What I Learned From Growing Up With Rory Gilmore

Rory and Lorelai on Gilmore Girls

Netflix has once again fed into our binge-watching, nostalgia-loving television tendencies by releasing all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on instant-watch. Despite having been off the air since 2007, the show has garnered a lot of press since it arrived on Netflix, including the ubiquitous Buzzfeed and Huffington Post articles, Gilmore Girls Explained By Someone Who Never Saw It” and “Lorelai’s Worst Outfits in Season 1 Of Gilmore Girls.” Besides the early-2000s nostalgia, the show has been remembered not only for its fast-talking dialogue and pop culture references, but for the beloved female characters created by show runner Amy Sherman-Palladino.

In case you don’t recall, the show is about two “Gilmore girls,” mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel), and the revolving cast of characters who live in the small town of Stars Hollow, Connecticut. Gilmore Girls season one begins with Lorelai, who had Rory when she was 16, working as the manager of an inn and Rory, a nerdy teenager who is too smart for her small town high school, being accepted into a prestigious private school. By the end of season seven, spoiler alert, Lorelai has opened her own inn and Rory has graduated from college and is about to go work as a journalist covering Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Rory Gilmore saying "What does it matter if I'm pretty if I don't pass my finals?"

Exactly, Rory.

I was born in 1994, so I grew up with Rory. Her dream was to become the next Christiane Amanpour made her one of the few television characters I could relate to. As a fellow budding journalist and high school valedictorian who would skip class for a concert, I saw a lot of myself in Rory. Rory was the only teenager I knew who enjoyed spending her Friday nights watching TV with their mom—like I did when I would have Gilmore Girls marathons with my mom. But she’s not just an overachiever. Rory also taught me that it was okay to fail. One of the most telling moments in the show is when Rory drops out of Yale after being told by a newspaper tycoon that she doesn’t have what it takes to be a journalist. Few characters—especially the “nerdy ones”—are allowed to make mistakes, but dropping out of school led to a half-season story arc where Rory moves into her grandparents pool house and joins the Daughters of the American Revolution, a time period my mother and I fondly refer to it as “the Dark Years.”

It should be noted that this media tycoon, Mitchum Huntzberger (Gregg Henry) was a white male as well as the father of Rory’s boyfriend, Logan (Matt Czuchry). This was the first time that a show, largely made up strong female characters in leadership positions, had a male authority figure question their competence. It highlighted not only the sexism that Rory had to deal with working in journalism, an industry where male bylines still outnumber female bylines by a margin of three to one, but the effect that these authority figures can have on someone just entering the field. I know that if someone I looked up to in the journalism industry told me I wasn’t good enough, even if they were wrong, I would be crushed. The pressure that young people face is immense, especially considering the fact that almost half of college graduates are working at jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Despite this setback, Rory not only went on to becoming the editor of the Yale Daily News, but Mitchum tells Rory a season later that he had always believed in her skills as a journalist. Instead of being affected by his words, this time, Rory shakes them off, knowing that they don’t matter. Seeing Rory fail made me realize that despite the pressure of college loans, parents, peers, and professors, it is okay to have setbacks and make mistakes and that even the words of people you admire should never affect how you value yourself.

Rory Gilmore as the editor of the Yale paper

Get it, girl. 

Of course, while I found real value in a fictional story, Gilmore Girls is about as accurate to real life as an after-school special. The independent life that Lorelai has built is shaken at certain points, such as when she asks her parents for money to help pay for Rory’s education. While there is nothing wrong with Lorelai asking for financial help, many single mothers do not have the support system in place to ever be able to pay for Yale.

Lorelai’s support network also extended past her family. Through a series of circumstances that only make sense on a family network, after she arrives in Stars Hollows, Lorelai asks for a job at the Independence Inn and is immediately given one. The owner of the inn, Mia, becomes a surrogate mother for Lorelai and Rory. While Lorelai did face many challenges as a teen parent after leaving her parents and beginning her life on her own, her story is in the minority of single mothers, many of whom still do not make as much money as their married coworkers and do not have the support network of a whole small town like Stars Hollow. While she may have to worry about paying for expensive college tuition, Lorelai’s struggles as a single mom focus more on finding a husband than the hardship of keeping a job and earning an equal wage. Money only becomes an issue when Lorelai decides to open her own inn, but these problems are pushed under the table to devote more airtime to Lorelai’s new beau.

