What is Gilmore Girls?
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Debuting October 5th, 2000, Gilmore Girls lasted seven years and seven seasons, in which it detailed the life of Lorelai Gilmore, a quirky and independent single mother, her daughter Rory, a quiet and studious teenager who dreamt of attending Harvard, and her mother Emily, a slightly controlling and high-strung woman of high society. The show focused on the tumultuous relationship between Lorelai and her mother, as well as the love all three have for each other. With the simple plot and charming setting of the sweet town of Stars Hollow, people are hardly to blame for loving the idyllic show that is Gilmore Girls.
With Gilmore Girls’ revival and stay on Netflix, many people have rewatched and reexamined a favorite from their teen years, while others have been able to find this show for the first time. A lot of this has come with a wave of hatred for the character of Rory Gilmore.
Why is it then, if Rory is nothing but a hard-working bookworm in the show, that everyone dislikes her?
Who is Rory Gilmore?
Many claim seasons 1-3 are Rory’s prime seasons. Rory’s story for the first season follows her as she gets into a prestigious and expensive private school. While navigating a bigger workload, mean teenage girls, family drama, and harassment from the boys at her new school, Rory quickly establishes herself as a hard worker, planner, and a quiet and smart student. Despite her meticulous planning and dreaming of a new school to get her into Harvard, she meets the new boy at her old school in the first episode and decides she’d rather stay at Stars Hollow High. We see her fight with her mom and sulk in bed, but before long she’s back on her feet and attending Chilton, her new school. She and this new boy, Dean, start dating. Even in season one, we get to see some of the traits people take issue with later on; her impulsiveness and playing the victim. With Rory being 16 in the first season, this is ultimately seen as excusable.
Season two introduces another character, Jess. Rory and Jess start out as less than friends, but quickly the relationship transforms. Undoubtably, Rory cheats on Dean with Jess in her flirtatious and dangerous relationship with him. Besides this, she continues to work hard at school, she visits Harvard, and gets closer to her grandparents. At the end of the season however, Rory skips school and goes to New York City to visit Jess, all while still dating Dean. Because of this, she misses Lorelai’s graduation from business school. When she gets home, she apologizes profusely, begging her mom to punish her because she knows she did something wrong. Lorelai acknowledges that it hurt her, but tells Rory that it’s okay, and doesn’t end up punishing her. The last episode of season two features a kiss between Jess and Rory; the final seal that tips her cheating right over the edge.
Season 3 is Rory’s senior year at Chilton. She is vice president of the student council, she is turning in applications for colleges like Yale and Harvard, and still deciding between Jess and Dean. Dean notices her relationship with Jess, and has a breaking point a third of the way into the season, finally breaking up with Rory — who doesn’t seem all too crushed. She and Jess get together, despite Lorelai and Emily hating him, and have a rocky relationship for the rest of the season, which ends in Jess yelling at her after she says no to doing more than kissing, a fight between him and Dean, and Jess leaving for California, across the country, without saying goodbye. Rory ends the season having chosen to go to Yale instead of Harvard, working out a payment plan for that, and graduating as valedictorian with a heartwarming speech about how much she loves and looks up to her mom.
After her senior year came college at Yale. Many claim that these years away from Stars Hollow and Chilton are the worst years for Rory. She gets a new boyfriend, “becomes” entitled when she has a breakdown over someone saying she doesn’t have what it takes to be a journalist, steals a yacht, and drops out of Yale. Rory’s downfall, as it is known, seemingly comes quickly and without warning. Or does it?
The “Downfall” of Rory Gilmore
The main criticisms lodged at Rory in the later seasons are that she is selfish, spoilt, and doesn’t recognize her privilege. None of these come without backing; Rory looks out for herself and steals a yacht when she gets upset, has her tuition paid off by her rich grandparents, and doesn’t claim the privilege she gets from that. But we’ve seen other characters, who are still fan favorites do similar things. Lorelai makes everything about herself; Rory’s mistakes are her bad parenting, Emily’s anger is about her leaving. Lorelai complains about her parents’ wealth, calling herself self-made and only accepting money from her parents on her own terms, acting like it’s not there for her to fall back on. Jess almost assaults Rory after she tells him to stop kissing her, and runs away afterward without apologizing or saying goodbye.
