On Tuesday night, at a New York celebration for Planned Parenthood’s centennial, TV showrunner extraordinaire Shonda Rhimes took the stage to accept an award for supporting the non-profit. She was introduced by none other than Meryl Streep, who said: “Shonda Rhimes has changed the way that television looks at women,” citing the $350 million a year her shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” rake in. Here are Rhimes’ full remarks from her speech at the event, which was attended by Hillary Clinton, Julianne Moore, Chelsea Handler and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
Shonda Rhimes: When Cecile called me to tell me that Planned Parenthood was honoring me with the Champion of Change Award, I was thrilled. I was blown away. I was, frankly, a little in love with myself.
This means: I am a CHAMPION! I CHANGE THINGS! IN A CHAMPIONSHIP WAY! I am clearly almost exactly like Serena Williams but with a laptop instead of a tennis racket. We’re both champions! This is everything!
And then I got … depressed. Distressed. MAD.
Because this isn’t a game. This isn’t tennis. This is women’s health.
Protecting the health needs of women requires champions?
Women’s health needs protecting.
Like some kind of endangered species.
Like, holy crap, vaginas might go extinct.
In the 21st Century.
Women’s health needs protection.
And I am supposed to be an actual champion. Of Change. Which means I am supposed to have CHANGED things. Like a champion.
Now I love my job. I make TV – a lot of TV. This season I will be responsible in one way or another for 75 hours of programming. All of it stories told about and for women. And it’s simple. It’s easy. It doesn’t even feel like a job. We operate, we gladiate, we exonerate, we investigate, we advocate and if we do our Shakespeare right this summer, we’re gonna agitate and titillate. The secret to making it easy is this: in Shondaland, the land that is Shonda, we tell stories that we care about. Stories that are true for us.
You know why I’m not feeling like a champion of change? I’m not trying to be a champion. I’m not trying to make things change.
I am attempting to reflect the world that I live in. Attempting to reflect the medical world that doctors exist in. Attempting to write women as they actually exist.
I am being, I hope, a decent human being.
The stories that are written in Shondaland about women’s health are guided by two simple facts:
Fact 1 – I just can’t get over the fact that a room full of straight white men who couldn’t find a vulva with two hands and a flashlight are insistent on telling me and all my friends what to do with the vagina we have been driving around America for our entire lives.
Fact 2 – When women’s health needs are taken care of, when women have the right to determine their reproductive future, to screen and treat STDs, to get life-saving pap smears, their families are stronger, their work lives are more productive, their self-esteem rises and they feel empowered. Women are HAPPIER.
Oh and there’s a third one:
Fact 3 — I am very confused by the concept that anyone can feel that the health needs of women are optional but erectile dysfunction medication must be covered by insurance.
So Mellie filibusters for Planned Parenthood on Christmas eve and we teach how HIV doesn’t have to be passed from mother to child and Richard tackles a syphilis outbreak amongst the doctors and Addison Forbes Montgomery Shepherd Reilly states that she provides every reproductive medical service including termination to women because there are not enough doctors willing to do so.
And Cristina Yang and Olivia Pope have matter of fact abortions. As is their legal right.
Some people say, “that’s not reality. The world doesn’t run that way.”
It’s Shondaland. It’s my world. I run it how I want to. And maybe that’s my goal.
If not to reflect our exact world, then to show you how the world works when a woman is running things.
Women should be running things.
But we aren’t. Not everywhere. Not yet.
There is so much work to be done. And not a lot of time to do it. My oldest daughter is 14. We were supposed to have fixed the whole planet for her by now. I promised her that when she was born.
So … we work. I will do my part. I will do champion-y things. As hard as I can. I will CONSCIOUSLY make an effort to do champion-y things. Because what I did before, that was me at half-speed. Me at full speed?
Get out of the way, please.
That’s my promise. I will live up to this award so that I am actually worthy of being called a Champion for Change.
I will be inspired by every one of you who is fighting for change too. Full speed ahead.