Welcome to my blog series Femivision where I combine two of my favourite subjects to write about: feminism and television. I will explore the feminist issues within popular tv shows and analyse how the characters, storylines and writers use or abuse feminist issues. I am continuing with Gilmore Girls for my second post.
There are a lot of things that I take issue with when it comes to Gilmore Girls. In my last post, I touched upon Rory’s attitude to women she feels romantically threatened by and Lorelai’s casual homophobia and slut shaming behaviour. However, my biggest gripe with the series is the way in which it inadvertently promotes unhealthy relationships in the form of Rory’s romantic life. I should probably clarify, this applies to all Rory’s love interests, even my favourite (I’m obviously Team Jess, duh). Logan Huntzberger and Jess Mariano are problematic for Rory in several ways but they both have enough good qualities that they balance out and for the most part, reflect flawed real life relationships. These two characters are often ripped apart for the way they treated Rory, both within the fictional world of Stars Hollow and by real life viewers. However, in my opinion, the character who deserves this criticism is Rory’s first boyfriend Dean Forester.
I have been presenting this argument for years and please hear me out because a lot of people have called me extreme but: Dean Forester is the textbook definition of an abusive boyfriend. Not only to Rory but later, to his wife, Lindsay. When we first meet Dean, he is presented as a small town all American boy. He has average grades, he works in the local supermarket, he is well mannered and he doesn’t get into trouble. He is the perfect first boyfriend. Or so every single character laments over and over again. But in all honesty, Dean is not a perfect boyfriend. Perfection does not exist (even Ephram in Everwood could be a knob sometimes) but if it did, Dean would be so far from meeting the criteria in the number 1 boyfriend competition.
For the first half of season one, Dean actually is semi-decent and sweet to Rory. He takes her to her dance, he gives her a bracelet, he built Rory a car. Then their three month anniversary hits and that is when Dean’s behaviour takes a nose dive. When Dean tells Rory he loves her and she doesn’t reciprocate immediately, he breaks up with her. For no reason other than his own bruised ego. From this moment on, Dean becomes the least understanding boyfriend in the entire series. Rory and Dean do reconcile at the end of season one but not until Rory is practically forced into telling him she loves him. And here is the issue: a declaration of love is not something that should be coerced or manipulated out of someone.
Their second attempt at a relationship is so dysfunctional, it is painful to watch. Rory is constantly afraid of upsetting Dean and Dean consistently acts like a two year old who shouts at Rory until he gets his own way. Early on in season two, Dean attempts to guilt Rory into spending time with him after Rory decided she needs to take on more extra-curricular activities to improve her chances of getting into Harvard. Later when Rory befriends Jess, Dean essentially becomes a jealous maniac. While the jealousy is warranted as it is clear that Jess and Rory have a connection, the attitude towards his girlfriend, who has given no reason not to be trusted is disgusting. When Jess outbids Dean in the crazy Stars Hollow charity picnic basket auction (A-Tisket, A-Tasket, 2×13), Dean completely loses his cool. He demands Rory not have lunch with Jess and when Rory refuses, he storms off to complain to Lorelai. There are several instances of Dean berating Rory over her relationship with Jess and other issues and luckily someone compiled them in a video which I have embedded below:
The manner in which Dean talks to Rory is only part of the problem, the more significant issue is that the show portrays him as the perfect boyfriend. Other characters regularly excuse Dean’s behaviour. There are many scenes in which Dean is referred to as being a good boyfriend and especially when Dean is being compared to Jess. Now, Jess is a “bad boy” and of course, he does show signs of troubling behaviour throughout seasons two and three. However, Jess actually treats Rory with a lot more respect than Dean ever does. There are only two times while dating that Jess shouts at Rory; their argument at the Gilmore mansion after Rory wrongly accuses him of getting into a fight with Dean and the second in Kyle’s bedroom. The latter was completely uncalled for, however Jess immediately goes to apologise (and of course is interrupted by Dean). The former, Jess continually tried to dial the conflict down in an attempt to make a good impression to Rory’s grandmother. It was Rory that couldn’t and wouldn’t let the issue go. All throughout the rest of their relationship, Jess managed to raise his issues calmly and collectively (see: Swan Song and A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving). Despite this, Jess (and later Logan) are treated by Lorelai, Luke and the majority of other characters as if Rory is “too good” for them whereas with Dean, often it is Rory accused of falling short and people urging her to cut him slack.
There are plenty of examples of horrible behaviour from Dean that gets completely ignored by Lorelai. His attitude towards Rory and Jess in season 2, the way he publicly humiliates Rory by breaking up with her infront of the whole town and finally cheating on his wife with Rory. Rory receives the brunt of Lorelai’s anger in this situation. It could be argued that this was because Lorelai believed she raised Rory to not sleep with other girls’ husbands. Whatever the reason, although Rory still shared the responsibility, Dean was the one who was married, the one who had taken vows not to cheat and the one initiated the situation in the first place. Lorelai constantly allows Dean passes; his jealous possessive behaviour towards Rory at the end of season two, Lorelai basically tells Rory that Dean’s insecurities are because he’s so crazy about her and he doesn’t want to lose her. This does not excuse abusive behaviour. Dean falls into that classic ‘nice guy’ trope. People will excuse his shittyness because on the outside he looks like an all american boy who helps you carry your groceries and changes the water barrel. But in reality, he is the kind of guy that after returning home from sleeping with another woman, he accuses his wife of not respecting him because she answered his phone. And in turn, Rory is the kind of woman who blames Lindsay, the wife, for the fact that Dean cheated.
There is only one character that sees through Dean and that is Luke. Luke reiterates throughout the series that Dean is not right for Rory. He is the only one (not including Lindsay’s family) who holds Dean accountable for his actions. Luke is very rarely my favourite character but I believe that Luke and I would be able to have a long rant about Dean’s short comings as a boyfriend.
I have no doubt that Dean and Rory loved each other. I also believe that Dean’s intentions weren’t abusive. But just because the behaviour isn’t intended, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t damaging and wrong. Dean came from a more ‘traditional’ home where they had more ‘traditional’ gender roles than Rory’s upbringing. The more I watch the early seasons, the more I can see how and why Dean is the way he is and it isn’t all his fault. If he was presented as abusive and this was the essence of the storyline, I wouldn’t have a problem. Except it isn’t. Amy Sherman Palladino has repeatedly called Dean ‘the good guy’ since the show ended. While I understand that she loves all three of Rory’s love interests, I really wish she’d acknowledge the troubling aspects of all Rory’s relationships. Like I said before, Jess and Logan aren’t exempt. They are just less troubling than Dean.
With the revival airing on netflix next month, I am not sure what I am expecting for the Dean/Rory storyline. I have read spoilers on the extent in which Dean is featured. Based on this, I hope that it will be acknowledged that the way Dean treated both Rory and Lindsay was wrong. I hope they will both get closure. However, honestly I expect that it will be Rory asking Dean for some kind of forgiveness. Let’s hope Amy proves me wrong (I doubt she will).