A Love Letter to Single Mothers & Their Daughters — For the Gilmore Girls and the Rest of Us

 

I’ll confess that I was excited to write a piece about the Gilmore Girls reboot. The idea of course came before Trump happened. I was not anticipating the reboot to be a racist, misogynist, body-shaming, ageist, and flat out weird piece of garbage, but I guess it’s fitting, since so is Trump (badum ching). I was ready for it to be a capitalist fetish fest but not like that, not an excruciating series that confirms that Lorelei lost the struggle to save her daughter and herself from bourgeois entitled nonsense. Remember when Lorelei wouldn’t let Emily buy her daughter extra skirts for school because she doesn’t need them? I know this battle was already done with the appearance of Logan, but the reboot—with its sad, bizarre, and uneven writing—confirmed for me that Gilmore Girls is a cautionary tale for women and girls who want to imagine and create their own homes, their own joys. And it is for that reason that I want to write about Gilmore Girls—especially now considering Netflix talk of a possible second revival.

Gilmore Girls came out when I was just out of high school (a shocking fact because I think of it as a backdrop to my high school years). I was working at a chain restaurant where I had to sing about sombreros while I attended community college full-time. I was driven by getting out of my particular small town, driven by the strangely abrupt alert feeling that coming out of family transition and trauma rattled in me, driven by my mother who would drape a blanket over my shoulders as I typed away on an aged computer late into the night, me smelling of “faquitas” (Really it was butter that they’d drop on a skillet so that it’d look sizzling hot, so yes my skin was great then) and coffee. My mom was working like she’s always worked (a lot) and created her own spaces like she always had—waking before the sun and sipping coffee while slowly walking her garden. We were coming off of four years of rebuilding and creating home. We would watch Gilmore Girls between hurried dinner and homework and ironing tomorrow’s clothes and washing dishes and talking about that person at work and wringing out stockings and feeding the dog.

I want to say that I’ve never had delusions that my mom and I are like the Loreleis. We are not rich. I was more Darlene than Rory. My high school was nothing like Chilton. My mom’s parents died early due in part to cancer from working in pesticide-thick strawberry fields. We’re Chicanas/Xicanxs. So you know, get out of here with that Berta white-nonsense. And could Gilmore Girls really exist, be really as popular if it were about a Chicana teen mom who shows up at a hotel for work and then ends up running it? No, because charming is being a former debutante, rejecting your riches, and demanding a job with no experience at 16. Charming is not being poor and working out of necessity. And if you’re thinking about Jane the Virgin… key word: virgin and still, nope. My mom and I loved watching Gilmore Girls because it was a mother and daughter, partners in crime, speaking their own language, making their own rules. Luckily I went off to college before Rory and so we weren’t totally up on the later years until a procrastination-fueled Netflix binge watch.

The sinking feeling that Gilmore Girls might be a cautionary tale for women was always present, but deepened with the post-high school seasons—Rory leaving school, Logan, Luke’s daughter’s mother’s strange response to Lorelei, Lorelei bouncing between Luke and Chris—and was so realized in the reboot. It confirmed for me that GGs builds to the message that women who try to construct their own worlds, who pursue their passions, and forge identities that are not based primarily in men are really suffering from some amorphous pathology of independent womanhood. And it is a tired story. I had the feeling that someone was torturing Lorelei, Rory, Lane, and Paris out of their characters. Other than Sooki (whose character is blessed by absence) and to a certain extent Emily, they are all sad caricatures of their dream selves. The reboot fully denies the possibility that Lorelei could have been operating from any other place but hysteria (in the always misogynist sense) in her romantic relationships, especially when it came to the decisions to stay or not with her partners. We are to accept that each time she questioned a match or was worried about giving up the freedoms of her home to marriage was simply because something was wrong with her. We find Rory uninterested in writing or reading but seemingly drunk on her whiteness and hyper-privilege—a.k.a. the douchebag brigade. Even though she walked away from Logan to pursue her passions for writing, we are to understand that (of course!) she is only able to find fulfillment in his partial attentions now. We find the Loreleis as calloused marionettes, spewing hate and treating everyone around them like shit. Even with their EXTREME privilege, they are still unable to resist falling into pattern and despair. Also, the Palladino’s treatment of people in their early 30s demonstrates their disdain for those making it work with limited financial options, much in the way that we initially met Lorelei. Just because you’ve thrown some shade at Millennials who are struggling in the economy doesn’t mean you’re current. It just means you’re assholes. So yes, by the time Kirk’s short film appeared, I too wanted to scream with a plush pig in my arms.

