Representation in the media matters. There are so many think-pieces on the subject, and the idea that representation affects your sense of identity is part of feminist theory too. Judith Butler describes gender expression as ‘performative’; an unspoken agreement to conform to social stereotypes and avoid taboos. Others writers more generally note that TV has an impact on how we view ourselves, and the world.
In this sense Gilmore Girls, and Rory Gilmore in particular, is really important for bright teenage girls.
It is reassurance that someone like you is allowed to act and think as you do. And it is so much more powerful than being told the same thing by the people around you. It’s a living, breathing, recognisable world, with a girl like you as the protagonist. She is interesting enough to be the star. And for smart girls, this is key. You won’t miss out on anything because you want to do well at school. Actually, it’s a good thing. You can be young and female and brilliant – and you can make the grade too.
Here are ten reasons why girls need more ‘Rorys’ on TV:
1. She worked hard
Yes, Rory was clearly immensely talented, but she was also rarely without an implausibly massive amount of work to do. No matter what else was going on, we were constantly reminded of the massive amount of work she undertook. For example, even when merely helping out Logan – and this is a favour, not an assignment – Rory produces a gargantuan folder of notes for him to use. Yes, she quite possibly was harbouring a bit of a crush on him in that moment, but it still wasn’t out of character.
It was all exaggerated for TV of course (there’s not enough hours in the day), but Rory Gilmore made working hard look good. Even for smart girls, it probably doesn’t all come easy, and she validated that.
2. She had boys AND grades
Fans are still torn over which of Rory’s three main love interests was the best for her, but the important thing is that she had them at all. Her story lines were rarely without some kind of romantic intrigue. Her longest boy-free stint was between Jess and Logan: the former fluctuating in and out for a while, leaving Rory unable to move on; the latter taking some time to mature enough to hold onto Rory fully.
The reason this matters is that it doesn’t separate female academic ambition from romance. Because of this, it effectively tells the viewer that they can have grades as well as a boy or girlfriend. The two are not mutually exclusive.
3. She was sometimes second best
In terms of encouraging smart girls everywhere, it was narratively very important that Rory left Stars Hollow High for Chilton. At her old high school, we are led to believe, Rory was the best. Her level of achievement was unattainable by anyone else. And, while smart girls are often talked up to this level of god-like superiority by friends and mockers alike, they sure as hell don’t feel it. Like anyone else, they’re not infallible, and they dread the shocked murmuring that inevitably comes as soon as they screw up, even though they themselves may be less than surprised.
So, it’s incredibly helpful that Rory isn’t always on top. It’s really great that she gets that D, that she has to catch up, and that she meets the utterly unstoppable force that is Paris Geller. It adds some credibility to her intelligence, and it makes smart girls feel like they can emulate her in other ways too.
4. She achieved her dreams
Rory got into Harvard. Rory got into Yale on a single interview for which she did not prepare. She got into Princeton too. We left her at the end of series seven about to embark on a journalistic adventure following Senator Barack Obama.
All this, everything; from being the quiet, smart girl, who wrote her essay in lieu of passing notes and swapping make up.
We can do it too.
5. But she encountered so much uncertainty
Perhaps what makes Rory’s various successes throughout the series so important, is that she really had to struggle to achieve them. We already know that Rory works hard, but sometimes, even when she did, things didn’t work out. In the run up to college applications, Rory realises in a panic that she’s woefully low on extra-curricular activities, and that her planned essay on Hillary Clinton is predictable and boring. Then, as she prepares to graduate from Yale, she watches Paris receive acceptance after acceptance for various incredible courses and colleges, while she is rejected from everywhere she tries, most upsettingly, the New York Times. Her failures are made worse by the fact that she turned down a perfectly respectable job at the beginning of the process.
For the viewers, her failures are just as important as her successes. No one gets everything they want the first time they try, no matter how smart. Rory shows us that, with a little perseverance, the seventh or eight (or thirtieth) try might just be the charm.
6. She messed up
Most of the really key things about Rory are the things that show that she’s human, and Rory has made her fair share of mistakes. She’s knowingly slept with a married man. She’s stolen a yacht. She quit Yale.
Of the three, the latter seems the most ludicrous, and I am astounded to this day that her grandparents betrayed Lorelai and supported the drop-out instead of joining forces and physically dragging Rory back to school. And I would never condone cheating or stealing. Not that it makes any difference here.
The point is, Rory messed up. Smart girls do that. You don’t have to be freakishly perfect all the time.
7. She also loved to eat (a seriously rare combo)
We have ourselves here a smart girl on TV. A smart girl who works hard at school and has plenty of boys interested in her.
But a smart girl, with boyfriends, who not only is unconcerned about her weight, but who actively enjoys food? Seems almost too good to be true.
8. She seriously knew how to do downtime
Gilmore Girls is infamous for two things: its fast talking and its pop-culture references. It’s the latter – alongside numerous scenes where Rory and her mother partake in a lot of movie-watching – that shows that Rory knows how to relax too, and that she does. That’s really important for high-achievers. You have to have some time for yourself too.
9. She didn’t get pregnant
There was so much pregnancy in this show. It’s a key part of Lorelai’s story, sure, but it dogged other female leads too, straining relationships and dampening dreams. Sookie, for instance, has an unexpected and initially unwanted pregnancy when she discovers she is expecting her third child, and although she comes round to the idea, the new baby restricts her free time further and initially strains her relationship with Jackson. Lane is the real victim here, though. Although she, Zack and ‘the boys’ make an adorable family unit, the twins’ birth really curtails the pairs’ career, and as Lane observes, leaves her only a tiny window of personhood between ‘oppressed kid’ and ‘mother’.
In light of this, it is incredibly positive that Rory does not fall victim to the same pattern.
It’s not that it was bad for any of the other ladies to get pregnant or be pregnant. Not at all. But it was important that Rory showed us an alternative. A world where she could run her life completely on her terms. Terms which, possibly one day could return to moterhood, but not necessarily.
And this is important for all girls: you are not ruled by inevitable motherhood if you don’t want to be.
10. She represented hope
All of this, added together, is resoundingly hopeful for the quiet, smart girl, sitting at the back and wondering if all her work – all she’s ever really striven for – is worth it. Rory proved that it could be. She showed that smart girls can have it all – they can have anything – if they want.
There are issues of privilege and money tied up with the hope that Rory represents, but those issues are not for now. When smart girls become smart women, perhaps they will need to search for a new figure to better represent the person they have become. That’s ok.
But Rory is still important.
And she was there when we needed her.