TW: emotional abuse, abusive relationship, rape culture
Shonda Rhimes makes excellent television. She creates fascinating characters and gives them horrifying, heart-wrenching obstacles to face and overcome. She is an undisputed queen of scarring her fan base emotionally. Part of that comes from her innate ability to weave the most intricately tragic stories that we can't stop watching no matter how much she hurts us. However, another part of it comes from her unwavering devotion to developing unhealthy relationships on her shows.
As an avid viewer of all four of the patented TGIT shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and most recently, The Catch), I get a front seat to the consent issues and red flags that run rampant in those relationships. Consider her first epic project, Grey’s Anatomy, the medical drama that is now entering its 13th season. It is the product of an absolutely brilliant, finger-on-the-pulse (pun intended) mis-en-scene. All the ingredients combine perfectly to bring us a show that is smart, funny, sexy, and emotionally draining. But the reason that the sexy and the emotionally draining go hand-in-hand is a testament to how ingrained rape culture is in this world.
As positive as the characters and speeches in Shondaland can be for feminism, the shows are still guilty of perpetuating rape culture. I am not blaming Shonda Rhimes for this. It is impossible to hold one person accountable for an entire cultural mindset and institutionalized power dynamics. The issue I take with her work is merely that she is a television genius who manufactures pop culture phenomena on the regular by utilizing, rather than challenging, a very specific and very rape-friendly formula.
Anyone who has watched both Grey's Anatomy and Scandal must recognize the similarities in the structure of their two main romances: the MerDer (Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd) and Olitz (Olivia Pope and Fitz Grant) relationships, respectively. An unhappily married man has fallen out of love with his wife- an extremely ambitious, accomplished, and badass woman who was with him from his humble beginnings- and proceeds to fall head-over-heels with a younger, up-and-coming force of nature with daddy issues, mommy issues, and walls up to guard her against intimacy. But the married man is enchanted now. He is too enchanted by her to respect the walls, his wife, or the repeated rejections from our heroine. They end up in a tumultuous and devastating relationship on which the ratings depend, and we all eat it up. We have been conditioned to accept it over centuries of reinforcing the idea that love means stopping at nothing until you get a “yes,” and that when a woman's string of “no”s finally gives way to a tired, tearful “yes” that she is saying it of her own free will, and not because she’s just been worn down.
Fortunately, I have encountered plenty of critical Shondaland viewers who see through this in both of the aforementioned relationships. These viewers don't think Grey's Anatomy's Derek Shepherd is as McDreamy as the writers do. They call Scandal’s Fitzgerald “Fuck Boy” Grant's manipulative antics abuse. This is even occasionally acknowledged in-universe, albeit very rarely. Meredith actually tells Derek that he is sexually harassing her in episode 1x02 “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” which is refreshing even though it shouldn’t have to be. Similarly, Olivia confronts Fitz about the way he abuses his power as President to tip the scales in their relationship in episode 2x03 “Hunting Season” when she says “I am not yours; I don’t show up places because you want me.”
These moments of recognition might have something to do with the fact that those characters are men. It is easier for us to identify a man abusing a woman than it is for us to identify a woman abusing a man or another woman. That bias is a result of the gender binary that we are conditioned to believe exists. We view men as physically strong and emotionally repressed and women as physically weak and nurturing. This perception of masculinity makes men the perfect abusers because they can hurt people and they are also insensitive to the pain they cause. So what happens when we, who generally accept the abuse we recognize from a man directed at a woman, see abuse coming from a woman and directed at another woman? Well, judging by the fan reactions to the lesbian couple on Grey’s Anatomy, I’d say that we don’t even know it’s occurring. I speak now of Shondaland's most persistent same-sex relationship: Calzona, the partnership of bisexual Callie Torres and lesbian Arizona Robbins.