Gilmore Girls once offered me warmth in the possibility of making my own home, so watching that possibility gnarled into surreal and outdated tropes dizzied me into reflecting on why the show was so important to me in the first place. I want to write about the possibilities of reclaiming and rejecting home in spite of all the bullshit that tries to tell you different, especially single mothers and their daughters. In other words, Mom, this one’s for you.

My mom became a single mother at 42 and I became a different daughter at 13. After her divorce, we battled the grief of starting over. What we rebuilt was just as much about the generosities extended us as the rejections. It was just as much about feeling out our budding world and ourselves in it, as it was about creating something different than what we’d left behind. It was our home on our terms. It was the two of us drinking coffee early mornings and talking between the demands of school and work; it was us unpacking some boxes and leaving others sealed; us taking the ziplock full of coins on weekends to Burger King to get 99c Whoppers and 25c soda from the soda machine (How are we supposed to believe that Lorelei can afford all take out all the time?); it was my mom responding to my meltdowns with art supplies; it was us pulling weeds or twine from hay bundles (long story) from a long neglected yard; it was the two of us figuring out how to use power tools and improvising with what we had (Cue my mom cutting branches off a Christmas tree with a serrated knife and then decorating it with whatever looked festive—a plush Kermit? Sure!); and it was us four years later watching Gilmore Girls.

Right before we moved away to build our new home, I flipped out on my teacher after she called my mom to tell her that my friends were bad influences. My mom came to get me from the main office and didn’t look at me. Not saying a word, she drove, purchased burgers and fries, and then drove us to a small park lined with oak trees. She said, “let’s sit” and asked, “how are you doing?” All that I cried and said I don’t quite remember but I remember how she brought me closer when I felt the furthest away. The new home we would build (and when I say build I mean with laughter and glow-in-the-dark stars, not wood and nails) was the kind of home that emerges when it’s not just about moving or running away from a place that threatens your ability to thrive, but imagining and building toward a place where you can finally be joyful and safe. That is how I understand the basic premise of the show and I don’t give two shits about the Palladinos’ desire to demonstrate how we just repeat patterns; it’s a forced conclusion that’s poorly written. It’s more important that we have models of forging and fighting for a life that is our own, that is not over determined by the patterns of our families, that is not entitlement. I know, because my mom gave me that model. She gave it to me that day under the shade of oak trees and for so many days after.

When I was 13 years old, she apologized. She said that even though it wasn’t fair, she couldn’t build our home alone, that I would need to grow up too quickly, do too much, but we could build home. She really said, “This is what true feminism is.” Women building home even when home’s been torn and unsafe. And what we built as we argued, laughed, talked, planted, wrote, studied, worked, called, worried, loved, planned, cried, and cooked, what we fought for was simple. It was us years later, snuggled on a couch, rooting for a single mother and her daughter as they sipped coffee, talked a mile a minute, and dreamed.

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Chrissy Anderson-Zavala is a writer and educator from Salinas, California. She currently works as a teaching artist and education consultant in San Francisco. She is also pursuing a PhD in education with designated emphases in critical race and ethnic studies and feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz.

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  1. Pingback: A Love Letter to Single Mothers & Their Daughters — For the Gilmore Girls and the Rest of Us – WEIRD SISTER – bibliobiography

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