It’s estimated that the average person tells a lie about one to two times a day. At most, then, I’ve already lied 13,870 times. At least 12,000 of those lies have had to do with “Gilmore Girls.”
In middle school I evolved from a dress-code breaking mean girl to a law-abiding good girl. As I transitioned into a person of the most genteel nature, everyone and their mother asked me the same question: “Have you seen ‘Gilmore Girls’?”
Inevitably, they wanted to draw a comparison between me and, you guessed it, Rory Gilmore. And why wouldn’t they?! I lugged big books I never read from place to place, annexed myself to underpopulated lunch tables, and tried to master the facade of a forlorn WASP. I was wordy and demure, well-liked but often alone. Parents and teachers called me “mature” in a way that was both complementary and not so.
This state of being, I should mention, was entirely cultivated in the style of one Miss Rory Gilmore. And yet, when people asked me if I had seen the show, I always said no. Having yet to appreciate the Sontag level “camp” of Rory’s love for bad TV, I thought that watching television, something on the CW no less, was a confession of anti-intellectualism — very “not Rory.”
So I lied. But did I have a choice? Rory was everything to me. She could eat all the time and never gain weight, be the recipient of generational wealth but also woefully down-to-earth . She was “fiercely independent” like her single mother, Lorelai Gilmore, but never without a boyfriend. Even with her crushing workload, Rory could always find the time to nibble on French fries for hours and participate in storybook small town festivities. On more than one occasion she was called “angelic.” So after only one failed test, a slew of boyfriends and a handful of extracurricular accomplishments real admissions committees laugh at, Yale picked her.
Forget DC Comics and Gotham City. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Stars Hollow was a true home to heroes, to my personal hero.
As I get older, though, I watch my idols fall from grace, including Rory. This past weekend, film critic Manohla Dargis wrote for the New York Times about the way female action stars use their bodies to fight and sweat their way to fair representation. Dargis focuses on female physicality, the way Charlize Theron’s character “slams and pummels, kicks and grunts.” All of this, according to Dargis, is significant because “The grunts heighten the realism but they also signal Theron’s intense physicality and her extreme effort. Women in old Hollywood worked punishingly hard, too, and were pushed to their physical limits — Ginger Rogers rehearsed one dance so many times that her shoes filled with blood — but you scarcely ever saw those stars sweat.”
Rory rarely sweats. When she does, it’s mostly a handkerchief to her porcelain forehead and audible sigh kind of thing. “Life’s hard for me too, guys,” she mutters while sheepishly accepting the award for talks the least says the most — you know, the superlative that was designed to keep smart girls just quiet enough to be pleasant.
Paris Geller, on the other hand, is very unpleasant and very sweaty. Positioned as Rory’s frenemy, Paris wants all the same things as Rory but is just daring enough to speak above a whisper. While Rory floats from scene to scene, Paris stomps with ferocity, extending a handshake so strong it takes everyone aback. No, Paris is not delicate, and some would say she isn’t all that nice either. We are asked to see Paris as a socially stunted bully, someone so hellbent on her goals that she’s willing to sacrifice everything.
The varying treatment of Rory and Paris is hauntingly unjust. While Rory has her loyal mother to dump her problems on, Paris is left alone to cope with her nonexistent family and debilitating mental wellness. This is a girl who, despite earning the title of editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, has a mental breakdown and must concede the position to Rory. Paris’ relationships, too, are always tinged with self-flagellation. When Paris does get a romantic interest, she asks Rory to “hide in the closet because if he sees you, he won’t want to date me.” Rory obliges and shrugs her shoulders. Ha-ha, classic Paris! With her neuroses always in tow, Paris — one of the only outwardly Jewish characters by the way — is consistent comic relief.
Oh, and if you thought things couldn’t get worse for Paris in the romantic department, remember that she loses her virginity just as she’s rejected from Harvard while Rory is warmly embraced by her mother for not only getting in but also still being a virgin.
My complaint of women in Sherman-Palladino’s universe being too perfect for their own good isn’t unique. Emily Nussbaum for the New Yorker wrote a wonderful piece about Sherman-Palladino’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Swap out shabby chic Connecticut farmhouse for a retro classic six and you’ve got another set of women who are swaddled to death in their own fabulous femininity.
And that’s the worst part. Amy Sherman-Palladino has made her legacy out of shows that dare to put unconventional women on the screen. “Gilmore Girls” was supposed to be a show about mothers and daughters who go it alone, listen to punk and defy conventions of the patriarchal norm. Rory is meant to rule supreme, a beacon for ambitious young women. But as Amy March in Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women” noted, “The world is hard on ambitious women.” Paris knows this truth all too well, sprinting after what she wants. While her body contorts in the pain of feminist realism, Rory tiptoes home with trophies, having never broken a sweat.
Serena Lin ’23 wrote for the News last year about her own breakup with Rory. The fact is that “Gilmore Girls” is something of a cloying smog that hangs heavy over the Yale campus. I sometimes wonder what my adolescent life would have been like if I felt I had permission to see Paris as my hero and Rory as her fictional scaffolding. Would I have confused being quiet with being poised for so many years? Would I have been as ashamed of my nervous sweat and unease? Maybe I wouldn’t have felt so guilty for the times when I demanded things that Rory was breezily handed. Would I have been better off?
Ella Attell | firstname.lastname@example.org