The two met when Arizona was introduced in season 5. They had a child together and got married in season 7, but they broke up and finalized their divorce in season 11. Even now, as Grey’s embarks upon its 13th season, the fans have clung to Calzona during their six seasons of on-again-off again romance. They have clung to this couple so ferociously, in fact, that some of them went so far as to send Samantha Sloyan, who portrays Callie's current love interest, Penny, real life hate mail via Twitter. In their devotion to Calzona, these fans seem content to overlook how emotionally abusive Arizona is.
As a bisexual Latina, I strongly identify with Callie. I idolize her. She is vulnerable and fierce and unapologetic and always the first to grant forgiveness to those who have wronged her. She dances in her underwear and inspires me to be a goddess, as she proclaims to be. So perhaps I am biased and overprotective of this idol when it comes to her love interests, but I have never liked Arizona for her. I've never trusted her. I felt that way since season 5 and, as much as I wanted to enjoy the lesbian couple I was given, Arizona kept justifying my distrust. But it’s not a personal opinion when I say that she is an abusive partner.
Arizona is emotionally manipulative. Her most effective tactic is using guilt to make Callie feel bad about herself and about the level of commitment that she puts into their relationship. One of the main points she uses to make Callie feel guilty is to attack and belittle Callie's identity as a bisexual woman. This might seem like a non-issue to anyone who is monosexual (only attracted to one gender) but it's actually a devastating form of abuse.
When we were introduced to Callie in season 2, we assumed she was straight. She had not come out to anyone yet, namely because she hadn't even come out to herself. She pursued loveable fuck up, George O'Malley, as he continuously allowed his friends to get in the way of their relationship. Then things got too intense too soon in season 3 when he hastily proposed marriage to her while grieving the death of his father. Their impulsive decision to get married caught up with them when George soon cheated on her with Izzie and his infidelity destroyed Callie’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and even her ability to manage her new promotion to Chief Resident.
After their divorce, Callie established a friendship with- and promptly fumbled through a confusing crush on- Cardio attending Erica Hahn through the second half of season 4. Their relationship awkwardly blossomed through the beginning of season 5, helping them both realize how completely not straight they truly are. But almost immediately after it started, Erica brutally abandoned the relationship when Callie revealed that her attraction to women does not negate her attraction to men. It was there in season 5, shortly after Erica's harsh departure, that Arizona approached the heartbroken Callie Torres in the bathroom of Joe's bar with a sudden kiss and the promise of a new love interest.
For many viewers this was an exciting new development. For queer women in particular it meant we were getting a new Sapphic pairing that would actually be canon. We are usually accustomed to reading into things that never flourish- overanalyzing certain dialogue and what we swear we're not imagining because look at that longing glance again!- between canonically straight female characters. This moment had such a strong impact on viewers that many of them still celebrate and hope for Calzona even a full season-and-a-half after their divorce. The celebration was short-lived for me, however. As their relationship progressed, I quickly found that I could not tolerate Arizona and the condescending way she consistently treats Callie, all because of her bisexual identity. Throughout the course of their relationship, Arizona's biphobia and reliance on bisexual stereotypes stand out, not just as fear or disgust of Callie's sexuality, but as a tool that Arizona utilizes to enact emotional and psychological abuse.
1. Not Gay Enough
After the initial Calzona kiss in the bar bathroom in 5x14 “Beat Your Heart Out,” Callie spends an entire episode freaking out about it to her BFF Mark and then finally gets the courage to pursue this new love interest. In doing so, she explains to Arizona that Erica was the first and only woman she had experience with. Arizona's response to this is to turn her down. And that’s fine. It is perfectly within her rights to turn Callie down, even though she was the one who initiated it. She just changed her mind. That's not the problem.
The problem is in the way she turns her down. When Arizona backtracks upon finding out that Callie had only ever been with Erica before, she talks down to her, playing some patronizing elite elder queer bullshit to belittle Callie’s queer experience.
“I work in Peds, I spend my entire day around newborns so I try not to in my personal life.”
As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am insulted by this behaviour. It’s not an inaccurate presentation; intra-community hierarchy is very real and very disrespectful. But to see this come from the mouth of someone who we are supposed to like, and to see it directed at someone who had just gotten her heart broken for not being “gay enough” in her first gay relationship, is a problem. And it’s a problem that I don’t think was ever adequately fixed on the show.
