Rule Breakers We Love: Shonda Rhimes on Writing Female Characters Who Make Unorthodox Decisions

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photo cred: James-White

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Shonda Rhimes creates TV characters who reject the status quo, and I love her for it. Her creative ability to depict multi-faceted black women—incredibly smart, beautifully flawed, overly ambitious, childless, promiscuous, bi-sexual, etc., leaves many people either loving the Golden Globe winner or hating her for disrupting their beliefs about marriage, career, and family values.

With a slew of ABC hit shows under her belt such as Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy, the TV writer and showrunner has been nominated for 2 Primetime Emmy awards, recognized as one of Time magazine’s 100 People Who Help Shape The World, and won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series, Glamour Woman of the Year Award, the Diversity Guild of America Award, to name a few.

During a recent interview with NPR, Shonda talked “kandidly” about only receiving the most praise when she had a man on her arm, and writing about female characters who make unorthodox decisions. Check out the snippets from the NPR interview below:

“On the positive feedback she receives when she is seen as being in a relationship”

I have never gotten so much approval and accolades and warmth and congratulations as when I had a guy on my arm that people thought I was going to marry. It was amazing. I mean nobody congratulated me that hard when I had my three children. Nobody congratulated me that hard when I won a Golden Globe or a Peabody or my 14 NAACP Image Awards. But when I had a guy on my arm that people thought I was going to marry, people lost their minds like Oprah was giving away cars. It was unbelievable. … I was fascinated by it because I thought, like, I am not Dr. Frankenstein, I didn’t make this guy — he just is there. Everything else I actually had something to do with.

“On writing female characters who make unorthodox decisions”

Part of what’s been great for me in getting to write these characters and getting to have these shows is getting to explore these issues with these women. I really wanted to have characters who were living these lives that we’re all living; trying to do things [in unconventional] ways, because I know that we’re all wanting to or attempting to. And what really happens when you do? …

Saying I don’t want to get married, or I don’t want to have kids are two of the biggest taboos for women to admit in our culture. And it’s fascinating to me how many women I know who don’t want to have kids who sort of keep it under wraps, like it’s their secret. … I have a friend who’s got a theory that if she just waits everybody out, people will start to think she’s infertile and people will think it’s too rude to ask.

Sadly enough, I can relate. In this day and age, being in a relationship, whether good or bad, is often praised as the ultimate form of success. But if you’re over 30 with no children and no husband, you’re viewed as some sort of psycho—who can’t keep a man or have kids. Could it be you’re just refusing to settle for BS? Or maybe you’re a woman who’s perfectly content being in an open relationship? Or maybe, just maybe you don’t want to settle down? Jesus take the wheel–because this ‘woman’ will be crucified like Jesus Christ and buried six feet under, especially by the black community.

But the reality is, success is subjective. While some women will marry for love and commitment, some will stay in a marriage at any cost because by society’s standards it looks good, and others simply may not want to be married or have children—it’s not strange, it’s simply their choice.

Have you had similar experiences? What are you thoughts about Shonda’s comments? Drop me a line below!

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