Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sixteen And Perpetually Misrepresented

The early 2000s classic, Gilmore Girls, is centered around a mother daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory, living in the small town of Stars Hollow in Connecticut. Though the show went off air in 2007 after a seven season run, it’s being revived on Netflix due to its popularity. The show is a little unconventional since it’s completely female driven, features what is to some, the most realistic mother/daughter relationships on television, and portrays Lorelai, a teen mother, is an uncommonly positive light. While the pilot episode of Gilmore Girls relies on stereotypes for rich people in depicting Richard and Emily Gilmore, the show goes against the grain in depicting Lorelai, who, despite being a teen mom, is exceptionally competent and likeable, and her daughter Rory, a brilliant and level headed girl.

One might assume that since Lorelai got pregnant at sixteen and is unmarried that she doesn’t know what she’s doing and she can’t provide for her child, as that is the dominant understanding of teen moms in America. Lorelai defies this stereotype in the second act of the pilot episode, when she has to remind Rory that no boy is worth missing out on a great education. The script reads,

Lorelai: Look, don’t get me wrong. Guys are great. I’m a huge fan of guys. you don’t get knocked up at sixteen being indifferent to guys. But babe, guys are always going to be there. This school isn’t. It’s more important, it just is.

Lorelai is undoubtedly an excellent mother and provides pretty much everything her daughter needs. She has a job managing a local inn, owns a house, and has raised a daughter with straight As. This is goes against the dominant image of teen moms in America perpetuated by basically every other work of culture. She also doesn't see her past as shameful, she acknowledges that her pregnancy derailed her life, but she doesn't regret it. Similarly, the show rejects the idea that the children of single moms, especially single, teen moms, are doomed to be underachievers and have miserable childhoods. Rory has lived happily in Stars Hollow all her life, is at the top of her class, gets accepted into Chilton, a prestigious prep school, and later in the show, attends Yale. However, the show does fall back on stereotypes in portraying Lorelai’s rich, estranged parents, Richard and Emily. Richard is a businessman who spends most of his time working or ignoring his wife, Emily, blither on about planning teas, their country club, and the useless maids she’s hired while he reads the financial times. As a couple, they are not particularly affectionate, nor are they especially warm towards their daughter. Lorelai has to beg them to help her pay for Rory’s prep school tuition and they only agree after being promised more control over her upbringing.

Whether or not Lorelai and Rory are realistic characters is debateable. But even if they aren’t entirely believable, they offer a refreshing take on the mother/daughter dynamic and the lives of teen moms and their children. So many tv shows, movies, books, and songs portray teen moms as tragic, and though Lorelai never pretends that getting pregnant so young didn’t throw her life of course, she’s never presented as pitiful or stupid. What's more common are shows like Sixteen and Pregnant, that revolve around how teen moms ruin their lives by getting pregnant and are inherently bad parents. While narratives like those are popular in part to scare teenagers into not ruining their lives by getting pregnant, they're not reflective of everybody and alternative narratives deserve to be told.

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