Everyone in our LGBTQ+ community has found their way here through their own unique experiences. Some of us know from an early age. Some of us have to try things out for years- decades!- before we have our realizations. Some of us are constantly shifting and changing the labels we use to identify ourselves. And all of it is okay. Every single one of those experiences is valid. Arizona calling a grown woman “a baby” because she only dated men until her 30s is offensive. It's smug, ignorant, biphobic, and I would even argue that it’s sexist because she is infantilizing Callie and defining her based on her sexual history.
Much to my displeasure, Callie and Arizona eventually start dating in the second half of season 5. When Callie’s father comes to town to kick the living shit out of cheating ex-son-in-law George, she introduces Arizona as “the person I’m seeing now.” Papa Torres is furious. He disowns Callie. He disinherits her and leads the rest of the family to stop speaking to her, only to come back in 6x05 “Invasion” with the family priest in order to “pray away the gay.”
This is serious business. In a country where conversion therapy and straight camps are a harrowing reality, Callie’s father bringing in a priest to make his daughter straight is an extremely serious storyline to portray. Callie, who has already been emotionally and financially cut off by her family at this point, turns to her girlfriend for support during this surprise homophobic intervention, and Arizona defends Callie’s father. She offers no sympathy and then delivers another haughty elder queer speech to justify his homophobia.
ARIZONA: He hasn’t done anything here. You’re the one who changed the game.
CALLIE: You didn’t expect a little understanding when you came out to your parents?
ARIZONA: I never had boyfriends. Ever. I had a poster on my wall of Cindy Crawford and I wasn’t just looking at her mole. It wasn’t news to my mom when I brought home somebody named Joanne. But you? You dated men your whole life. You loved men. You even married one. You wanna talk about 30 years of a relationship? He’s been consistent for 30 years. And all of a sudden, you’re a whole new girl. So cut him some slack.
Arizona is literally saying that it’s Callie’s own fault that her father is being homophobic. She is saying that it’s okay for her father to bring a priest to stage a traumatic intervention, because in his hetero-normative view, Callie is a straight woman and he has a right to be shocked and disgusted by her queerness.
Furthermore, Arizona is driving the point home by describing how superior she is at being gay. Everyone knew that Arizona was gay from a young age. They could just tell, unlike with Callie who doesn’t fit into the community as easily. Arizona didn’t face any issues with her family not accepting her and now she is telling Callie that this is how coming out is supposed to work, that the level of acceptance you receive is dependent on how you conform to ideas about sexuality, not on your family being decent human beings or anything. Arizona is saying that her family supported her coming out because she never deceived them by bringing home boyfriends. She is suggesting that she deserved acceptance because she was consistent, while Callie deserves the homophobia she’s facing from her family because her path was more complicated and it’s her own fault for not knowing sooner. Arizona is belittling Callie’s experience as a queer woman once again, simply because she didn’t grow up knowing that about herself.
Callie’s father assumed that because Callie liked men that she would only ever like men. Not only was he wrong to assume that but he is outrageously wrong as a parent to allow this new information to affect how he treats her. Yet, Arizona tells Callie that his reaction is okay. She makes Callie out to be the unreasonable one. “Give him room to be a little shocked,” she says, as if it’s even his business at all who Callie is sleeping with! Arizona is literally choosing allegiance to a homophobe over a bisexual woman, specifically, the bisexual woman she is dating. She is even blaming the homophobia on the bisexual woman rather than on the homophobe.
Despite Arizona’s tendency to invalidate Callie’s sexuality, they continue dating to the point where Callie starts thinking about having children with her. When Callie brings the idea up casually, Arizona is adamant about not wanting children. This makes Callie nervous about the relationship and she realizes that they have to confront this issue if they want to have a future together. When she tries to have a serious talk about having children, Arizona immediately asks if the talk will be a confession that Callie is cheating on her with Mark.
