Shonda Rhimes Owned Her Success in the Best Way at the Producers Guild Awards


It's no surprise anymore when Shonda Rhimes wins an award. The Grey's Anatomy and Scandal creator is among Hollywood's most successful heavyweights. 

So on Saturday night, it made sense that she took home the Producers Guild Awards' Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television. What made the event especially newsworthy was the unapologetic way in which she accepted the honor. "I completely deserve this," she told the audience. 

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"I have, against the odds, courageously pioneered the art of writing for people of color as if they were human beings. I've bravely gone around just casting parts for actors who were the best ones. I fearlessly faced down ABC when they completely agreed with me that Olivia Pope should be black. And I raised my sword heroically and then put it down again when Paul Lee never fought me about any of my storytelling choices."
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It was a moment in which Rhimes "took ownership of her success in a way we scarcely see," wrote Jezebel's Rachel Vorona Cote. More importantly, it sent a potentially life-changing message to untold numbers of younger women who are told to downplay their achievements.

"We hold women to a higher standard of performance," Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, told Mic. "If you're a woman of color, it's even more amplified because you have to work harder than anyone else and be judged by a higher standard."

What's more, says Simmons, is that women aren't allowed the same imperfections as men. Think Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates, two powerful white men whose stories of success started by dropping out of Harvard. "I think there are a lot of narratives of male success that begin in failure, I don't know that we see the same type of permission to fail in women."

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As it turns out, failure is a crucial part of success. But men and women approach it differently starting in childhood, which can have lasting effects. In a CNN op-ed co-authored with Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, Simmons writes: "Boys also learn to cope with criticism through sheer volume. Teachers call out boys eight times more often than girls. Boys are more likely to misbehave, be messy and speak out of turn. Girls, by contrast, are more compliant, so when they are criticized it feels more serious."

Research has shown that girls are taught to believe that intelligence is more or less a fixed trait, while boys are socialized to think of it as the result of hard work. When female students encounter barriers — say, a grade lower than an "A" in a college economics course — they're more likely to get discouraged and give up altogether. Male students, on the other hand, are more likely to take on challenges because they've already had years of socialization that teaches them that it's OK to fail.

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Displays of confidence from women like Rhimes, who, as she put it on Saturday, "against the odds, courageously pioneered" in a cutthroat industry, provide an important lesson, and one that's increasingly being touted by women of color in Hollywood. Actress and producer Mindy Kaling proudly talks about her own "killer confidence." 

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"Confidence is just entitlement," Kaling wrote for Glamour in 2015. "Entitlement has gotten a bad rap because it's used almost exclusively for the useless children of the rich, reality TV stars and Conrad Hilton Jr., who gets kicked off an airplane for smoking pot in the lavatory and calling people peasants or whatever. But entitlement in and of itself isn't so bad. Entitlement is simply the belief that you deserve something. Which is great. The hard part is, you'd better make sure you deserve it."

So, take it from Rhimes. It's OK to fail. And it's OK to own your worth despite it.