It’s an unlikely statement, even a confusing one. “I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings,” announced Shonda Rhimes upon receiving the Hollywood Reporter’s Sherry Lansing Award, dedicated to female leaders in the industry. “If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know,” she continued. “If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises. There’d be shards of glass in my hair. I’d be bleeding, I’d have wounds.”
After proclaiming that she is “not a self-deprecating, humble person,” Rhimes chose to use the podium to praise all the progress that women have made in general and in the film and TV worlds in particular.
“It’s 2014,” she said, before launching into a powerful summary of why there very well never could have been a “Shonda Rhimes” 15 or 30 or 50 years ago:
“15 years ago… there’d have been maybe a few women in Hollywood who could say yes or no. And a lot of D girls and assistants who were gritting their teeth and working really hard. And for someone like me, if I was very very VERY lucky, there’d have been maybe one small show. One small shot. And that shot would not have involved a leading actress of color, any three dimensional LGBT characters, any women characters with high powered jobs AND families, and no more than two characters of color in any scene at one time — because that only happened in sitcoms.
“30 years ago, I’d think maybe there’d be a thousand secretaries fending off their handsy bosses back at the office and about two women in Hollywood in this room. And if I were here, I would serving those two women breakfast.
Rhimes asked her audience to reflect on a visceral level what it must have felt like for the women who first slammed themselves against professional glass ceilings: “How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice?”
When her time came, “making it through the glass ceiling to the other side,” she said, “was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints.”
Watch Rhimes’ speech below or read her full speech here.