This question comes out of nowhere. Callie has been committed to the relationship and has even endured being ostracized and cut off by her family because of it. Arizona is the one who has resisted moving forward on numerous occasions but, because Callie is bisexual, her loyalty is always questionable. Even when the accusation comes completely out of left field, Arizona feels that she has every right to worry about Callie’s monogamy.
“Are you one of those fake lesbians just having a vacation in Lesbian Land?”
First of all, the term “fake lesbian” is completely offensive. Sexuality is a fluid, ever-evolving thing. It lives on a vast spectrum of experiences and identities. Not all women who get involved with other women identify as lesbians. “Fake lesbian” is a term that holds no actual meaning. All it does is erase other totally valid identities a woman who dates women might claim, such as bisexual, pansexual, and asexual, to name a few.
Secondly, Callie determined that she isn’t a lesbian before Arizona was even introduced on the show. She had not used the term “bisexual” to describe herself yet, which is a major flaw with the way queer characters are portrayed in the media in general, but she did declare in season 5 that she is interested in both men and women. She even got dumped by Erica because of it. Arizona knew this getting into the relationship. So to now accuse her of lying about her sexuality when she has only ever been completely upfront about it reinforces the harmful stereotype that bisexual people are greedy and unfaithful. Arizona isn't just paranoid that Callie is cheating on her. Her specific fear is that Callie is cheating on her with a man, suggesting that a lesbian could cheat on her with another woman and Arizona would not hold it against her in the same way. This is an irrational fear uniquely reserved for bisexual people and is 100% biphobia.
Thirdly, back in 5x16 “An Honest Mistake” when Arizona decided to turn Callie down because she wasn't a seasoned lesbian, she said that this would be a new and exciting time for Callie. On the surface, this might have seemed like Arizona was encouraging Callie to experiment with more women (just not her). However, given her panic in season 6 and how quickly she assumes Callie would cheat on her with a man, this adds another layer to that initial scene when she turned Callie down. In that scene, Arizona acted on her underlying fear that Callie was not serious about pursuing this. Callie just got out of a relationship that helped her realize things about herself and her sexuality that is not terribly easy to navigate at any age. But it was an experience and an identity that Callie was fully claiming. Arizona's implications dismiss Callie's sense of self. She was basically talking over Callie and making the decision for her based on preconceived notions she holds about bisexual people being confused about what we want.
After a short story arc of Callie trying to make it work with Arizona despite her desperate desire to have a baby, they break up. Note: their break up was entirely due to their different feelings about having kids. That's what it was about. Nothing else. But because Callie has been insecure about her bisexuality ever since she first discovered it, and Arizona has done nothing but reinforce that insecurity, Callie lets it fester. When she finally confronts Arizona about it after the break up, Arizona wastes no time turning it around to lay the blame on Callie's bisexuality.
CALLIE: When are you gonna forgive me for not being a good enough lesbian for you?
ARIZONA: When you do something to convince me that you’re falling in love with me and not with being in love. When you do something to convince me that I’m different than George O’Malley, Erica Hahn, Mark Sloan, or that girl at the coffee cart. I mean, you have a huge heart and I love that about you, but I don’t trust you. Why would I?
Arizona is holding Callie's romantic history against her. Callie has had three sexual relationships in the four years before Arizona. She was committed to George from season 2 until their divorce in season 4, she explored her feelings for Erica in the beginning of season 5, and she had casual sex with Mark when she wasn't in an exclusive relationship. This is a pretty unspectacular record. Arizona's prejudice against bisexual women hypersexualizes Callie in an attempt to minimize and invalidate Callie's feelings. This is especially harmful because, in addition to being bisexual, Callie is a Latina.
People of the Latinx community are fetishized for this hypersexual stereotype. This is why “Latina” is its own porn category. The hot, easy Latina caricature is something that every Latina contends with. Arizona is being insensitive to Callie's identity while also using it against her to justify her own paranoia. All this after a break up that was supposed to be about having kids. Arizona accuses Callie of being untrustworthy, but she isn't exactly honest about her feelings and motivations. She said they were breaking up because she didn't want to stand in the way of Callie having children. This made her seem like a martyr, making a sacrifice for Callie's happiness. But the second Callie tries to address the biphobia, Arizona implies that her “oversexed” bisexuality was the real problem in their relationship.
