. So please start treating them that way.

And please don’t give me any Arizona/Callie scenes for another few weeks. I honestly can’t look at Callie without wanting to call the Seattle cops. SHE ABUSED HER WIFE. Send her to therapy.

As a final note: CALLIE ABUSED HER WIFE.

Just say that over and over to yourself until it sinks in.

***

*In order to thank the Feminist Philosopher, who re-introduced me to Grey’s Anatomy AND who was kind enough to let me rant at him for a REALLY long time without ever telling me that I was exaggerating or that I should calm down… I will finish this blog by saying: FUCK YOU, DAVID BROOKS.

(just because)

**ALSO, if you are in the Montreal area, you should go see the play Inherit the Wind, which is going up at McGill Player’s Theater, November 14-17 & 21-24, 8:00 PM. GO SEE IT. I saw it last night, and my reaction was something like this:

Mind Blown Neil Patrick Harris GIF

Hugh Grant Love Actually Dancing GIF

It was pretty damn near perfection. And I’m not just saying that because I know a lot of the people in it and I baked cookies for their bake sale (if I hated it, I would just NOT TALK ABOUT IT on the blog).

GO SEE IT.
oh, here’s a review.


16 Comments on ““You Need to Be the Bad Guy”: Disability and Abuse on Grey’s Anatomy”

  1. Tori says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve never seen Grey’s Anatomy, but I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about how it’s fine to talk about the impact disability can have on loved ones and/or caregivers but that it is not cool to center those caregivers’ or loved ones’ experiences at the expense of the person with the disability.

    And, you know.

    These conversations have got to the point of me going in the all caps/the oral equivalent thereof, IT IS NOT COOL TO CENTER THE EXPERIENCES OF LOVED ONES AND CAREGIVERS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PERSON WITH THE DISABILITY.

    So it’s nice to feel like someone else understands — both the issue and the DEAR FUCK DO I REALLY HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS AGAIN explaining it aspect.

    • C.D. says:

      I AGREE SO MUCH ABOUT THE ALL-CAPS THING GAAAAH. It actually reminds me of feminism 101 conversations I have, where my interlocutor will say something along the lines of “But what about the men” and I start off with ‘Well, men’s experiences are important to feminism, but it’s not cool to center those experiences at the expense of women’s experiences” and by the end I’m getting into ALL-CAPS AND NO MORE MS. NICE FEMINIST.

      Bac to your point – the constant centering of caregivers/loved one’s experiences at the expense of the person with the disability is honestly something I’ve only become aware of in the past two years or so, but since I’ve become aware of it, I’ve realized how ubiquitous it is. It’s EVERYWHERE. GAAAAH.

      *calming down*

  2. Lacey says:

    *standing ovation*
    As the wife of a man who has been “crippled” for the past year with severe PTSD and who was, at this time last year, hospitalized for a week in a psyche ward, all I can say is 1)The idea of DOCTORS telling someone to “snap out” of their trauma on their own and treating the psyche ward as a boogie-man is physically nauseating. It helped both my husband and I get perspective and a LOT OF HELP on how to get through this together. And it stopped him committing suicide, and 2) It never occurred to me that HIS illness should be harder on ME than on the person in constant, unending pain and fury with himself. Thanks Greys Anatomy! Because a person who still remembers how to laugh, can NOT think about their spouse’s disability for hours at a time, can get out of bed and get through the day without a chemical cocktail, and could walk away from the source of their pain at any time without incurring even the slightest social censure is SO MUCH MORE to be pitied than the person who is trapped in depression, is begging for a way to make the pain stop and can’t ever see the brighter side of things EVER. That makes so much sense!!

  3. I agree with everything you say in this post.

    I especially love (LOVE!) the way you acknowledge how our culture has trained us to respond, and you did it so honestly that you practically answered my rebuttals to your points in rhythm with my inner privilege generating them. It was a glorious thing to behold.

    I really, really, REALLY wish that this show would take all this, and then make it out to be Owen and Meredith who were really really wrong about resisting the psych ward so hard. Then, not only would it be a depiction of “this is how you don’t treat disabled people”, but it would also represent some HUUUUUGE character growth for Owen (who, just ugh I hate him so much) and Meredith. It could be this really fascinating story about how surgeons are terrified of not being in control, and how they can’t handle psych diagnoses because there’s nothing to cut, there’s nothing to see, there’s no monitor that keeps a constant eye on your depression levels. They could have done that with Meredith’s mother in early seasons but I see why they didn’t. Now they have all the momentum of this enormous show on their side. USE IT, SHONDA. PLEASE.

  4. Thank you for this post. You expressed something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. I just recently wrote a letter that I didn’t send, but it’s about mental illness:

    I’ve heard mental-illness related language hurled as insults in workplaces more often than I can count, and everyone seems to still think this is okay. It isn’t, and here’s why.

    First, we are human. We bleed, like the rest of you. We cry, no doubt more often than the rest of you, and often because of how we are treated, and portrayed in the general culture.

    Second, we are more likely to be vulnerable to crime and assault than to do anything to anyone else. This is a statistical reality, notwithstanding the sensational headlines you may see in newspapers. Very few of us are axe murderers. We strive to live our lives as best we can. Staff should remember this the next time anyone is tempted to heave a sigh of relief at the “crazy person” leaving the building as you lose yet another productive worker.

    Third, mental illness is first and foremost something that we go through, not something we put other people through. If we supposedly frighten others due to their own prejudice, this is not a valid reason to destroy our stability and sense of well-being, simply for them to feel “more comfortable”. Because this is exactly what people do when they exhibit prejudice toward people who are mentally ill. Guess what: we struggle to stay alive every day, through depression and much worse. We do not deserve to lose everything we have simply because someone else thinks we are just too “weird”.

