Calvin, R. (ed) Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity: Essays on Family and Feminism in the Television Series Jefferson, McFarland, 2008
As an English Literature student, contact hours were seldom during my undergraduate degree and whilst I wouldn’t want to understate the hours I spent reading, writing and revising it would be a lie to say that my days were always chock-a- block. As a result, many hours were spent in front of the TV, mostly watching episodes of Friends, Scrubs and Gilmore Girls that were broadcast on a loop on E4. As a result of the channel’s constant broadcasting of Gilmore Girls, I can say without hesitation that I have seen every episode and have followed the show over to 5*. Because of my obsession, I was excited to review Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity, both as a fan, and also as a feminist scholar.
The collection focuses on Gilmore Girls and its relationship with feminist and postfeminist discourses. The strongest of the essays on postfeminism is Molly McCaffrey’s essay on Rory and her “Faux Feminism”. McCaffrey contends that although from the outside Rory appears to represent the ideal young feminist, her actions often betray this. Her submissive relationships with bad boys where she “has no real sense of agency” (p.41) is contrasted with Lorelai, who has worked hard to create a life for herself, working from the bottom up, and who displays agency in her relationships and life decisions. McCaffrey opposes Lorelai as second wave feminist example with Rory, portrayed as a “feminist” who talks the talk of women’s equality (seen, for example through the Planned Parenthood on her wall at Yale) but displays none of the actions of a feminist and is often influenced and affected by patriarchal authority figures. I agree with most of what McCaffrey argues in her essay, right up until the final paragraph.
McCarffrey argues that Gilmore Girls suggests that “In reality, feminists are not always who we think they are, and they come in all different types of packages” (p.49). However, whilst one can make a convincing argument that Lorelai and Sookie are feminists, McCaffrey’s decision to place Mrs Kim alongside them as feminist examples troubled me. Although Mrs Kim is a strong woman who seemingly raised her child single handedly like Lorelai, she restricts the kind of activities her daughter can take part in, sends Lane to a college where gender segregation is heavily enforced and as a result has a difficult relationship with Lane. In fact, it would seem to me that it is Lane who is the feminist in the Kim household. Lane supports herself after she is estranged from Mrs Kim, plays drums in a band, and seeks a female role model in Sophie, the owner of the music store in Stars Hollow. That McCaffrey does not include Lane in her list of Stars Hollow feminists suggests that an opposition between older (second wave) feminists as good and younger women as pseudo feminists is being put forward, something which I think over simplifies the generation gap.
Feminism and its place in Stars Hollow is a continuing theme throughout the book, whilst the relationship between mothers and daughters is focused on in Melanie Haupt’s “Wheat Balls, Gravlax, Pop Tarts: Mothering and Power” and Faye Wood’s “Generation Gap? Mothers, Daughters and Music” amongst other essays in the volume. All of the essays on motherhood focus mostly on the relationship between Rory and Lorelai, although the parenting styles of Emily, Sookie and Mrs Kim are also discussed. On the one hand, for a show that is focussed so heavily on a mother-daughter relationship this seems fitting. However, the heavy focus on Rory and Lorelai seemed overdone at times.
Angela Ridinger-Dotterman’s essay on Paris titled “Reinventing the Bitch: The Dynamism of Paris Geller” provided a much needed contrast the Rory/ Lorelai focus. Ridinger- Dotterman suggests that Paris subverts conventional thinking about the bitch archetype, suggesting that Paris is neither rehabilitated nor ultimately punished, so that she is allowed to maintain her caustic personality whilst also being a “multidimensional, formidable character” (p.62). The essay is a sympathetic reading of Paris, but at the same times does not gloss over any of her more unpleasant characteristics.
As the essay on Paris shows, the supporting cast of Gilmore Girls are in many ways as interesting as the main characters. Although I thought that Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity was an interesting read, I found myself frustrated at the continued focus on Rory and Lorelai, with other characters often discussed as points of comparison rather than in their own right. Although Erin K. Johns and Kristen L. Smith discuss Star Hollows as a Utopian location, it would have been good to have seen more discussion of the show in relation to broader American culture. Johs and Smith describe the way that the world of Stars Hollow allows Lorelai and Rory to “use hard work to enter into and adapt to new surrounding” (p.30), citing the fact that Lorelai worked her way up from hotel maid to business owner whilst a single parent. However, it must be recognised that although Lorelai certainly did manage all this on her own, she has turned to her parents for the sake of Rory’s education, and turns to them again throughout the series for professional advice and financial support, therefore reaping the benefits of her upbringing. This is suggested by Anne K. Burke Erickson’s essay on the contradictions within the show, where the amount of support that Lorelai has received is highlighted in contrast to the continued suggestions of self sufficiency.
iIt would have been nice to see more about the way that the world of Stars Hollow fits in with the rest of America. The very premise of the show, that Rory must go to Chilton in order to attend Harvard (or, eventually Yale) presupposes that having enough money to buy an education will yield results, this is something that is rarely challenged in the show and I was disappointed to see that there was little discussion of this in the essays as well. Similarly, there are a wealth of background characters that would have made for excellent essay subjects, but as I have said, these are often used to discuss Rory and Lorelai rather than the focus of the essays themselves. Unfortunately this leads to a rather repetitive book, where some episodes are referred to multiple times (this is especially frustrating given the series had a seven season run) and some arguments are played out across multiple essays. Whilst the idea of the collection caught my eye, the book itself seems like a missed opportunity, especially when, at times, Rory and Lorelai aren’t even the most interesting characters on the show.
Claire Sedgwick is a PhD student at De Montfort University Leicester. Her research focuses on the way that feminist magazines represent second wave feminism, looking at the kind of feminisms that are represented. She is also interested in the use of blogs by contemporary feminists as a way to discuss feminism and foster communities. She tweets @claire_sedgwick and her academia profile can be found here: http://dmu.academia.edu/ClaireSedgwick