Swept up in the aftermath of the shooter who targeted their hospital in the season 6 finale, Calzona gets back together. Arizona decides that having children is worth it as long as she has them with Callie, saying “I can't live without you and our ten kids.” However, while they were broken up, Arizona applied for a research grant that would send her to Malawi for three years. It turns out she won the grant. Callie chooses to go to Malawi with her but they break up again when Arizona decides that Callie isn't enthusiastic enough to come with her. She abandons Callie in the airport because she has no tact or ability to compromise.
Heartbroken, Callie turns to Mark for emotional support and rebound sex. One night, a tearful Arizona returns to Callie's doorstep with a speech about how she left the grant research behind because she was miserable in Malawi without her. Callie closes the door on her. After repeated attempts to get back with her- including camping outside the apartment as well as buying out Callie's subletters (which is actually by-the-book stalker behaviour)- Callie tells her that she wants nothing to do with her. Arizona ignores this.
At the end of 7x12 “Start Me Up,” an episode that begins with Callie detailing exactly why she doesn't want to get back together (which goes over stubborn Arizona's head), Callie explains that she is pregnant with Mark's baby. Arizona's reaction to this, beginning in 7x13 “Don't Deceive Me (Please Don't Go)” and lasting through the entirety of Callie's pregnancy, is horrific and possessive. She starts by giving Callie a guilt trip about sleeping with a man while she was single and free to do so.
“I’m mad that you slept with someone else. And I know that we were broken up, but you slept with someone else. And I’m even madder that that person has a penis. And I know that you are bisexual, I know that.”
She is upset that Callie had sex with someone else after she abandoned Callie in an airport. That is sort of understandable. Even though Arizona was the one who just walked away for what was supposed to be three years and ended the relationship without trying to work on the issue. She was apparently torn up about her selfish and thoughtless decision and didn't expect Callie to move on so quickly. But ultimately, that's just tough shit.
You don't get to cut someone out of your life and then expect them to still be right where you left them when you try to muscle your way back in. You don't get to break someone's heart and then get mad at them for rebounding. And you especially don't get to get mad that the person they slept with has different genitalia than you. This anger is Arizona being frustrated that she couldn't control Callie and police her sexuality. She is blaming her anger that Callie chose to do this on Callie's bisexuality instead of the fact that she just wants to contain Callie's sexuality. It's none of her business who Callie had sex with when they were broken up, so long as Callie is upfront about any STIs she might be passing on. Arizona has no reason whatsoever to be upset that Callie's partner has a penis, and it is actually biphobic, as well as transmisogynistic, of her to make an issue of it.
Over the next few episodes, Arizona comes to accept the pregnancy and Callie's invitation to be involved in it. But Arizona doesn't know how to be in a relationship with Callie without controlling Callie. Her first order of business is to move Callie's things back in from Mark's apartment without asking Callie if she wants this. Then, when Callie tries to stop her, she tells Callie that they are back together rather than having a conversation with her about what that means. She gives this disturbing speech that is meant to be romantic but is actually just terrifying and abusive- which I think audiences would recognize if a man had made the same speech.
“You don't get to tell me that we're not together. We are together. Because I love you and you love me and none of the rest of it matters. We are together. And if you ever sleep with anyone else again, I will kick the crap out of you. Now you sit your ass back down there because that's my baby in there and I don't want anything happening to my baby!”
This is not a cute declaration of someone in love, it's a threat. The problem is that people don't see it as a threat when a tiny blonde lesbian is saying it. But it is abuse. She is telling Callie that she no longer has a choice, and making her feel like that's really true by promising physical violence if she disobeys. It doesn't matter that Arizona would probably never actually lay a finger on Callie, or that she might have simply meant it as a figure of speech; putting that threat out there is psychologically abusive.