So if others act like this in the same show, why does Rory get the most flack for it? For the answer, I believe we can find it in the intent of the show.
In season one, the boys at her new school refer to her as “Mary”, as in the Virgin Mary. Everyone in Stars Hollow supports her no matter what; when Dean and she break up for the first time after she didn’t say “I love you” back, everyone takes her side, even though they didn’t know what happened. Whenever Rory makes a mistake, like staying out all night or cheating on Dean, Lorelai’s response is always that “this isn’t you”.
Rory was the “perfect” daughter: she had straight As, she got into all ivy league schools, she always participated in town activities, she was valedictorian, she was pretty, and always had a boyfriend yet was still “pure”. That is what everyone told her, that is what everyone tells each other; that is what they tell the audience. Rory does bad things in the first few seasons; she cheats, she lies, she makes mistakes, but the show still says that Rory is perfect because that is the point of Rory’s character.
Gilmore Girls wasn’t a show about perfect people in a perfect town, it was about flawed people living and working and growing. Rory was raised by Stars Hollow. Within the show, the idea that she is the perfect kid is hammered into her head. She can’t make mistakes because she not only has her mom and grandparents to disappoint but an entire town as well. And when she does make mistakes, no one blames her. For example, in season two, Rory and Jess go for a drive at night. Jess swerves to avoid an animal and ended up crashing her car. Rory gets a broken arm from the ordeal and has to wear a cast for the next few episodes. Immediately everyone blames Jess; he is the bad guy. That is why it is fine for Jess to make the same mistakes as Rory, according to the audience, he isn’t “pretending” to be something he isn’t. Rory tried to tell everyone that she is equally to blame; she gave him the keys, she told him to keep driving, but no one believes her because she is the good girl.
Most of Rory’s “bad” traits come from being raised by Lorelai; she runs away from her mistakes and responsibilities, like how Lorelai ran away from getting married and Rory ran away from Yale, and she doesn’t recognize her privilege because Lorelai told her that it isn’t hers. Her mistakes aren’t hers, her grandparent’s wealth isn’t hers because Lorelai said they weren’t hers either. Yet, no one compares the two often because Lorelai was set up as spunky, quirky, avoidant, flighty, and imperfect. She was a teen mom who ran away at 16, worked at an inn, and ran away from her relationships when they got serious. She was the opposite of the perfect daughter.
So, when the audience sees Rory go to college and make stupid mistakes as most people do, Rory isn’t given the benefit of the doubt. The immense pressure she felt isn’t allowed to be crushing because Rory is supposed to be able to handle everything. The first time she got told she couldn’t do something isn’t allowed to be painful because she is supposed to be composed. Rory isn’t allowed to be human without being a bad person all because the show set up her arc as the perfect daughter. Her development was meant to show how being perfect is impossible, but because they set her up with these standards, then made her do things the audience disliked, they didn’t view her as a human who makes mistakes, but as a character who was meant to be perfect.
Another reason this might happen is the role model factor and relatability of Rory Gilmore. She was set up to be the smart and pretty girl for the teenage audience to look up to and strive to be. Seeing a role model make mistakes might taint their image; one may feel ashamed to have once looked up to someone who ends up doing things they find embarrassing or immoral and end up taking that out on the character. By relating to Rory, some may have been scared to see themselves in her mistakes, even if they weren’t that much worse than the mistakes of other characters.
“Perfect” Rory Gilmore
To the characters within the show and the audience, Rory was always set up to be perfect, and when she failed to meet these standards after years of working under the pressure, people began to realize she wasn’t perfect. People talk about Rory dropping out of Yale, yet fail to mention how she goes back and graduates on time. She failed and was able to try again and fix it, but once she had dragged down the curtain and facade of perfection, people had already decided they hated her. Rory was never perfect in the show, but the more people viewed her as such and pretended she was, the more they were destined to hate her when she finally didn’t meet her previous standards.