Gilmore Girls is a TV show I stumbled across in the most unlikely circumstances. I was 13 years old, on a German exchange with my school (a trip I somehow managed to complete without speaking a single coherent sentence in German) when my exchange partner showed me the TV series she watched to help improve her English. At the time, I was grateful to be immersed in this part of their lives – Gilmore Girls was easy to digest, light-hearted, and used a language I could fully understand. However, when I returned to England, I didn’t watch any more of it until a few years later.
It’s safe to say that, even as a full-blown teenager, the show hadn’t lost its initial appeal. Gilmore Girls provided seven seasons of girl talk, mother-daughter relationships, and lovable characters whose interweaving stories could make you laugh and cry. Perhaps that’s what made it so appealing to teenage girls. The show has been internationally and critically successful, having been nominated for a number of Satellite Awards, Teen Choice Awards, and even winning an Emmy for ‘outstanding makeup in a series’ in 2005. However, for the show to be available on Netflix 20 years after it was first aired suggests its comic storyline has more to offer.
Rory Gilmore is one of the main characters in the show and she’s a bookish ‘nerd’ with high academic aspirations and a flair for writing. Amongst a sea of generic rom-coms where girls chase boys, this show offered a rare representation of a young girl chasing a career. Admittedly during the seven seasons, she had various love interests, but that was never her main goal. This, alongside her unapologetic passion for reading, make for a coming-of-age character development arc that’s both refreshing and relatable to any woman.
The show praises its protagonist for her unwavering ambition, right from when she’s at high school, up to later series when she graduates from university. As Rory grows into a fully-fledged adult, one thing remains: the motif of books weaved in. According to Australian writer Patrick Lenton, the show makes a grand total 338 literary references ranging from Leo Tolstoy to Joseph Conrad. Even theorist Judith Butler gets a mention, whose most notable idea that gender is a social construct comes across in Gilmore Girls. Allusions to literature are a small detail which makes the series engaging for the well-read while remaining easy to digest for those less interested in books.
Looking through a modern-day lens however, it’s clear that the show isn’t devoid of patriarchal discourse. Then again, what show from the early 2000s is? Even in an age of fourth-wave feminism, Gilmore Girls provides a striking reflection on stereotypes of single mothers. It may surprise you that Rory’s mum Lorelai is a single mother, who fell pregnant with Rory at 16. In the early 2000s, single parenthood was heavily stigmatised; pop culture references tended towards problematic families, with poor struggling women on welfare suffering over their misbehaving children. Teen mums seemed to have it even worse, with derogatory shows like Teen Mom continuing to air in America until 2012. So, for a show like Gilmore Girls to rise from the ashes in the early 2000s must have been pretty ground-breaking.
It’s safe to say that this cult classic remains a very nostalgic show for me, as I’m sure it does for my German exchange partner – an incredibly intelligent bilingual woman herself. This show provided an example of a young girl using her intelligence to get ahead in the world, acting as a motivator for teenage girls across the globe. The Gilmore girls are uncompromising, ambitious, and hold their middle fingers up to any man who stands in their way. With its uplifting core message, and its light-hearted presentation, the enduring success of Gilmore Girls is wholly justified.
Illustration: Verity Laycock