As the tail end of fall looms closer, re-watching Gilmore Girls has been a natural salve to rectify these somewhat depressing past few months. Since, in addition to its addictive pop culture quips and teen boyfriend melodrama, this autumnal classic also features a hopeful, nuanced depiction of single motherhood.
The series pegs itself on the enviably close relationship between titular mother and daughter: Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. The show often incites their unusual dynamic to be because Lorelai had her daughter when she was sixteen. Making Lorelai child-like, and far more understanding of now-teenage daughters’ woes.
Moreover, despite Lorelai’s slip-ups (i.e dropping off Rory for her first day in cut-off shorts), she isn’t framed as an incompetent cautionary tale. Instead, Gilmore Girls focuses on the success she has paved both for herself and her daughter.
For example, whenever Lorelai’s parents nag about her life choices, they’re framed as antagonistic, rather than the voice of reason. Probably best exemplified by them referring to the Independence Inn that she works at as a “motel.” These back-handed comments are always meant to unfairly minimize Lorelai. Despite her creating a fulfilling life even after teen pregnancy. Making the audience automatically side with her during these interactions.
Lorelai’s success is also obvious in practice. She has a beautiful home, close friends throughout Stars Hollow, and most importantly—ambition. She and Sookie (her best confidante) dream of opening a cozy inn of their own someday. Which doesn’t remain a pipe dream. While working full time, Lorelai also takes night classes to get a Bachelor’s degree in business. Her motherhood isn’t a burden, nor is the lack of marital status. Lorelai is self-sufficient and entertaining to watch, but neither of those things becomes a detriment to her character arc, nor her independence.
Lorelai and Mrs. Kim
While Lorelai Gilmore is very well beloved amongst fans of the show, I believe that Lane Kim’s (Rory’s best friend) mother, Mrs. Kim, also deserves some of the hype.
Mrs. Kim, an antique shop owner and strict upholder of religious piety, tends to get a bad rep amongst the more forward thinking fans of the series. However, the show eventually does find its footing and its empathy for her style of mothering.
Take the twelfth episode of the first season. Lane and Rory are planning to go on a double date. However, Lane’s mom doesn’t tolerate boys. So, the friends decide to keep the event a secret, leading Lane to tell her mom that she’s going to the Gilmore’s for a movie. However, when Mrs. Kim finds Lorelai at the local diner instead of at home with the girls, she becomes incredibly distraught. Which culminates in Mrs. Kim grounding Lane indefinitely and Rory getting chastised by her mom for lying.
While Mrs. Kim’s regulations are clearly unfair to Lane’s completely natural urge to date, the show makes the smart decision not to vilify her. Lorelai eventually goes into the antique shop at the end of the episode to reassure Mrs. Kim of her trust. But, Mrs. Kim resists and says “She lied! That’s completely unacceptable.” Lorelai wholeheartedly agrees but reminds Mrs. Kim that Lane is still sixteen, the same age as she was pregnant with Rory. This moment of recognition causes Mrs. Kim to go quiet.
For the first time, Mrs. Kim is shown to be unsure, vulnerable even. But, Lorelai is sure to tell her “Hey, I think you’re doing a great job, Lane is a wonderful kid” and genuinely assures her that she respects and understands her rules.
An American mother
To have this interaction so early on in the series is incredibly powerful. Due to the fact that it negates the idea that there’s a singular way to be a mother. Being strict doesn’t mean you’re uncaring and being more relaxed doesn’t make you a dead-beat in the Gilmore Girls universe. Instead, this moment of two single mothers coming together and validating each other’s separate, independent paths becomes a much more sensitive bout of character growth. Especially in a genre that, at the time, had an influx of the near-perfect, doting housewife seen in Donna Reed and The Brady Bunch.
What this episode also did was frame a woman of color as an aspiration. The series’ undisputable weakness is the searing amount of whiteness on screen. The ending of this episode displaces the dominating narrative of a White, American mother as idealistic. Instead, for a moment, the show gives an unfiltered understanding of one of the only non-white re-occurring characters. Creating a more exhaustive portrait of single motherhood in its many forms.
Additionally, the show makes it okay to want aspects of a traditional familial life. Lorelai does often pine over having a partner, something that she admits she shouldn’t “have to want” but, does.
It doesn’t make her less independent, or even less of a feminist. Her distinct character is never “solved” by a potential mate in the series either. Instead, her many lovers become integral building blocks to her own personal growth and development. Always serving her and her family first. Making one of the priorities of Gilmore Girls to argue that a non-radical feminism is just as valid and as powerful on and off-screen.
So, if another quarantine is getting you down, Gilmore Girls still proves to be a well-rounded place of safety, where single mothers and women in all their complex forms, friendships, and goals can prosper.