Rory Gilmore is painted as the ideal offspring: a mature, responsible, studious, polite overachiever with fortunate looks. She’s popular among her peers, adored by all adults, and admired by strangers. She’s ambitious but humble. She spends her free time reading classic literature and attending quaint small-town events with her altogether wholesome boyfriend (at least, in the early seasons), her mild-mannered best friend, and her mom. She actively serves as wish fulfillment to her doting grandparents. She likes wearing her school uniform.
One of the more conspicuous themes of Gilmore Girls is Rory’s placement, and persistent preservation, on a pedestal of skyscraper-esque proportions. In the first season, an acquaintance tells Rory’s mother that she might “consider doing the whole mom thing if I could be guaranteed that I could get one just like her.” “You’re special,” a suitor informs Rory in Season Five. “You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You are incredibly interesting. You’re definitely girlfriend material.” Over the course of the series, Rory is complimented—usually at least twice per episode—on some aspect of her character, be it her appearance, her intellect, her compassion, her poise, or her many (suspiciously many) successes.
Approximately ten out of every hundred words that gallop out of Lorelai’s mouth are praise for her daughter. Rory, Lorelai insists, is “the sweetest kid in the whole world.” She is never late; she’s “almost annoyingly on time.” When Rory has a meltdown at school, Lorelai maintains that losing it in front of the class is “not part of the Rory personality description.” After Rory commits to working a charity event (mostly to spite her academic rival, Paris), Lorelai crows that “it’s a good thing. Nice. Keeps your halo shiny.”
Rory, for her part, isn’t just working to meet everyone else’s expectations; she has a formidable set of goals for herself. In Rory’s own words, “I want to go to Harvard and study journalism and political science… travel, see the world up close, be part of something big.” As the show progresses, we see her pursuing these goals with what seems on the surface to be genuine dedication, garnering further acclaim from everyone she encounters. Her mother, her grandparents, her boyfriend(s), and the entire town of Stars Hollow remain on bended knee for the duration of the show, intent on polishing Rory’s pedestal until it’s so bright that human eyes can no longer behold it.
I would argue—rant, even—that this pedestal is transparently, jaw-droppingly undeserved. So let’s take Rory off her pedestal step by step (for the sake of this metaphor, we’ll have to pretend that there’s more than one step leading up to a pedestal). Rory Gilmore may be an above-average student and a generally kind-hearted individual, but she’s far from being as naturally brilliant, as perpetually hard-working, and as unfailingly principled as she is said to be.
Rory has had her academic sights set on Harvard since childhood, but manages to reach the end of the academic year at Chilton Preparatory School still completely unaware that it takes more than just good grades and test scores (perfect grades and test scores, even) to impress an Ivy league admissions board. She dabbles in short-term philanthropic efforts around Stars Hollow and eventually joins the student newspaper. Paris, in contrast, began volunteering obsessively at age eight and became the Chilton newspaper’s editor-in-chief.
Paris forces a reluctant Rory to be her running mate in the student government elections. Paris does all the work, and Rory wins the position of student body Vice President without lifting a finger. The following year, during a spat with Paris, Rory even tries to resign from the role, griping that she “never wanted this stupid job in the first place” in front of the school principal.
Once elected VP, Rory complains repeatedly about the opportunity to spend the summer in Washington, D.C., on a junior leadership program. Let me repeat: Rory—whose self-proclaimed ambition is to go to Harvard, study political science, and travel the world, on her way to becoming Christiane Amanpour—complains about the chance to spend the summer debating politics with her peers and meeting members of Congress in the nation’s capital.
At the end of her final year at Chilton, Rory is awarded the honour of valedictorian over Paris, based on what Principal Charleston deems her “unparalleled academic achievements.” This cannot possibly be accurate. Even if Rory achieved straight A’s, we can assume Paris did, too—the same Paris who served as president of the student body to Rory’s (lacklustre) VP, and as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper to Rory’s staffer. Plus, Rory only spent three years at Chilton to Paris’s four. Rory’s freshman year (at Stars Hollow High School) would have involved a far less rigorous academic program than prestigious prep school Chilton, so her first-year transcripts should have carried less weight.