Arizona continues to exercise this over-bearing control over Callie when she starts telling her what she’s allowed to eat and drink during the pregnancy, disregarding the research Callie had done, and robbing her of autonomy. She also constantly complains about and berates Mark, who is not only the father of their child but Callie’s best friend. Alienating a partner from their friends is a major aspect in an abusive relationship. An abuser wants to be the sole person on whom their partner depends, so they are frustrated when their partner can turn to other people for comfort and support. Arizona resents Mark. She sees him as competition, so the fact that he wants to be involved in his child’s life throws a wrench into her plans.
In 7x16 “Not Responsible” Arizona makes herself out to be a victim, as though including Mark in this pregnancy is some hardship that she is valiantly enduring. She whines about having to consider his feelings as a co-parent of their child. But she doesn’t stop there. As always, she takes special time out to call Callie a greedy bisexual for not pushing Mark out.
“Okay can we just be honest about the fact that this is some kind of bi dream come true? I mean, you get the woman that you love and you get the guy best friend who’s a great lay and then you get a baby. I mean, you get it all. And me? This is not my dream. My dream doesn’t look like this.”
Because it was Callie’s dream to be abandoned in an airport and then listen to you continuously vilify her best friend for an unplanned pregnancy that you don’t have to be a part of? I think not. Arizona insisted on being involved in this situation but she won’t stop bullying Callie about the circumstances that got them all there.
Arizona’s fury goes into maximum overdrive when Mark throws Callie a perfect baby shower. Even when Callie arranged to spend a romantic weekend at a bed and breakfast with her, Arizona loses her temper when Callie texts with Mark during the car ride. She snatches the phone out of Callie’s hands and throws it into the back seat. This is not playful or sweet. This is controlling. This is abusive.
When Callie tries to assert herself and make the decision to talk to her friend if she wants to, Arizona criticizes Callie and Mark’s friendship as well as Callie's identity.
“He gets most of you: the straight you, the Catholic you, the girl who loves baby showers. I just get, you know, the gay you- which is really only about 20 minutes a night, and not even since you just feel too fat to even let me touch you anymore.”
First off, Arizona is trying to make Callie feel guilty for being bisexual, once again, because that’s what Arizona does best. Secondly, she is dividing up Callie’s bisexual identity into a straight portion and a gay portion without Callie’s permission, implying that bisexuality is a mix of heterosexuality and homosexuality and not its own category. This is not only an inaccurate portrayal of the bisexual experience, it is actually harmful. It serves to exclude bisexual people from both the queer community as well as the heterosexual mainstream by making us feel like halves of incomplete wholes that don’t fit in anywhere. Thirdly, she is sexualizing Callie’s identity without her permission. By stating that Callie’s “gay part” is confined to the sex that they have, she is suggesting that Callie stops being queer when they are not having sex at a given moment. This also serves to exclude her from the queer community.
Callie is fed up with the shtick at this point, though, and actually begins to stand up for herself. As Callie argues that she has spent this entire pregnancy trying to make sure that everyone involved is happy, Arizona quickly realizes that she needs something more than her standard guilt trip to get her way. Annoyed by Arizona’s inability to be happy despite her best efforts, Callie asks what she can do to fix it- because Arizona has done so much to make Callie feel like it’s her fault when things go wrong that Callie’s instinct is always to take on the responsibility of patching things up by herself. This is the moment Arizona chooses to propose marriage.
Arizona does not ask Callie if she will marry her, the proposal is an ultimatum. Marrying Arizona is not them taking the next step in their relationship; it is another hoop for Callie to jump through to prove her loyalty to Arizona. This is a bad reason to get married. You marry someone because you want to make a commitment to spend the rest of your lives working together to make each other happy, you don’t marry someone because you want to have the upper hand over their best friend. And Callie knew that this was the wrong time and the wrong way for Arizona to propose, which is why she didn’t give an answer.
