I want to see Gilmore Girls resist cultural taboos that tell women we need men in order to be affirmed or successful, or that a family absent of men is somehow less of a family than one composed solely of women.
My mother died in April 2002, the same week cherry tree blossoms unfurled outside my Washington, D.C. apartment. The morning of her death, I fled that apartment for her house. I called it “my mother’s house” for an entire year after she died because I had no other words for this place where she’d taught me how to read and write and bake a dinner party casserole. It was there, on the white couch in her living room, that I discovered Gilmore Girls.
This was, perhaps, the wrong show for a grieving 21-year-old to watch. I made it through the first five minutes before tears pooled in my eyes, and I clicked off the remote. It was all too much too soon. My mother had not been my best friend, but she came pretty close. She knew 95 percent of my secrets. We shared inside jokes and makeup and musical tastes. When she died, a part of me died too.
Nine years would pass before I’d watch Gilmore Girls again. By then, I had to order DVDs from Netflix. I requested them three at a time. This meant I could feast on 12 episodes without stopping. When reruns became streamable, I binge-watched seven seasons in a single semester. I began making my way once more through the series in 2015, months before Netflix officially announced the four-episode revival Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, airing on Nov. 25.
Now I’m two-thirds of the way through the original series, having just finished the delightful “You Jump, I Jump, Jack.” I’m not a diehard fan. There are times when I want to yank Lane from Stars Hollow and place her on a Brooklyn street, where I’m certain she’d make home-brewed kombucha trendy 10 years before it became a thing. I want Jess to go to graduate school and stay there for a very long time. I want Dean to use his words. I want Lorelai and Rory to find partners worthy of them, a person who doesn’t shout or name call or show up uninvited at a woman’s place of business and refuse to leave.
But my compulsion toward Gilmore Girls and its upcoming reunion does not spring from a desire for Rory to marry Dean or Jess or Logan, or to see her life neatly anchored to a man. Nor do I watch because I want Lorelai and Luke to stand beneath the chuppah he carved for her. I am compelled by a different love story that undercuts this series. I am drawn in by the complicated knots that bind Rory and Lorelai and Emily, and rend them apart, episode upon episode.
In Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich writes, “The loss of the daughter to the mother, the mother to the daughter is the essential female tragedy,” and I see this tragedy played out repeatedly on Gilmore Girls. This series tells my story and the story of many women I know, independent of race or class or age: We want our mothers to never leave us, and we want them to leave us alone. We can’t have it both ways, but this conflict keeps me watching, hungry for resolution that never comes.
Initially, I joined in fan speculation about the November reunion’s romantic possibilities, especially after reports that Milo Ventimiglia agreed to return. Of all Rory’s boyfriends, Jess seems the one most suited for her “because he reads,” as a friend pointed out on Facebook. Dean loses his temper so quickly that his moodiness is weirdly funny. And Logan, Lord of the Birkin Bag, seems destined to become a Donald Trump campaigner. So I am rooting for Jess to grow up, transcend his rebel-without-a-cause demeanor, and become an adult partner worthy of Rory’s love.
Actor Edward Herrmann died in December 2014, and Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has revealed the reunion will open with Emily four-months into widowhood. For the first time, all three Gilmore girls may be unattached to men. But I want to resist framing the upcoming reunion as a comedy where everyone must marry in the end. Such conclusive boy-girl partnerships seem both untrue to the series’ arc and unimaginative in 2016.
I see an opportunity for Sherman-Palladino to ground Gilmore Girls more firmly in the 21st century, a time when American attitudes about marriage are dramatically shifting, and when Americans understand marriage as a less significant measure of personal success. More specifically, 50% of participants polled in a 2014 Pew survey viewed society as better off when people choose to pursue other goals and priorities instead of marriage. Such goals could include running a successful New England inn, philanthropy, or working in the White House press office, and I love imagining these possibilities for Lorelai, Rory, and Emily.
Moreover, Lorelai’s choice to become an unmarried mother in the 1980s roots Gilmore Girls in second-wave feminist ideals. Should she choose to stay single, Lorelai would also remain true to her character’s independent streak and the culture at large, joining a growing demographic of never-married, college educated women. A single Rory would be part of the increasing number of young adults leading the national trend away from marriage. And all three Gilmore girls would contribute to this election year’s powerful force of single female voters, many of whom may cast their ballots for a female presidential nominee actively campaigning with her daughter.
By remaining unattached to men, Emily, Lorelai and Rory, would choose another kind of relationship, one envisioned by Rich in Of Woman Born, where she challenges patriarchal lineages of marriage and motherhood. Rich describes the intense mother-daughter bond as profoundly “threatening to men” because it projects female love away from men and onto women. In patriarchies, daughters resist this threat by turning toward men, and turning away from their mothers.
“Women are made taboo to other women—not just sexually, but as comrades, cocreators, coinspiritors,” Rich writes. “In breaking this taboo, we are reuniting with our mothers; in reuniting with our mothers, we are breaking this taboo.”
In turn, I want to see Gilmore Girls resist cultural taboos that tell women we need men in order to be affirmed or successful, or that a family absent of men is somehow less of a family than one composed solely of women. As a fairly joyful woman raised by a single mother and widowed grandmother, I am perhaps reading myself too closely into the show. And yet, I also know I am the woman I am today—confident, independent, content—because my mostly female forbearers showed me how women could stand quite happily together.
As a character who routinely shirks taboo, Lorelai favors pop cultural icons who share her rebellious spirit, and she invokes Amy Schumer within seconds of the reunion’s trailer. While the banter gets a little tedious at times—who really cares if Amy Schumer likes water sports?—the dialogue affirms Gilmore Girls’ appeal to me: Rory and Lorelai are precisely the comrades, cocreators, and coinspiritors Rich describes.
Incidentally, she published Of Woman Born two years after the fictional Rory Gilmore’s birth in 1984. While I’ve never seen the book mentioned on the show, it’s not difficult to imagine Rory reading it on a Yale bench. It’s also not difficult to envision my own dream ending for Gilmore Girls, and this ending does not involve the participation of Stars Hollow’s resident rabbi or reverend.
I imagine Rory, Lorelai, and Emily sitting on the white, somewhat lumpier couch in Lorelai’s living room. They’re streaming a speech by President Elect Hillary Rodham Clinton. Red Vines, pizza boxes, and Chinese takeout containers litter the coffee table. But the finale lights do not fade on a final kiss between Luke and Lorelai. Rather, they illuminate three women making the simple, radical choice to return to each other, content with one relationship outlasting all the jokes, all the shoes, and all the men who’ve come and gone.
Magin LaSov Gregg lives, writes, and teaches in Frederick, Maryland. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, Pithead Chapel, Hippocampus Magazine, The Rumpus, and The Bellingham Review. She blogs at www.maginlasovgregg.com and tweets @maginlasovgregg.