You could easily make the case that Rory is under-qualified for the Ivy League. But Rory is accepted to her dream school, Harvard, along with Princeton and Yale. Paris, by contrast, is rejected from Harvard despite her family legacy, wealth, scholastic success, and catalogue of extracurriculars.
Once at Yale, Rory whines when Paris “drags” her to a meeting of the International Relations Association. Paris is pre-med but wants to “experience our world’s sweeping expanse.” Rory, a Journalism major, is struggling under her course load and would rather use the time to study. She passively dismisses Paris’s suggestion that this is exactly the sort of activity that will set her apart later on grad school and job applications.
Rory later sleeps with married ex-boyfriend Dean, ignoring or misinterpreting the moral compass she tended to follow up until that point. Miraculously for Rory but mystifyingly for us (the viewers), the only negative fallout of this incident—which ends Dean’s marriage to wife Lindsay—is momentary hostility on the part of Lindsay’s mother (and presumably some animosity from Lindsay herself). Technically speaking, “angelic” Rory’s fall from grace should have been the scandal of the decade in Stars Hollow. Spoiler alert: it’s not. Despite the gossipy nature of this pocket-size town, Rory’s reputation and image remain untarnished.
It doesn’t occur to Rory to get a summer job or internship until after all of her Yale acquaintances have already done so. At the beginning of her second year, she wails that the rest of the newspaper staff has “had these amazing, productive summers… and me, the person who’s been talking about being a journalist her entire life, what did I do? I wasted two whole months running away to Europe.” Lorelai tries to convince her that visiting Europe offered invaluable experiences, which would be wholly true… if Rory hadn’t already spent a summer in Europe the year before.
When Rory finally does get an internship, it comes as an “apology” from her boyfriend’s father, newspaper magnate Mitchum Huntzberger.
In a series turning point, Mitchum tells Rory she is not cut out to be a journalist, much less a foreign correspondent (she obviously is not). Rory’s entourage disputes this as crazy talk and attacks Mitchum for being a jumbo-douche (he obviously is, but that’s not the point). Rory is so distraught that one person refuses to crown her Best At All the Things that she steals a yacht with her boyfriend, Huntzberger, Jr.
When Paris is ousted as editor of the Yale Daily News, the staff members spend three days voting on her replacement (an excellent use of time). Because none of the candidates who actually wanted the job could pull a majority, Rory is chosen. Yes, that Rory, the one who dropped out of Yale the semester immediately prior. Once again, Rory ever so realistically falls into an ultra-coveted position rather than competing for it.
Rory goes out of her way (like, to Philadelphia) to cheat on her current boyfriend, Logan Huntzberger, with ex-boyfriend Jess, in a move motivated by vengeance.
During their fourth and final year at Yale, Paris asks Rory if she is looking into fellowships, scholarships, or grad schools. Rory’s response: “Not really. I mean, not yet. I will, probably.” Spoken like a true go-getter.
Let me be clear: Rory Gilmore is not all bad. She is (mostly) smart, (mostly) kind, and (mostly) good-natured. But more often than not, Rory is pushed into her achievements by Paris (student body VP; the junior leadership program) or awarded desirable positions unfairly (valedictorian; newspaper editor; intern). If the show had continued, Rory could have conceivably wound up President of the United States accidentally.
Rory’s pedestal is both unearned and, frankly, a little creepy. While it’s understandable that her mother and grandparents would be highly invested in the idea that Rory must live up to all the expectations Lorelai herself failed to meet, it is inexplicable that the entire town of Stars Hollow idolises and idealises this clearly flawed (i.e., human) individual. A Season Two episode directly addresses Rory’s attempts to accept some of the blame for a car accident—but her family, friends, and neighbours literally reject any hypothesis except that of her innocence.
There’s no obvious answer to the question of why, for seven entire seasons, we are force-fed the fabrication that Rory the Great is likely to return to Earth an immortal unicorn princess in her next life. Anne K. Burke Erickson and Sarah Todd, among others, have made compelling arguments about the “good girl” label as a trap for young women. Whether this was intended as a message by the show’s creator and writers is debatable. What we can say with certainty is that the reality of Rory Gilmore suffered profoundly from the myth of Rory Gilmore—and so did we, as an audience. A Rory taken off her pedestal—at literally any point in the series, but my vote’s for the very beginning—would have presented a far more engrossing alternative.
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