Not giving an answer, however, means that Arizona does not have Callie’s full cooperation. An abusive partner cannot stand resistance like this. It means that they are not in control. Arizona resorts to intimidation. Even though she is driving the car with her pregnant girlfriend in the passenger’s seat- the pregnant girlfriend who just took her seatbelt off to retrieve the phone that Arizona had ripped from her hands and thrown into the back seat- Arizona takes her eyes off the road to stare Callie down. Instead of giving Callie time to think about the proposal, she pressures her into making a rushed decision. The only thing that interrupts the stare down is the car crash that Arizona’s reckless driving gets them into. Callie flies through the windshield on impact, resulting in a few major injuries and the premature delivery of their baby, and not once does Callie ever blame Arizona for endangering their lives.
Allow me to reiterate that: Callie never blames Arizona for crashing their car when she deliberately took her eyes off the road for an extended time. Even when Arizona is the only person responsible for it, Callie does not bear her any ill will for this. In fact, she agrees to marry her by the end of the next episode. Isn't this akin to Stockholm syndrome? Hasn't Arizona been teaching Callie since the beginning that anything but complete submission will be met with emotional, and now physical, pain? Their entire relationship thus far has been an ongoing pattern of Arizona punishing Callie with verbal abuse whenever her expectations are not met.
* * *
Since her introduction, Arizona's expectations have included such biphobic and unrealistic standards as wanting Callie to fully renounce her attraction to men, wanting Callie to agree that her bisexuality makes her untrustworthy, and wanting to treat Callie's best friend like an absentee sperm donor. All of these expectations go against Callie's sense of self. That's what abusers do; they attack their victim's sense of self. They undermine their victims' ability to trust themselves. Whether she's been doing it with malicious intent or not, Arizona has been working on that ever since she learned that Callie was not exclusively attracted to women. When Callie challenged Arizona's expectations of what a woman who dates women could be, she panicked and allowed her biphobia to get the best of her. But rather than reevaluate her preconceived notions about bisexual women, she continued to lash out at Callie.
Arizona Robbins meets an overwhelming number of emotional abuse criteria. From demeaning and disregarding Callie's feelings and opinions, to trying to controlling what Callie does, to blaming Callie for things that are not her fault- and usually not even bad things- Arizona's behaviour shows signs of emotional abuse. So why are Calzona fans not outraged? Well, as I previously mentioned, we have a huge societal problem with reading toxic behaviour, since it has been so heavily romanticized. Furthermore, our ability to differentiate between what is healthy and what is unhealthy becomes even less acute when a woman is in question, due to hetero-normativity and conventional gender roles. Yet, there is another reason for the fans' dedication to this terrible relationship: it is the only lasting LGBTQ+ relationship on the show.
Even in Shondaland, a beacon for diversity in media representation, with its colorblind casting and inclusion of well-defined and realistic LGBTQ+ characters, the heterosexual relationships still dominate. On Grey's Anatomy in particular, the patients come from all walks of life, but they are not regular characters. The surgeons are the only main characters, and the only canonically LGBTQ+ surgeons who have lasted more than a couple of seasons are Callie and Arizona. But most other prime time shows didn't even have that when Calzona first came into existence in 2009. With straight couples everywhere, LGBTQ+ viewers are forced to cling to whatever we get. In season 5 we got Calzona. It wasn't perfect but it was ours. Even as its imperfections turned to clinically recognized signs of abuse, many of us held on tight. For what else was there for us to claim?
Calzona's success is unsurprising. With its adherence to a very specific mold wherein respecting another person's boundaries is merely a suggestion, the Calzona relationship fits right in. Verbal abuse from the tiny blonde lesbian's mouth goes undetected because we have a hard time viewing women as abusers. Alternatives are far and few between because most other shows are afraid to portray LGBTQ+ characters and relationships. The societal problems that allowed Calzona to gain popularity are not entirely Shondaland's fault. It is their fault for writing a character like Arizona Robbins and never setting up the consequences that will cause her to learn from her abusive behaviour and change, but this stems from the fact that our society fails to set up those consequences in real life. There's a reason that Shonda Rhimes' career is flourishing: she knows the formulas that work and how to capitalize on those formulas in her writing.