Lorelai tucking Rory into bed

One of many, many heartwarming mother-daughter moments.

Despite Lorelai’s teen mom success story, it is also used as a cautionary tale. The show’s relationship towards sex, particularly the sexuality of teenage girls, is tumultuous at best. While the show highlights Lorelai as a single mother with a successful career and active dating life, she is also portrayed as a cautionary tale of the ramifications of unprotected sex.  While Rory dates throughout high school, the “worst” thing she does is accidently fall asleep with her boyfriend after a school dance. Her academic arch-rival and eventual best friend, Paris Geller (Liza Weil), falls apart after having sex with her boyfriend while in high school and has a mental breakdown that affects her chances of getting into an Ivy League School. When Rory eventually has sex in college, it is to her married ex-boyfriend—an affair that ends his marriage.

Sex, at least fun sex without major emotional consequences, seems to not exist in the Gilmore Girls universe amongst its young characters. Rory’s other best friend, Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), rejects her conservative Korean upbringing to become a drummer in a rock band. Lane is shocked when she realizes she still wants to wait until marriage to have sex. After marrying one of her band mates, Lane becomes pregnant with twins after having sex for the first time and, for a while, questions if there is any pleasure to be found in sex. Rory, Paris, and Lane, are all strong female characters, but their first sexual experiences all had huge, mostly negative, effects on their lives.

The show has also been criticized for its lack of diversity—the show is almost entirely white, except for a few residents of Stars Hollow, including the concierge Michel Gerard (Yanic Truesdale). Lane is one of the few reoccurring characters of color and her Korean heritage plays a large part in her subplots. Conversely to Lane’s rock’n’roll lifestyle, her mother, Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda), is portrayed as a stereotypical strict Korean mother who orders tofu in bulk online and wants Lane to marry a doctor from a good Korean family.

Lorelai and Rory have arguably paved the way for the future nerdy heroines and single moms of television. It’s hard not to see parts of Rory in the fanfiction enthusiast Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers or Veronica Mars’s computer-hacking best friend Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie. Lorelai has undoubtedly influenced the creation of other career-and-family-focused single-mom characters like Mad Men’s Joan Holloway and Ugly Betty’s Hilda Suarez.

It is this impact that makes Gilmore Girls stand the test of time. When it debuted in 2000, there weren’t enough Rorys and Lorelais on TV and there still aren’t. There are not enough single moms and dads shown successfully parenting their children while working and definitely not enough young female characters who do well in school and don’t spend all their time fighting with their parents. Most significantly, there are not enough female writers and directors like Amy Sherman-Palladino creating these characters.

Rewatching Gilmore Girls this month, I still feel the pull to Rory that I did when I was 14. As the opening song states, “Where you lead, I will follow anywhere that you tell me to.”

Related Reading: Lorelai Gilmore, Savior of Single Dads (And Why That’s a Problem).

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank is a former Bitch Editorial Intern who likes to write about girl groups, her favorite 2000-era TV shows, and sometimes college. See the bands she loves on Twitter @hsteinkopffrank.

by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank
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Hannah Steinkopf-Frank is a Chicago-based freelance writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Atlas Obscura, Columbia Journalism Review, In These Times, JSTOR Daily, Jewish Currents, and Paper Magazine, among others.

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1 Comment Has Been Posted

I agree with a lot of this

I agree with a lot of this article, but there is one factual error that I feel needs to be pointed out. When Paris loses her virginity, she's uncertain about how she feels about it (which is a totally valid way to feel). She doesn't have a mental breakdown until she's rejected by Harvard, and, out of her mind with disbelief, blames her rejection on having lost her virginity. It's unfair to say that this mental breakdown jeopardizes her chances of getting into an ivy league. In addition, I think this serves as a way of expressing how some teenage girls fear punishment for losing their virginity and exploring their sexuality. Especially for girls who live in parts of the country that teach girls that their purity is precious. When I first saw this episode, this storyline rang true for me, at least, as a teen living in a small town in the south.

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