If you ask Shonda Rhimes, she’ll tell you she hasn’t broken the glass ceiling.
The executive producer behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at Wednesday’s THR Women in Entertainment Breakfast and her speech was all about just that.
“I made him call and ask for some written reason why… because I was really and truly worried that there might have been some kind of mistake,” Rhimes said of her publicist soon after she learned she would receive the honor. “It said many nice things, but the main thing it said was I was getting the award in recognition of my breaking through the industry’s glass ceiling as a woman and an African-American.”
Rhimes went on to tell the audience that in her family, no one receives awards “for being you.”
“To get all Beyoncé about it, people, ‘I woke up like this,'” she said to laughter. “I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or because I’m African-American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town. But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling.
“I have not broken through any glass ceilings. If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know,” Rhimes 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… if I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face.
“The view from here — way up here where the glass ceiling is broken — would be incredible. Right? So, how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don’t remember that happening? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now. Think about it. Look around this room. It’s filled with women of all colors in Hollywood who are executives and heads of studios and VPs and show creators and directors. There are a lot of women in Hollywood in this room who have the game-changing ability to say yes or no to something.
“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? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore. I mean, the wind was already whistling through? — ?I could always feel it on my face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to the other side. I didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had worn itself away.
“So, I didn’t have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I finally hit that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.
“So, I’m breaking my family’s rule today,” Rhimes finished. “This is a trophy for participation, and I am beyond honored and proud to receive it because this was a group effort. I want to thank all the women in this room and I want to thank all the women who never made it to this room. Thank you to all the women in this room. Thank you to all the women who never made it to this room. And thank you to all the women who will hopefully fill a room 100 times this size when we are all gone. You are all an inspiration.”
Rhimes’ speech is long, but well worth the read. Find the full text of her remarks here, or watch it below: