Welcome to the first post in my blog series Femivision where I will combine two of my favourite subjects to write about; feminism and television. I will be exploring the feminist issues within popular tv shows and analyse how the characters, storylines and writers use or abuse feminist issues. I am beginning with a deeper look at Gilmore Girls, a show very close to my heart despite a fiery hatred towards the creator.
Anyone who knows me will be able to tell you how much I adore certain television shows. In fact, in both primary and secondary school I was known as the girl who was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I was very proud of the obsession. While Buffy will forever remain my number 1 show of all time, there is a show that almost knocked it down to second place. This show is called Gilmore Girls. I found Gilmore Girls in a particularly unstable time in my life; I was 16, I had just left school and my mother had recently got engaged to a man with whom I had my differences. If you are already a Gilmores fan you can skip the next section while I recap the premise and a few other well known details. The show centres around Lorelai Gilmore, a 32 year old single parent with a sharp sense of humour and the close-knit relationship she shares with her 16 year old conscientious, school-loving daughter, Rory. Rory is an incredibly gifted student who intends to go to Ivy League university Harvard and, in pursuit of this goal, secures a place at a private school called Chilton. However, as a lone parent, Lorelai cannot afford the school’s fees and has to turn to her wealthy estranged parents Richard and Emily Gilmore. Lorelai’s relationship with her parents, especially her mother, is extremely strained and in turn for lending money for Rory’s schooling, Emily demands a weekly dinner with Lorelai and Rory, in an attempt to be a part of their lives. The show ran for 7 seasons from 2000-2007. The last season was the only season not overseen by creator Amy Sherman Palladino and her husband Daniel, due to a contract dispute with the CW network. At the end of 2015, it was announced that a revival written by Amy Sherman Palladino would be shot for Netflix to be aired late 2016.
There are several reasons why Gilmore Girls is so special to me. Being brought up by a young single mother, I can really relate to Rory a lot of the time but I can also relate to Lorelai’s relationship with her mother Emily. The dynamic between my mother, my grandmother and myself is similar to that of Lorelai, Emily and Rory. The village I was brought up in shares a resemblance to the show’s setting of fictional small town Stars Hollow. While I have a love/hate relationship with the shows creator Amy (this is a whole other issue relating to her professionalism and her attitude towards the show) I appreciate her writing talent and for me the dialogue in Gilmores is second to none. Gilmore Girls is a show I have re-watched almost on a loop since the show ended. However the more I re-watch, the more I get frustrated with the show. On the surface, the concept of the series appears to be the epitome of feminism; strong female characters with realistic flaws who exist outside of being the love interest of a male lead character. All three lead female characters are smart, witty and independent. But even this series can lead towards anti-feminist traits.
Rory is the most problematic character. While intelligent and level headed, there are several instances across the span of the series where Rory openly slut-shames and looks down on other girls, usually when she feels threatened. The most prominent example is her attitude towards her love rivals; Lindsay (season 3-5) and Shane (season 3). When it comes to Lindsay, the girlfriend and later wife of Rory’s first boyfriend Dean, Rory demeans Lindsay’s desire to be a housewife and blames her for Dean dropping out of community college. Rory then ends up sleeping with Dean, while he is still married to Lindsay and then somehow pins it on Lindsay. Of course, Rory is human and as a realistically written teenager she is bound to make mistakes. I am never angry with Rory for sleeping with a married Dean, in context of the story and her relationship with “perfect” boyfriend Dean it makes sense. But her attitude towards Lindsay does not. In season 3, Rory insults Shane (the girlfriend of Rory’s then love interest Jess) insinuating that she is shallow and easy because she works in a beauty store (“For you how ice is made is probably fascinating“). Later in season 7, Rory finds herself intimidated by boyfriend Logan’s female colleague for no reason other than the fact she is a woman. For someone who was raised by someone as open-minded as Lorelai appears to be, it seems out of place. Or does it? Lorelai can also be extremely anti-feminist a lot of the time.
Lorelai is usually put on a pedestal by fans and while I understand why to a certain extent, she can be terrible a lot of the time. I will not go into how I believe that Lorelai continuously antagonises her already fraught relationship with her parents and consistently punishes them for things beyond their control by withholding their granddaughter because honestly that is not relevant here. Lorelai is a cool mum, there is no doubt about it. She certainly voices a feminist mantra throughout the show but alongside this she also has some horrible anti-feminist moments. She continually cracks jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We need to leave the country and have extensive plastic surgery, and sex changes, both of us! So you know…we can kiss and not look funny.” – Lorelai Gilmore
As a member of said community, I try to accept these quotes as a reflection of the time. You know, when being anything other than straight was a punchline. Then I remember that there were shows like Buffy and Xena who WERE breaking the small screen mould with openly gay characters and relationships. Watching a decade on, it is hard to believe that this was a show that was praised for being progressive and forward-thinking at the time. The casual homophobia is not Lorelai’s worse anti-feminist moment though. There is a scene in season 3 (episode 16 ‘The Big One’) in which Lorelai overhears a conversation between Rory and her school friend Paris. Paris asks Rory when she lost her virginity and Rory replies that she hasn’t. Lorelai smiling proudly then says quietly to herself; “I got the good kid”. The idea that Lorelai believes that Paris is the “bad” kid for sleeping with her long-term boyfriend is frankly quite offensive. Especially coming from a character that got pregnant at sixteen. I understand that Lorelai’s sentiment was probably intended to reflect her relief that Rory had not followed in her footsteps however it just comes across as judgemental and slut-shamey.
Obviously the blame lies at the hands of the writers, creator Amy Sherman Palladino in particular. As mentioned previously I have conflicting emotions and opinions where it concerns Amy. She created a wonderful fictional world which feels real and unique, a world in which the characters feel fleshed out and established. The first five seasons are written to such a high standard, which is rare in television where shows usually start to decline after season one. I credit all of this to Amy and her meticulous controlling nature of the show. It was her show and she wanted it done her way. The problem with this is that Amy is not great with criticism and if someone tells her she should be doing something, she is more likely to do the opposite. In 2012, Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes took issue with the extremely white casting of Amy’s show Bunheads. Amy accused Shonda of attacking other women (lol). In the same interview she went onto use a transphobic slur. Amy does not care if she is offending people and that includes her own fanbase. Amy, in her own words, is not about “issue” based storylines. However representation does not necessary mean having a gay character come out or a character of colour facing racial abuse. Representation is LGBTQ and characters of colour being shown and having any storyline, issue based or not.
I will never cease to be a fan of Gilmore Girls (although that may change if Rory does not end up with Jess!) and I am still very excited to see the characters back on my television screen. I will never stop recommending the show to anyone and everyone I meet because despite all of the above, seasons one to five are exceptional. I am willing to overlook the discrepancies with the original series so long as Amy rectifies her anti-feminist rhetoric for the revival. If she doesn’t, she risks further alienating the show’s fanbase as people are much more aware of casual sexism / homophobia / transphobia and will not accept it used as cheap humour in this day and age.