  5. I’ve watched Grey’s for years and I’ve never thought about it like this. But I completely agree with what you’ve written. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  6. Miriam says:

    Thanks for this great post. I’ve been a fan of Grey’s Anatomy for a long time, but it’s really important to understand where and how the media you otherwise enjoy is problematic. I’ll be sharing this with the other Grey’s fans I know.

  7. [...] The TV show Grey’s Anatomy is a guilty pleasure of mine, but this blog post critiques its approach to disability and mental illness [...]

  8. I never thought of those episodes that way until I read your post. Thank you.

  9. Philip says:

    Thanks for writing this. And thanks for being honest about how much of this you experienced personally. I agree with your classification of what happened there as domestic abuse, and what makes this very difficult for me to write is that I have been forcibly restrained, in a psych ward, when I was acutely suicidal. Treatment without prima facie consent isn’t something you can do at home; even when done in a professional psychiatric setting, it’s something that hurts the patient a lot, that hurt me a lot.

    You haven’t done this, but a thing that happens is a line being drawn based on whether treatment was always consensual, between patients who never were “a danger to themselves or others” and those—us—who were. There’s a difference between preventing a suicide and committing domestic assault, though.

    Sorry if I’m being overly critical.

  10. Farida says:

    [This commenter gets the first part of their comment erased until she looks up the definition of domestic violence, which, YES, would include pinning your spouse to a shower wall. Yes, even if they are "distressing" you.]

    I’ve seen mental illness within my family (not me, a relative), and I understand what Owen and Meredith are going through. It’s not necessarily right, but it’s the first instinct to something so sudden and as painful as that – it’s completely life-changing, and at times, life-wrecking when you first discover it. You feel complerely grief-stricken and your first instinct is denial. I know, I’ve felt it when it first happened around me.

    Sorry for not elaborating better, but yeah, those are my two pence.

    • C.D. says:

      I erased the first part of your post, because honestly… I do not feel like getting into an argument about what constitutes domestic abuse. I am not making a subjective evaluation here. There are definitions. CALLIE’S ACTIONS FIT. In fact, THEY ARE TEXTBOOK.

      As to the second part of your comment.

      Yes, it is hard to have people you love go through mental illness.

      Actually having a mental illness is harder.

      What bothers me is not the fact that Meredith/Owen are in denial. What bothers me, as I said in post, is that the show pretends it’s harder to be the relative/friend than the person with the mental illness. That the show ERASES the pain of people with mental and physical disabilities by choosing only to concentrate on the pain of their friends and relatives.

      And you? You’re kind of doing the same thing. You’ve seen mental illness? That’s tough. But like I said in the post: I’ve lived with mental illness.
      Tougher.

      You have relatives with mental illness? Not fun.
      I have mental illnesses. Even less fun.

      There are spaces where discussing your experiences as a relative of a person with mental illnesses are relevant and valid. But to concentrate solely on those experiences, on a post that explains why that rhetoric is incredibly hurtful to people who actually suffer from disabilities (mental and physical)?

      Not the place for it.

      I hope you understand.

  11. Morgaine says:

    I am preempting my comment with the fact that I agreed with about 95% of what you said. Additionally, my comment is absolutely meant as a social critique, and is not in any way meant to be an attack or insult. (I have never commented on anything online before, but I love your blog and I feel I have a legitimate comment to make). Also, I understand that your main point was to discuss abuse of disabled adults and the lack of focus on their perspectives. So I am sorry if my comment feels like a stray or if I misread you, since writer/reader perspectives almost never mesh completely, if at all.

    While adults with disabilities are emphatically not children, and Arizona and Cristina are put into situations that infantilized them, I don’t think that drawing a parallel between the young sailor and the situation with Arizona and Callie is only problematic because of the child/parent dynamic. I think the main reason that comparing an adult to a child carries so much weight as an insult is because of the lack of social and legal agency given to minors, and because minors are seen to lack all cognitive reasoning skills. In the episode in question, the “child” is 16 years of age (she is old enough to give consent and become an emancipated minor in most states inside the US), but she is not allowed to make her own medical decisions, and, instead of her doctor advocating for her to her, Callie tells the parents to basically do a better job. In other instances in the show where a patent refuses important medical care the doctors spend laborious amounts of time explaining medical options to their patient. Why was that? Because their patient was not a minor. Again, I understand that your main point was to discuss abuse of disabled adults. However, I felt that the argument you made completely omitted, and in some instances even reinforced, the narrative that minors are incapable of proper reasoning and the ability to self-advocate. More importantly, I felt it reinforced the concept that they have, and should have, no rights over their own lives. To cite a specific instance, you stated:

    “…Arizona is not a child. Arizona is a grown-ass woman. Losing her leg does not mean she lost her right to control her own life. Her body is hers. Her life is hers. You do not get to choose what she does with them, even if you think she’s hurting herself.”

    As if being a “grown-ass woman” gives her more rights to her own life and body than being a nearly-grown-ass person (or a not-at-all-grown-ass person). While legally this is true, the law invades rights to life and body all the time, and it does so most egregiously in regards to minors. This does not mean that I think minors don’t often require more care than adults.

    Again, sorry if I am completely misreading you.

    • C.D. says:

      You know, you’re absolutely right, and I should have been more careful when I went through that comparison. Children, especially older ones, do have bodily autonomy, and they should have the right to make many medical decisions (and to be consulted in any other ones). Thank you for pointing this out, and I’ll be more careful in the future.


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